Evaluating character education

So lots of people besides me think character education is important. (There are books written on the topic.) There are a ton of different curriculum options. The Department of Education promotes it. And yet the Wikipedia page starts with the less than positive comment that “many of these [character education programs] are now considered failed programs…” And the What Works Clearinghouse has only 13 programs that even had rigorous study, and several of those showed no effect on kids.

The problems, to summarize from the internets, seem to be twofold. One is related to some of the programs themselves: things like giving students prizes for “being good”, which emphasize external motivation over internal, which is essentially the opposite of character. The other problem is related to the quality of research on these interventions. Here the government has some sensible suggestions in the publication called Mobilizing for Evidence that explain how to study the effectiveness of a program. There’s also this document, which is pretty bland in its conclusions, but has a bibliography that includes lots of the research on character education.

One particularly helpful thing was this list of standards from Character Counts. It breaks down some kinda vague concepts such as “responsibility” and “self-awareness” into the same kind of discrete, measurable objectives as you get with such things as the Common Core.

The bottom line, I think, is that it makes intuitive sense that we should be teaching kids character–but we’re still waiting for the research to fully back it up.


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