What Works
How do we know character education works? Schools that infuse character education into their curricula and cultures, such as CEP’s National Schools of Character, find improved academic achievement, behavior, school culture, peer interaction, and parental involvement.

How can character education be assessed?

Through evaluation, the impact of character education can be seen through changes in school climate. For example, many character education schools are reporting

  • reduced violence
  • fewer discipline referrals
  • less vandalism
  • improved attendance
  • higher academic performance

A district or school will likely struggle to assess its program, but educators and administrators agree it is worth the effort. More assessment tools are needed, but some existing tools include school surveys, behavioral observations and statistics, and self-assessment questionnaires.

Can character education create safe schools?

Yes. While character education is not a panacea to ridding schools of violence, it creates environments where negative and anti-social behaviors are less likely to flourish or go unnoticed and unreported, in the long-term. Character education creates schools where children feel safe because they are in an atmosphere that values respect, responsibility, hard-work and compassion – not because a guard or metal detector is posted at the door.

Two of our publications really showcase what works. One was written for policy makers and opinion leaders; the other was written for educators.

Schools of character see dramatic transformations; pro-social behaviors such as cooperation, respect, and compassion replace negative behaviors such as violence, disrespect, apathy, and underachievement. When students act and think positively, they commit to their work more, which paves the way for perseverance, diligence, and ultimately, increased academic achievement.

Examples of Research Conducted on Character-based Programs

When you walk into a character education school – you know it. You find an atmosphere of care and respect, where students value learning and care about their teachers, classmates, communities, and themselves. Some specific examples of research conducted on character-based programs include:

  • The Institute of Education Sciences has reviewed and determined 11 personal or social development practices that lead to positive or potentially positive results as part of its “What Works Clearinghouse.” The outcomes address student behavior, cognition, knowledge, attitudes and values, external behavior, and social interaction. The Institute also features programs with no discernible effects.
  • In three separate studies spanning almost 20 years, the Developmental Studies Center in Oakland, CA, has documented numerous positive outcomes for students who have attended elementary schools that implemented its Child Development Project (CDP).

This research has consistently shown that students in CDP schools:

  • engage in more pro-social behavior (e.g., are helpful and cooperative)
  • are more skilled at resolving interpersonal conflicts
  • are more concerned about others
  • are more committed to democratic values.

Findings from a study of CDP also showed significant reductions in alcohol and marijuana use, and in delinquent behaviors (outcome variables which were not examined in earlier studies). Preliminary findings from a follow-up study of students in middle school indicate that, relative to comparison students, former CDP students are more “connected” to school, work harder and are more engaged in their middle school classes. They have higher course grades and achievement test scores. Also, they engage in less misconduct at school and are more involved in positive youth activities (e.g., organized sports, community groups).

  • Students trained in Second Step, a violence prevention program, used less physical aggression and fewer hostile, aggressive comments. Their interactions
    were more socially acceptable than those of peers who were not exposed to the
  • A study by Oregon State University researchers found that Positive Action, a program that teaches social and emotional skills and character development to elementary school children, had powerful results:
    • academic test scores improved as much as 10 percent on national standardized math and reading tests.
    • scores improved 21 percent on state reading tests
    • scores improved 51 percent on state math tests
    • suspensions dropped by 70 percent
    • absenteeism fell by 15 percent.
  • An independent evaluation of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program found that of those participating in the program,
    • 64 percent of teachers reported less physical violence
    • 75 percent reported an increase in student cooperation
    • 92 percent of students felt better about themselves
    • more than 90 percent of parents reported an increase in their own communication and problem-solving skills.
  • In a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, risk-related behaviors were substantially reduced for students participating in the character education intervention. Negative behaviors, which included substance use, low self-confidence, violence and sexual activity, were significantly reduced for students who took part in the Positive Action (character education) intervention program for at least three years.
  • Longitudinal studies from the Responsive Classroom program, which emphasizes social skills and good character, have shown increased academic performance across several grade levels. Iowa Test of Basic Skills scores rose 22 percent for Responsive Classroom students and only 3 percent for the control group. The Responsive Classroom has also resulted in above average academic growth between grades four and eight, decreases in discipline referrals, and increases in pro-social behaviors.


Report for Policy Makers, Opinion Leaders
A Research-driven Guide for Educators