Will Altering Growth Mindsets Improve Student Performance? Research Says No.

As schools are transformed from academic institutions into mental-health facilities, various theories have arisen about how to engineer students’ personalities to improve their performance (or to create the Ideal Citizens desired by the government, but that’s another topic). One theory that has swept schools in the U.S. and globally is called “growth mindset.” But Science Daily reports on a new study from Michigan State University and Case Western Reserve University which finds that altering students’ mindsets in this way has no meaningful effect on anything.

The theory, associated with Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, goes as follows: An individual with a “fixed mindset” believes his intelligence and talent are fixed traits and not particularly responsive to hard work and perseverance, whereas an individual with a “growth mindset” believes his basic abilities can be developed and improved with effort. “This [latter] view,” according to proponents, “creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” So the idea is for teachers to spend precious class time on “interventions” that create a growth mindset in students and increase their achievement.

But the new meta-study finds that such interventions generally don’t work. 

The study involved two massive meta-analyses (aggregating and assessing the results of hundreds of previous studies). Both analyses – with a combined sample size of almost 460,000 students – evaluated whether growth-mindset interventions improved academic achievement.

The answer, as one author told Science Daily: “Our results show that the academic benefits of [growth-mindset] interventions have been largely overstated. . . . [T]here was little to no effect of mindset interventions on academic achievement for typical students, or for other groups who some have claimed benefit substantially from these interventions . . . .”

Overall, the meta-study concluded that “on average, academic achievement increased when the growth mindset programs failed to change students’ mindsets and didn’t increase when the growth mindset programs worked [i.e., when they did change mindsets].”

Some of the studies examined in these meta-analyses have found that growth-mindset interventions are more effective with economically disadvantaged students or those at high risk of failure. But the metastudy authors cautioned that only a few studies reached these conclusions, and so should be viewed skeptically.

Other researchers have challenged, specifically, Dweck’s own research. Speaking to Buzzfeed, Columbia University statistics professor Andrew Gelman described Dweck’s seminal 1998 study as “riddled with poor statistical practice.” Timothy Bates from the University of Edinburgh has tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to replicate Dweck’s results. As he told BuzzFeed, “People with a growth mindset don’t cope any better with failure. If we give them the mindset intervention, it doesn’t make them behave better. Kids with the growth mindset aren’t getting better grades, either before or after our intervention study.” 

Bates cites the essential difference between showing that students who work hard generally have better grades, and showing that students who have been exposed to mindset-alteration generally have better grades. He says the former idea is really “a very conservative, old-fashioned one: ‘If you don’t work at it you won’t get results’” – but that in her (highly lucrative) talks, books, and Brainology computer program that is sold to schools, Dweck argues that adopting her interventions will massively improve academic achievement. (She denies conflicts of interest, since her research is funded not by her profits but by grants and her university; she also points out that she disassociated herself from Mindset Works, a company she co-founded.)

Dweck has challenged Bates on his replication efforts, but he’s not alone in calling out her research. BuzzFeed quoted other psychology professors and statisticians who have cited numerous serious errors with her findings – some of which constituted statistical impossibilities, and all of which, of course, bumped up the “success” numbers for her interventions.

Much of Dweck’s work illustrates the phenomenon of “cascading amplification,” discussed in our book Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty. One study gets cited in subsequent research, which in turn is cited in even more research, ad infinitum. Before long, whatever the first study claimed – even if it’s problematic at best – becomes gospel. Thus it is with Dweck’s early studies.

But regardless of whether these mindset interventions “work,” the deeper question is whether the government, through schools, should be engaging in essentially psychological manipulation. A teacher’s encouragement of a child to boost his confidence is a far cry from putting that child on a sophisticated computer program and fed images designed to reshape his attitudes and even his personality. Accepting such a role for government opens the door to more and more “interventions” – which may be much more insidious than a digital pat on the back. 

But if the education establishment isn’t worried about that, maybe they’ll at least balk at spending money for useless programs. The metastudy may help persuade them.

President Trump Calls for a Review of FERPA

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

On Monday, the White House announced that President Donald Trump’s school security plan also includes a review of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

It falls under his mental health reform proposal part of the plan. He is “proposing an expansion and reform of mental health programs, including those that help identify and treat individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others.”

The plan includes “increased integration of mental health, primary care, and family services, as well as support for programs that utilize court-ordered treatment.”

Along with FERPA he is calling for a review of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and other statutory and regulatory privacy protections.

The White House said, “Reviews will determine if any changes or clarifications are needed to improve coordination between mental health and other healthcare professionals, school officials, and law enforcement personnel.”

There are obvious privacy concerns. FERPA needs to be strengthened and the White House’s goal is the opposite of that.

