By Ed DeRoche
There are five biases that I have encountered after two decades of teaching , writing, and consulting in the character education field, regarding the evaluation of character education initiatives in elementary and secondary schools.
First, assessing character education efforts is a school-site responsibility. Schools are different. Even within the same school district, schools differ in leadership, students served, location, personnel, size, resources, climate, programs, curricula, facilities, and parent and community support and involvement. Any evaluation of character education will reflect the “personality” of the people, place, and programs of a school.
Second, assessing students’ behavior, character, and/or social skills requires different methods of evaluation than does assessing students’ cognitive growth. The public cannot be lead to believe that the results of character assessment can be reduced to a single score, nor that there is some magic test that will inform parents about the behaviors of their children. Character development may never have the equivalent of its own standardized tests, nor should it. Assessing character requires a different evaluation paradigm.
Third, there is a difference between scientific research and applied action research. Both have different purposes and different methodologies. Researchers call for designs and techniques that are generally not applicable to the confines of a single school, the talents of the school’s clientele, nor the desires of the school’s constituents.
Practitioners do not have the interest, the time, the skills, nor the resources to conduct basic, scientific research. But practitioners should and do engage in action research. In reality, what teachers, principals, students, and parents want to know is the answer to a basic question: “Are our character education initiatives meeting our goals and expectations?” Or to put it another way, “Is there a pay-off in what we are trying to do to foster the character of our students in this school?”
My fourth bias is that good things happen to school-site personnel when they come together for any reason but particularly to assess their school’s character education initiatives. It is captured in the banner, “collaborate to evaluate.” As one authority noted: “Not only does teamwork bring to the auditing process a range of talents and capabilities, but it also is an effective form of staff development providing both ‘social and psyychological’ satisfactions of collective effort.” My experiences suggest that involving school personnel and stakeholders in assessing their own character education initiatives enhances relationships, creates ownership, develops a community of learners, and empowers all stakeholders.
My fifth bias is my respect and appreciation for testimonials, both award and personal. Award testimonials occur when schools and its clientele receive awards and recognition for their practices, programs, and accomplishments. Personal testimonials are reports from school stakeholders (school leaders, students, parents, community members) about their school’s character education program efforts. This data, gathered by focus groups, interviews, surveys, and observations reveal interesting and useful perceptions of what is working, what is not, and how improvements can and should be implemented.
I think the Character Education Partnership (CEP) captures most of my assessment biases when they report: “ Schools that are infusing character education into their curricula and cultures, such as CEP’s National Schools of Character, are finding improved academic achievement, behavior, school culture, peer interaction, and parental involvement. They are seeing dramatic transformations; pro-social behaviors such as cooperation, respect, and compassion are replacing negative behaviors such as violence, disrespect, apathy, and underachievement. When you walk into a character education school – you know it. You find an atmosphere of mutual caring and respect, where students value learning and care about their teachers, classmates, communities, and themselves.” (www.character.org.)