Member of Post-Columbine Generation Reflects on School Shooting

by Carol Dreibelbis, Education & Research Fellow

Monday, February 28th brought us news of another school shooting—this time in Chardon, OH. The entire country has been rocked by this violent act that killed three students and injured two others. This is news that we hope to never hear again.

I must admit that I was not shocked when I heard about the shooting. I had just turned 10 years old when the Columbine shooting occurred, so I’ve grown up with school shootings in the news. When I was in elementary school in Minnetonka, MN, a 5th grader brought a knife to school. Bomb scares happened every so often during middle school and high school, and gun scares were not unheard of on my college campus in Princeton, NJ. While some of us might deny that a school shooting could ever happen in our community, it seems all too possible to me.

Having graduated college back in June, I’m a relatively new employee here at CEP. Joining CEP has pushed me to think about issues such as school violence in new ways. I have realized that violence is something that schools can both prepare for—just as Chardon High School did by creating a response plan to deal with violence when it occurs—and prevent. Can we work toward a new future where shootings and other acts of violence are rarities in school settings? I think so.

We have all heard that instances of school shootings, teen suicides, and other violent acts have been connected to bullying and lack of acceptance at school. Given this, the shooting on Monday highlights the importance of creating safe and caring school communities. Comprehensive character education efforts can build an atmosphere where students feel included, connected, and part of their school community; where both students and teachers step up to report bullying and stand up for victims; where teachers check in with vulnerable or troubled students instead of hoping, “she’s fine” or “he’s too much trouble”; and where parents are involved and engaged. This may seem like just a dream to many, but it is achievable—just ask many of our National Schools of Character!

There are, of course, countless reasons why acts of violence take place in schools. Still, recent events in Chardon remind us that schools—together with parents and their communities—can work to minimize these occurrences. Let’s work together to make each student feel safe, valued, and strong enough to do the right thing.

Question: How does your school work to create a safe and caring school community? Please let us know by posting a comment below!

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Character Education: “Not a quick fix, but well worth the effort”

Katie Hood

Katie Hood, Web Content Coordinator for CEP

Being a relatively new CEP staff member (I started in Sept.), I’m still learning a lot about character education. I know the basics now – start small, get leadership on board, engage your out-of-school community – but I am still amazed when I hear the National Schools of Character stories. True learning happens in these schools because students want to learn, teachers want to teach, and parents and community members support them.

I recently listened to a radio show that discusses issues in American education. This day’s particular show focused on character education, and featured CEP’s National Schools of Character director Lara Maupin, and Crestwood Elementary School (MO) principal Scott Taylor.

The most striking thing I realized while listening to the show was that the most common issues in education: bullying, poor academic performance, pressure for students to reach test scores rather than truly learn just aren’t issues at NSOCs.

Scott talked about how his school earned the “Nobel Prize of Education,” according to his superintendent. His school was the only school in 2011 to be distinguished as a Blue Ribbon School and also a National School of Character. He said in the show, “It’s a tremendous honor –really the highest honor you can achieve in education – and certainly we would not have accomplished that without the character program that we have in place.”

That struck a chord with me because the correlation is really becoming clear about how character education relates to students doing better and being better. They said that teachers have more time to teach when they use character education as the foundation of their pedagogy. Students hold themselves and each other accountable to the virtues and values that they establish as important in their school. These values are typically respect, responsibility, honesty, doing your best – standards that most agree are positive. That way, teachers can spend their time teaching instead of disciplining students’ bad behavior.

It is important, they say, for the school community (students, parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders) to all discuss and reach consensus about the values taught. There is no one-size-fits-all character education program that works for everyone, but there are principles that can help guide all schools in providing quality character education. And these principles work for all types of schools – urban, rural, suburban, rich, poor, middle-income, minority, homogeneous, you name it.

Character education is not an add-on. It’s the foundation. And “when parents, staff, and students come together – great things happen,” says Principal Taylor. The proof is in the 170 NSOCs. Lara says, “In all of our NSOCs, we’ve seen the metrics go in the right direction, for both academic and discipline and behavior.”

Listening to this show really helped me understand how effective, comprehensive character education can be a part of the reform so obviously needed in American schools.

