Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children
Are schools responsible for students’ character development as well as their cognitive achievement? Is this best done via discrete “character development” programs or by creating an overall school culture that seamlessly fosters good behavior and sound values along with academics? In this new study, analysts examined the impact of seven popular character-education programs (with catchy titles like “Love in a Big World” and “Positive Action”). They randomly assigned eighty-four schools in six states to receive one of the school-based programs or to continue business as usual. More than 6,000 students in third grade were followed to the end of fifth grade, during which various outcomes were measured. But the bottom line of this 700-page evaluation is that “on average, the seven programs did not improve students’ social and emotional competence, behavior, academic achievement, and student and teacher perceptions of school climate.” Analysis of individual programs proved no more encouraging, nor did analysis of subgroups. In fact, some of the few statistically significant outcomes that did appear indicated detrimental impacts on students, such as lowering their engagement with learning and their feelings of safety. The analysts engage in much hypothesizing about these lackluster findings. Still and all, this evaluation, by no means exhaustive, yet still rigorous, should prompt questions about the purpose of “character education” and whether specialized programs of this sort are the best way to instill responsibility and ethical decision-making in children.
Social and Character Development Research Consortium, “Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children,” (National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, October 2010).
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