In 2009, the PERTS soon-to-be co-founders were doctoral students at Stanford studying the powerful role of beliefs (a.k.a. learning mindsets) in academic achievement. Around that time, a couple of groundbreaking studies had been published showing that brief interventions targeting students’ beliefs could actually improve their academic trajectory (see Blackwell et al. 2007; Walton & Cohen, 2007, 2011).
Inspired and excited by the potential of these low-cost, low-time interventions, we wondered, “Why aren’t all schools doing these?” We quickly discovered two good reasons schools weren’t implementing mindset interventions:
Importantly, no one knew. And thus, PERTS or, the Project for Education Research That Scales, was born with the goal of bringing these interventions to millions of students across the country to increase their motivation, engagement, and ultimately their academic achievement.
We started off scrappy and passionate—our software developers volunteered their time, we cold called dozens of schools to recruit them to participate in our studies, spent hundreds of hours writing up proposals for small grants, and made many thousands of mistakes. In fact, co-founders Dave Paunesku and Carissa Romero wrote their dissertations in one-month because they were spending so much time on other PERTS-related studies. In our first major study with over 1,500 students across 13 high schools in the United States, we found that a 45-minute intervention improved the GPAs and course pass rates of students who were getting a grade of C or below prior to the study. The interventions seemed to be working.
Today we are still just as passionate, but perhaps a little less scrappy. From the beginning, our focus has been on closing opportunity gaps and helping students overcome barriers that keep them from cultivating their abilities and passions to their fullest. To accomplish this, PERTS plays three main functions in the field of mindsets and in education more broadly.
None of our work is possible without collaborations with educators, parents, and researchers who share our passion for increasing student equity and our goal of improving millions of student lives around the country.
PERTS empowers educators to enact evidence-based practices in order to advance social equity. Over a million students have been reached with evidence-based resources as a result of our engagement with schools, teachers, and other educational organizations.
Dave Paunesku is co-founder and executive director of PERTS. He has been passionate about science and about social equity for as long as he can remember. When Dave first encountered scientific research showing that brief, cost-effective interventions could improve educational attainment for students from historically underserved groups, he immediately saw an opportunity to merge his passions and leverage science to advance social equity on a large scale. Knowing that he had much to learn about the powerful psychological principles underlying these interventions, he went to Stanford University to learn from two of the world’s foremost experts on the topic: Professors Carol Dweck and Greg Walton. Two years into his doctoral studies, he founded PERTS with friends and colleagues Carissa Romero, Chris Macrander, and Ben Haley.
Ever since he founded it, Dave has kept PERTS focused on the intersection of rigorous research and scalable impact. Not content to endlessly say “more research is needed” before seeing promising approaches applied by practitioners, PERTS translates research findings into concrete practices that educators can immediately apply on a large scale. Not content to assume those practices are working at scale just because they worked in initial (often small- scale) studies in different contexts, PERTS conducts research to understand when and where those insights are actually having an impact. The simultaneous pursuit of evidence and social impact continues to drive everything PERTS does.