CHARLESTON, W.Va. _ Early results from a pilot project funded with a $1.87 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education is showing that character education can have a positive effect on student performance, the project’s researcher says.
The West Virginia Department of Education, together with Michael Corrigan, director of the June Harless Center for Rural Education Research and Development at Marshall University, have been studying character education in two high schools, two middle schools and four elementary schools in Boone, Clay, Summers and Tyler counties.
Half of the schools have adopted experimental programs, while the others are part of the control group. The control schools were asked not to introduce any new character education programs, while the experimental schools were challenged to fully integrate a new character education process.
“We didn’t expect to find anything the first year but we already are seeing gains in academic progress,” Corrigan said. “They’re small but still apparent. That didn’t happen by chance.”
Roger Toney, principal of Ashford-Rumble Elementary in Boone County, one of the experimental sites, says character education helps improve the school environment, which in turn has a positive impact on achievement.
“Our WESTEST scores were the highest in the county,” Toney said. “I can’t say they were a direct result of character education but I know it did have an effect. When you start talking about respect and responsibility, that’s what it takes to not only be successful in school but in life.”
At Tyler Consolidated Middle School in Sistersville, Principal Ed Stombock said character education has helped kids develop an awareness of how to treat their peers as well as adults. It also has helped adults look at kids with more respect, he said.
“Kids in our school have relationships with adults,” Stombock said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case in many schools across this country. Kids are learning fairness, honesty and good values. These are virtues employers want.”
Character education emphasizes trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, caring, citizenship, justice and fairness, traits that play important roles as children learn how to be global citizens in the 21st century and view the world through a moral lens.
“Character education is an integral part of education in the 21st century,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. “Responsibility, respect and ethical behavior are as important in today’s global economy as math and science skills.”
West Virginia is one of about 30 states to receive the Partnerships in Character Education Program grant. The awards, which are for up to four years, allow states to design and implement character education programs that teach students core ethical concepts, including civics, justice, responsibility and respect.
West Virginia’s project, which will soon begin its third year, works to integrate school-wide positive behavior supports and character education into the curriculum.
Grant recipients must show how they have integrated character education into classroom instruction and teacher training. They also must involve parents, students and the community in the process.
The projects are evaluated to determine their success in helping students develop positive character, reduce discipline problems and improve academic achievement. Projects also must increase parent and community involvement with the school.
“A good education can’t be measured by test scores alone,” Corrigan said. “Most teachers got into teaching to help prepare kids to be good citizens and good adults. Character education helps remind teachers why they got into this business to begin with, it’s a wake-up call for parents and offers students a glimmer of hope that they can do something wonderful with their lives even in a world of poverty.”