Award-winning Schools of Character showcase character-education successes

Monday, October 23, 2000

Character education is moving to the top of the school reform agenda.
Sixteen states now mandate or encourage it through legislation. Thirty-six
states and Washington, D.C., have received federal grants to develop character
education initiatives. The two leading presidential candidates both support

But skeptics and naysayers abound.

We hear that character education is mostly superficial, just another
“add-on” that changes little. Moreover, we're told that with all of the
emphasis on testing these days, schools don't have time for anything that takes
away from academics.

This skepticism isn't without foundation. In some schools, “character
education” is nothing more than a few lessons that have little impact on the
culture of the school or on student behavior.

It's also true that in too many districts the pressure to raise test
scores pushes everything else off the table.

The challenge for those who advocate teaching character in schools is
to prove that it works — if it's done right.

This past week, the Character Education Partnership met this challenge
when it announced the 2000 National Schools of Character awards. Nine schools
and one district were recognized for “their exemplary work to encourage the
social, ethical and academic development of their students through character

Consider Kennerly Elementary School in St. Louis, Mo. The school's
motto, “Friends Learning Together,” is reflected in everything from classroom
lessons to extracurricular activities. Teachers routinely integrate discussions
of core values into all subjects. Students frequently talk about problems and
concerns in class meetings.

Visit Kennerly and you'll find kids helping other kids through a
variety of in-school service opportunities. Many are also involved in community
service projects, from helping a nearby school devastated by a flood to
collecting supplies for poor families with newborn babies.

For those who need quantifiable evidence that character education
works, Kennerly reports that office referrals have declined 60% since the
initiative began five years ago. Over the same period, the percentage of
fourth-graders reading at or above grade level has risen from the mid-70s to

Although most of this year's Schools of Character are elementary
schools, South Carroll High School in Sykesville, Md., demonstrates that
teenagers aren't too old for character education. Teaching good character
begins with the principal and the teachers who take responsibility for being
good role models. Moral values are then infused into the curriculum, and the
issue of  character becomes part of many lessons.

In a science research course, for example, students are responsible
for designing projects and writing grants to fund them. They've accomplished
amazing things, from a conservation effort involving the Chesapeake Bay to
building a wheel-chair-accessible wetlands trail behind the school.

Does creating a moral climate in a high school do anything to improve
academic achievement? At South Carroll, SAT scores have risen steadily over the
past five years. And the school won a state Blue Ribbon Award for exemplary
academic achievement and a positive teaching environment.

In these and other Schools of Character, teaching and modeling core
moral values such as honesty, caring, respect, and responsibility are at the
heart of the school's educational mission.

When done right, character education isn't a “program,” it's an
initiative that transforms the entire school culture.

To learn more about the National Schools of Character and the
Character Education Partnership, visit the Character Education Partnership
website ( or call

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