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You Got A Case

Marvin Berkowitz

Marvin Berkowitz, of the University of Missouri's Center for Character & Citizenship

I was recently asked how to convince people that character education actually works.  The cynicism, skepticism, and conservativism out there often astounds me.  Amy Johnston, the award-winning principal of 2008 National School of Character Francis Howell Middle School (St. Charles, MO), expresses the same frustration.

As the character education pioneer in her district, she often presents a comparison of her school’s academic and character data as compared with the other four middle schools in her district.  Even early in her character education journey, she started to see her school pull away from the other four in both areas.

When other educators noticed the results she was getting, they began to ask for her secrets.  She answered “character education.” To which they typically replied “No. Really.  What did it?”  So she would explain how she used character education to rethink and reform her school and would describe the specific initiatives she enacted, like looped, multi-aged “homerooms” and a collaboratively-generated set of four core values with a corresponding rubric crafted in part by students.  And they would shake their heads and walk away seemingly disappointed.  So she laments “they see the data, I tell them what we did, and they don’t believe it.  What more can I do?”

Amy’s frustration mirrors the frustration of many educators who believe in character education and base their beliefs on hard data.  I hear all too often that “there is no research on character education.”  Well that is patently inaccurate.

In 2005, in collaboration with the Character Education Partnership and the support of the John Templeton Foundation, Mindy Bier and I published What Works in Character Education.  It was a result of our attempt to find the holes in the literature; i.e., to generate an agenda for needed future research by mapping what little was known and then prescribing new research.

We were stunned by how much research existed.  We found over 200 recent studies.  We reviewed them, especially 69 scientifically rigorous studies showing the effectiveness of quite a wide range of character education initiatives, and drew conclusions from them about effective practice.  While the newest studies in that report are now 8 years old, it still has legs and is cited frequently (yesterday I received a Google alert that it had just been cited in Malaysia).

And WWCE is not the only such source of evidence.  The US Department of Education included character education in its What Works Clearinghouse and found many effective programs.  In addition, other related areas have similar sets of convincing data.  The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning published both a program review of 80 social-emotional learning programs and more recent meta-analysis of 213 such programs.

In parallel there are reviews of service learning, positive psychology, and various prevention curricula, many of which are also included in the WWCE, WWC, and CASEL reviews.  Separately or together, they point to the same conclusions:

  • Character education can and does work
  • The effects are broad ranging
  • What you do and how well you do it matter

One of the most persistent push-backs we get is the assumption that time on character education (or social emotional learning etc.) is time away from academics.  In other words, many educators seem to assume that this is a zero-sum game; more character education means less learning.  This is about inaccurate as could be.  I will make two points about this:

  • Good character education is good education.  The basic  tenets of effective character education, as delineated in the CEP Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education, but also throughout the effective practices literature in education, focuses on school climate, relationships, and a purpose- and value-driven school.  They are the same principles advocated in effective schools and in character education.In a recent study of nations that are particularly successful in academic education outcomes (and the US is not one of them), it was concluded that “Although all these countries are concerned about developing the unprecedented levels of cognitive and noncognitive skills required by the global economy, they are no less concerned about social cohesion, fairness, decency, tolerance, personal fulfillment, and transmission of values that they feel define them as a nation.  In many cases, these discussions of national goals have laid the base for profound changes in the design of national education systems” (Tucker, 2011, p. 173).

    Clearly the US has much to learn about education from this, for it is concluded that the research on these high success countries includes no evidence that any of them have gotten there “by implementing any of the major agenda items that dominate the education reform agenda in the United States, with the exception of the Common Core State Standards” (p, 209).

  • Research shows that character education promotes academic achievement.  This makes sense because of the overlap in methods with effective schools and because common sense tells us that when students like school, feel a valued member of the school community, and feel that they are co-owners and co-authors of their educational experiences, they are more motivated and self-managed, and hence perform better, both academically and behaviorally.In a study of 120 California elementary schools, Jack Benninga and I and our colleagues found a strong association between character education and state test scores.   CASEL’s meta-analysis shows the same finding, as have many other studies and reviews.  And case studies abound.  One merely needs to look at the CEP website’s thumbnails of National Schools of Character to see example after example.

    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.

So can we make a case for the effectiveness of character education?  I think I just did.  And there is so much more evidence that I don’t have room to present here.  Character education is good education as such it promotes healthy schools, the positive development of students, and academic excellence.  And the data support it.  If your doctor presented this kind of evidence of effectiveness of a treatment for you, you would not hesitate.  Character education is what this doctor prescribes for our youth, our schools, our nation, and our world.

