Blog Post: Character and Academic Achievement

Character & Academic Achievement
By Ed DeRoche

Believe it or not, character education (including social-emotional programs) promotes academic achievement.

“I don’t believe it!” “How can you make such a statement?” “For such an outlandish statement you need to show me proof!”

The case is rather straightforward. When teachers – all school personnel for that matter – take the time and make the effort to nurture character development traits (values/virtues) such as respect, responsibility, self –discipline, caring/empathy, honesty, trust, and fairness, there is a “pay-off” academically, socially, and emotionally. Students, in all classrooms and in every school, need education and guidance regarding their behaviors, their attitudes, and their actions.

A few quotes from the research (without references as I want to limit this blog to about 600-words) will clearly suggest that character education instruction and academic achievement are related.

“A 2011 meta-analysis of school-based social and emotional learning programs, published in Child Development, found significant improvements in academic achievement, behavior, and attitudes compared with control groups.”

“[Our study] found that greater reliance on character education translated to higher state academic test scores. Additional positive results have been found within the closely related field of Social Emotional Learning.”

“[Researchers] performed a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, social and emotional learning programs involving 270,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Compared to control groups, SEL participants demonstrated significant improvement in social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance.”

Russell J. Sojourner, Director of Leadership Development, Character Education Partnership writes: “Perhaps no case is more compelling than that of Ridgewood Middle School (Arnold, MO), which Charles Haynes and I reported in USA Today on February 20, 2007. Simply by transforming the horribly negative school culture of a failing school by using character education principles, they moved from state test scores with only 30% success in communication arts and 7% success in mathematics in 2000 to 68% in communication arts and 71% in mathematics.”

Here is one of my favorites because it introduces us to the emerging field of positive psychology. “We have found that students’ academic achievement is influenced by a set of character strengths. Among middle-school students, the character strengths of perseverance, love, gratitude, hope, and perspective predicts academic achievement. Similar results are found as well among college students.”

Here is another: “Youths’ social, emotional, and academic development are related, and promoting social and emotional development can lead to several desirable outcomes…an increase in positive student behavior and academic performance, and also a reduction in disruptive behavior and emotional distress.”

The Child Development Project (Oakland, CA), implemented in many elementary schools and written about in several research publications, demonstrated the “transfer effect” of their character education program. When compared to a control-group, students in CDP’s character education program were found to be more concerned for others, demonstrated more altruistic behavior, learned greater conflict resolution skills, had a greater liking for school and classes, and were more motivated to learn school subjects. Most important, however, “years later, students from the program’s schools were making greater academic progress relative to their peers….”

Regarding Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed, J. Nocera (New York Times) says: “…tapping into a great deal of recent research, Tough writes that the most important things to develop in students are ‘non-cognitive skills’ which Tough labels as ‘character.’ Many of the people who have done the research or are running the programs that Tough admires have different ways of expressing those skills. But they are essentially character traits that are necessary to succeed not just in school, but in life.”

As we say and promote at this Center, CHARACTER MATTERS. It matters because helping children and youth develop positive character traits and skills is an important means of helping them become both smart and good, managing their emotions and behaviors, and becoming productive and contributing citizens.

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