“Character education is creating environments where negative and anti-social behaviors are less likely to flourish or go unnoticed or unreported. Character education is creating schools where children feel safe because they are in an atmosphere that values respect, responsibility, caring and honesty, not because a guard or metal detector is posted at the door. After all, character education is helping to foster in young people what, in the end, counts most, a heart, a conscience and the ability to know that is right and what is wrong.”  Esther Schaeffer, Executive Director/CEO, Character Education Partnership, speaking at The Role of Character Education in America’s Schools Hearing of the Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000.

“Social and emotional learning (SEL) enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges” (Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning).

Teachers Value SEL

Teachers across America know that social and emotional learning is essential to student success in school, the workplace, and life. A survey of teachers commissioned by CASEL in 2013 found 93 percent of teachers want a greater focus on social and emotional learning in schools. These educators know that social and emotional skills are teachable and are calling for schools to prioritize integrating SEL learning practices and strategies into the curriculum as well as school culture.

SEL Impact on Lifetime Outcomes

A 2015 national study published in the American Journal of Public Health found statistically significant associations between SEL skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later in education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health.

The study concluded that early prosocial skills decreased the likelihood of living in or being on a waiting list for public housing, receiving public assistance, having any involvement with police before adulthood, and ever spending time in a detention facility (Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning).

Many studies have been conducted reporting positive results of character education programs.  Some examples of such research include:

  • A 2000 evaluation by the University of South Carolina’s Center for Child and Family Studies of South Carolina’s 4-year character education initiative found that 91% of administrators reported improvement in student attitudes, 89% reported improvement in student behavior, 60% reported improvement in academic performance, and 65% reported improvement in teacher and staff attitudes.
  • In 3 separate studies spanning almost 20 years, the Developmental Studies Center documented numerous positive outcomes for students who have attended elementary schools that implemented its Child Development Project (CDP).  Research consistently shows that students in CDP schools engage in more pro-social behavior are: more skilled at resolving interpersonal conflicts; more concerned about others; more committed to democratic values; and, able to demonstrate significant reductions in alcohol and marijuana use, and in delinquent behaviors. Preliminary findings from a follow-up study of students in middle school indicate that former CDP students are more “connected” to school, work harder and are more engaged in their classes, and have higher course grades and achievement test scores than non-CDP students. In addition, they engage in less misconduct at school, are more involved in positive youth activities, and report that more of their friends are similarly positively involved in school and their communities.
  • 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, can improve academic test scores as much as 10% on national standardized math and reading tests. Other key findings include: 21% improvement on state reading tests; 51% improvement on state math tests; 70% fewer suspensions; and 15% less absenteeism.
  • In a report titled, The Relationship of Character Education Implementation and Academic Achievement in Elementary Schools by Benninga, Berkowitz, Kuehn, & Smith in 2003, the authors explored links between character education programs and improvements in academic achievement in elementary schools. Most existing research addresses only the effects of individual programs. Benninga, et al., were able to obtain more general results by comparing scores on a rubric measuring traits of character education programs in more than 600 California schools to a numeric indicator that summarizes the results of various statewide assessments. The team found that schools with the strongest character education scores tended to have higher academic scores by a small but significant margin.