Character Lab, the Nonprofit Co-Founded by Angela Duckworth, Is Closing Shop

Staff Writer

Character Lab, an education-focused nonprofit co-founded by well-known psychologist and author Angela Duckworth, will close in June after more than 10 years in operation, the organization announced.

In a letter posted to Character Lab’s website, its board of directors said the choice to shutter the organization at the end of the fiscal year was “not an easy decision” but its leaders decided its operations were not “sustainable.”

The Philadelphia-based nonprofit’s recent work has focused largely on its Character Lab Research Network, a platform to connect K-12 researchers with educators and provide social-emotional learning resources for media and industry partners.

The company’s board cited concerns about the program’s sustainability in attracting school leaders who are juggling “competing priorities.”

“Ultimately, we concluded that the specific design requirements for running Character Lab Research Network were not sustainable long-term—particularly with respect to providing a sufficiently attractive value proposition to school leaders tasked with competing priorities,” the letter stated.

It was signed by board directors Duckworth; DuoLingo CEO Luis Von Ahn; Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education Dean Bridget Terry Long; former Shutterfly CEO Chris North, and ideas42 Chief innovation Officer Piyush Tantia.

In the next four months, the organization plans to focus its efforts on completing planned research projects, the directors said, as well as ensuring “a smooth transition” for its team and the organizations they serve, according to the statement. It is also searching for a “permanent, publicly accessible” home for the educational resources it has developed and currently offers on its website.

In an email, Character Lab CEO Dave Hersch said he did not have additional comments on the decision to sunset the organization beyond the information included in the board’s letter.

Generator of Research 

Character Lab was founded by Duckworth, who is also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, along with KIPP Public Charter Schools Co-Founder Dave Levin, and Riverdale Country School head Dominic Randolph.

The nonprofit was born, in part, out of Duckworth’s research into traits that influence individuals’ success and ability to thrive, particularly “grit” and self-control — which won her a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 2013 — and how those concepts can help students succeed.

Duckworth’s 2016 book on the topic, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance was a New York Times Bestseller, and fueled support for the concept’s use in K-12 settings, as educators sought to understand how grit can impact student outcomes. Some researchers, however, have since pushed back on applying the concept of grit in K-12 settings, arguing other skills are more closely aligned to improving academic achievement.

Character Lab’s recent focus has been on making it easier for researchers to conduct studies and make the kinds of discoveries that can help improve students’ lives and academic outcomes, as well as putting those findings to work in students’ lives through media outreach and partner organizations in the K-12 industry.

Duckworth is a regular opinion contributor to Education Week.

Since launching its Research Network, the organization has facilitated about 500 studies for scientists at 138 universities, the directors said in their letter, and its network grew to more than 130,000 students at 110 schools. The directors also added that data from the studies have been featured in more than 52 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Character Lab’s website currently lists 24 employees on its team. 

According to the organization’s most recent tax filings, it brought in about $6.5 million in revenue in the fiscal year ending June 2023 — 99.3 percent of which were contributions, not payments for program services — and reported expenses totaling $5.6 million.

In fiscal year 2022, the nonprofit reported $6.9 million in revenue, with $6.8 million coming from contributions and grants, and expenses of $6 million.

Donors to Character Lab include the Walton Family Foundation; the Bezos Family Foundation; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; the John Templeton Foundation; the Kern Family Foundation; the Tarsadia Foundation; Duckworth and her husband Jason Duckworth; and Feroz and Erica Dewan.

Image by Getty.

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