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Veterans Day – A Teachable Moment

 by Joseph W. Mazzola President & CEO

I had the great fortune of being raised by a loving family. They instilled in me certain values that shaped me into the person I am today. None of the adults in my family had much of a formal education though. My grandfather, for example, came to our country at the age of 10 with about a fifth grade education. He was a water boy on the railroad and later became a shoemaker.

My father never graduated from high school either. He fixed wrecked cars for a living and eventually owned his own shop–“Mazzola’s Body Shop.” It never had running water or central heat. During the winter, he burned coal in a pot-belly stove to warm the place up. I loved hanging out at his shop, and I learned a lot, too. Most people don’t know it, but I’ve painted cars, changed engines, installed transmissions, and I still service my own vehicles. In fact, I’m doing a brake job on my son’s car this weekend.

Oh. I forgot to mention why my dad never graduated from high school. He quit at the start of his senior year to go fight in World War II with his older brothers. You see, service to the nation was just one of the values stressed in our family. Since that was the case, it was an easy decision for me to enlist in the Air Force when I got older, even though it was very unpopular at the time.

Although I planned on doing my hitch and then moving on, I ended up spending more than 25 years in uniform. I did so because I loved being part of something meaningful, I loved working with honorable men and women, and I loved the fact that my organization stressed many of the same values I learned at home: Integrity, Service and Excellence.

Every year in November we celebrate Veterans Day. This year, encourage your students to reach out to veterans in your community. Besides having them thank the vets for their service, have them ask about the core values the vets lived by and how those values impacted their personal character. And, after Veterans Day, have the students share what they learned. I think you’ll find this can be a powerful character-building experience…and that’s what all good character educators look for!

Thanks for all you do to develop young men and women of good character for our world.

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Technology and Character Education

By Lindsey Wright

The use of technology has been a growing force in education. Once, classrooms were relatively isolated, nestled into a school in a suburb, small town or city. Now, regardless of physical location, today’s students have access to the larger world through the Internet. However, the focus of education itself has not necessarily changed.

Educating has always been about preparing students to be successful citizens, in whatever way possible. Strong reading, writing and math skills continue to be important, as does character. Being able to get along with others, having self-control and patience, being honest and trustworthy: these have always been traits teachers have hoped to instill in their students, and that remains true today.

Strong character is essential in the use of technology used for classroom learning. The Internet itself is a wide source of knowledge, as well as being the gateway to further content. As students attending traditional and online schools alike begin to use the Internet more and more for research, they need to learn how to utilize this tool in an ethical manner. Thus, teachers should inform students how to find credible websites when working on research projects as well as how to properly cite their sources in order to avoid plagiarism. Teaching students how to use the Internet responsibly early on will not only help students academically but also teach them to respect the work of others.

Good character is also imperative when using the Internet in a more social way. As students interact on the web, they are becoming digital citizens. Just as they must learn to adapt to their role as members of their school community, they must learn that, when they participate online, they are creating an identity representing themselves, and possibly their school.

The use of social networking has the potential to create problems, as students use sites like Facebook to connect and communicate. As a result, issues such as gossip and bullying are no longer left behind when the school day ends, since student communication continues online. Bullying, in particular, has reached new levels with the advent of cyberbullying. Luckily, there are several things students, parents and teachers can do to prevent this. A website created to help promote positive interaction on the Internet gives some excellent tips.

While there are potential problems in the use of technology, it is an excellent instructional tool for developing good character. Social interactions within the school, in the classroom, in the cafeteria and on the playground have always provided excellent teaching opportunities. The Internet simply provides another venue. Teachers can teach proper behavior and take opportunities to get involved and correct when needed. Finally, teachers can model good behavior by considering what they say online, and being cognizant that nothing is private on the Internet.

With the increase in the use of technology, a focus on the basics of good character must be maintained. Being able to interact well with others has always been crucial, but perhaps even more so now, as students are conversing with people across the world, and of many different backgrounds and races. As the world gets smaller, being able to participate in that world in a positive way is more than important than ever.

This post was written by guest contributor Lindsey Wright, a freelance writer who is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

To learn more about educating students for digital citizenship, don’t miss the keynote panel at the upcoming National Forum on Character Education and the remarks of digital citizenship expert, Dr. Jason Ohler.

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