Currently, according to the U.S. Department of Education,  FERPA allows schools to disclose a student’s education records, without parental consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR § 99.31):

  • School officials with legitimate educational interest;
  • Other schools to which a student is transferring;
  • Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
  • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
  • Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
  • Accrediting organizations;
  • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
  • Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
  • State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law.

They are also allowed to share “directory” information such as: a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance without parental consent.

Under FERPA, schools must tell parents and eligible students about that directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.

Does HIPAA Apply to School-Based Mental Health?

(Jan. 17, 2007) - Guidance counselor Elizabeth Prince facilitates an Anchors Away program for children at Christopher Farms Elementary, Virginia Beach, Va. The program was created 10 years ago to help children with deployed parents cope with separation anxiety. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice John K. Hamilton (RELEASED)

(Jan. 17, 2007) – Guidance counselor Elizabeth Prince facilitates an Anchors Away program for children at Christopher Farms Elementary, Virginia Beach, Va. The program was created 10 years ago to help children with deployed parents cope with separation anxiety. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice John K. Hamilton (RELEASED)

Exceptional Delaware wrote about the possibility of a state day treatment center being located in public schools which raised an interesting question – How much does HIPAA apply to school-based mental health and what falls under FERPA instead?

HIPAA, in case you are not aware, stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. When it passed it elevated privacy standards for health insurance companies, health care providers and some third parties.

FERPA most of us I’m sure are aware is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that governs privacy standards surrounding a student’s education standards. Regulations implementing FERPA has changed under the Obama administration that have caused great concern for those of us who care about student privacy, but more on that in a second.

I won’t get into the weeds on what is going on in the state because, well, I don’t completely understand it (I’m not sure they do either). Mental health treatment programs in public schools is not a foreign concept or unique to Delaware when you consider many school districts themselves employ school psychologists and school social workers. Also the idea of third parties establishing programs in schools is nothing new as well.

So how does HIPAA apply to a school?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services state on their website that “most schools and school districts” do not have to follow HIPAA.

They delve further into this issue on another webpage that answers the question: “Does the HIPAA privacy rule apply to an elementary or secondary school?”

Generally, no.  In most cases, the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not apply to an elementary or secondary school because the school either: (1) is not a HIPAA covered entity or (2) is a HIPAA covered entity but maintains health information only on students in records that are by definition “education records” under FERPA and, therefore, is not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

  • The school is not a HIPAA covered entity.  The HIPAA Privacy Rule only applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and those health care providers that transmit health information electronically in connection with certain administrative and financial transactions (“covered transactions”). See 45 CFR § 160.102.  Covered transactions are those for which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has adopted a standard, such as health care claims submitted to a health plan.  See the definition of “transaction” at 45 CFR § 160.103 and 45 CFRPart 162, Subparts K–R.  Thus, even though a school employs school nurses, physicians, psychologists, or other health care providers, the school is not generally a HIPAA covered entity because the providers do not engage in any of the covered transactions, such as billing a health plan electronically for their services.  It is expected that most elementary and secondary schools fall into this category.

  • The school is a HIPAA covered entity but does not have “protected health information.”  Where a school does employ a health care provider that conducts one or more covered transactions electronically, such as electronically transmitting health care claims to a health plan for payment, the school is a HIPAA covered entity and must comply with the HIPAA Transactions and Code Sets and Identifier Rules with respect to such transactions.  However, even in this case, many schools would not be required to comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule because the school maintains health information only in student health records that are “education records” under FERPA and, thus, not “protected health information” under HIPAA.  Because student health information in education records is protected by FERPA, the HIPAA Privacy Rule excludes such information from its coverage.  See the exception at paragraph (2)(i) to the definition of “protected health information” in the HIPAA Privacy Rule at 45 CFR § 160.103.  For example, if a public high school employs a health care provider that bills Medicaid electronically for services provided to a student under the IDEA, the school is a HIPAA covered entity and would be subject to the HIPAA requirements concerning transactions.  However, if the school’s provider maintains health information only in what are education records under FERPA, the school is not required to comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule.  Rather, the school would have to comply with FERPA’s privacy requirements with respect to its education records, including the requirement to obtain parental consent (34 CFR § 99.30) in order to disclose to Medicaid billing information about a service provided to a student.

FERPA in 2011 changed the regulations to include additional parties to be able to receive a student’s medical records.

(6)(i) The disclosure is to organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions to:

(A) Develop, validate, or administer predictive tests;

(B) Administer student aid programs; or

(C) Improve instruction.

This falls under several groups that can receive personally identifiable information without parental or student consent.

This should be a cause for concern for those of us who care about student privacy.