Self-Discipline vs. Intelligence as a Predictor of School Success
ASCD reports on a study that may indicate that self-discipline is a stronger indicator of school success than IQ. The ResearchBrief summarizes a study focusing on 8th graders in a magnet school in the Northeast. The ResearchBrief lists both implications of the study and caveats that should be taken into consideration.
Today’s SmartBrief introduces the article by saying “Some research suggests that students who are highly self-disciplined may be able to better focus on long-term goals and make better choices related to academic engagement.” But the study measured self-discipline by giving a questionnaire to students, teachers, and parents. When using a questionnaire and measuring something as nebulous as self-discipline, it is likely that measuring self-discipline is simply another way of measuring school success. Inasmuch as the factors leading to school success are well-known among students, teachers, and parents, it is meaningless to say that better students have these characteristics. Of course they do, and everyone knows it.
The study is also based on a single school, a magnet school with selective admission practices. The representativeness of this population is not established in the review, though this is pointed out in the caveats section.
This leads to crucial questions regarding summaries of research intended for educators:
- When is it misleading to summarize a study?
- Do people hear the caveats appended to research as clearly as they here the apparently dramatic findings?
- Do people really understand the principle that correlation does not equal causation?
Educators are pressed for time, and research of this type is not intended for a broad audience of classroom teachers and school administrators. However, it is critical that all educators understand how research is done, so they are able to determine the implications and significance of a study like this one. Otherwise, statements like “Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents,” the title of the original study, will be accepted as un-nuanced gospel.