Even educators who recognize the value of character are often deeply skeptical that educators can teach virtue as a matter of practice because—apart from religious contexts--they have never seen it done successfully. For this reason, it is important that we draw attention to successful, non-partisan, secular models of exemplary character education. We find such a model in the UK’s Jubilee Center for Character and Virtues.
Education Gadfly Show #841: Good news for a change: Most states appear to be spending their ESSER dollars wisely
Those of us who advocate for character education are often met with incredulous stares. Even educators who recognize the importance of character are often deeply skeptical that educators can impart it to their students because they have never seen that done successfully outside of religious contexts. For this reason, it is important that we draw attention to successful, non-partisan, secular models of exemplary character education. We find such a model in The Jubilee Center for Character and Virtues, which just celebrated its tenth anniversary at Oriel College, Oxford.
Launched in 2012 at the House of Lords, the center’s mission is to investigate how character and virtues impact individuals and society. Led by Professor James Arthur, OBE, the center has a team of over twenty academics from a range of disciplines—philosophy, psychology, theology, sociology, and education—who work together to advance research on the critical importance of developing good character and virtues for a flourishing life and society. The central, animating conviction of the center is that virtue can and must be “caught, taught, and sought” in our schools. This is based both on empirically proven pedagogical technique and on the wisdom of longstanding philosophical tradition. The Jubilee Center is an excellent resource for educators in the United States who are interested in classical education, a pedagogy that seeks to develop each student as a whole person, by reconnecting knowledge and virtue.
In its ten years, the Jubilee Center—which was named after Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee speech, given the same year—has much to celebrate. In addition to a wealth of cross-disciplinary, award-winning, academic research on virtue, it has helped to put virtue theory into practice with its Framework for Character Education, which has been utilized by tens of thousands of schools throughout the United Kingdom. Thanks to the work of the center, character formation is now a key criterion in school inspections in the UK and one of the pillars of government education policy.
That framework is the most important resource that the center offers American schools, as it provides the well-researched theoretical and conceptual structure for all that they have accomplished and continue to do. The framework begins with an important insight: School is a community that children participate in and belong to. Human life generally is communal in its forms—our communities shape and form us from an early age, and our sense of belonging to and participating in communities is an enormously important aspect of our personal identity. Schools, as communities, are engaging in character education whether they realize it or not. The only sensible question, according to the framework, is whether schools are doing this in ways that are “intentional, planned, organized, and reflective,” rather than “assumed, unconscious, reactive, or random.”
We need good character for school life to go well and to have classrooms that are conducive to learning together. Students need to develop intellectual, moral, and civic virtues in order to pursue the common ends of school life together. If we believe that flourishing—fulfilling one’s potential—is the goal of human life, then schools, as a preparation for life, should prepare their students to meet that goal. And for the Jubilee Center, human flourishing is the ultimate aim of education. If children are well educated, then they have developed the “practical wisdom” necessary to make good choices in their lives. Schools must help students to become good members of their communities and good citizens in a liberal democracy.
The framework classifies virtues into four kinds: intellectual, moral, civic, and performance. The intellectual virtues—like reflection, critical thinking, and resourcefulness—are those traits that enable us to discern right action and pursue knowledge and understanding. The moral virtues—such as courage, gratitude, honesty, and integrity—are those traits that enable us to act well in situations that require us to be good members of our communities. The civic virtues—civility, service, and neighborliness, for example—are traits that help us to be responsible citizens who can contribute to the common good. And finally, the performance virtues—like confidence, determination, resilience, and perseverance—are traits that we need to cultivate any virtue.
Practical wisdom is understood as the integrative virtue. Developed through experience and critical reflection on what is good, it enables us to perceive, know, and desire in accordance with reason or good sense.
The framework also helpfully breaks down the various components of virtue:
- Virtue perception: seeing what situations call for the exercise of virtue.
- Virtue knowledge: understanding why a virtue is important to flourishing and the ability to apply this knowledge in real life situations.
- Virtue emotion: having the appropriate feelings and responses to actions and interactions.
- Virtue identity: understanding oneself as developing and practicing virtue.
- Virtue motivation: having a strong desire to act virtuously.
- Virtue reasoning: being able to discern and deliberate about what to do.
- Virtue action: having the ability to do the right thing in the knowledge that it is virtuous, with the proper emotion and motivation, and with ease and pleasure.
Jubilee also provides educators with a character teaching inventory, which maps out a comprehensive view of teaching strategies for schools to implement as part of their character education. This enables the framework to be put into practice not just in the classroom, but in every aspect of the school—from its social and physical environment, its leaders and staff, its curriculum and methods for teaching and learning, its enrichment programs, and its ways of relating to the community at large through service and volunteering.
The Jubilee Center ought to be a model for American educators interested in advancing character education. It is non-partisan and non-sectarian, and what it has accomplished, both theoretically and practically, is admirable and inspiring. American classical educators should not feel helpless or defensive in the face of incredulous stares from their mainstream counterparts. There is a wealth of research, experience, and undeniable success in character education to draw upon from our friends across the pond, and we should make good use of it.
Imagine a close-knit community whose members take care of and look out for one another; enjoy strong, tight-knit families with many children, close social ties, and a deep sense of purpose and belonging; and seem mostly exempt from crime, suicide, substance abuse, and other such problems. Are the habits and institutions by which this community prepares its members for adult life successful? Are its schools—which, after all, are one such institution—good schools?
Adult life has many dimensions, and schooling has many aims. Nonetheless, it would be hard to deny that some things are going very right in such a community. Yet the New York Times, in a recent blockbuster report, chose to attack one such community and its schools: the Hasidic community of New York—or rather, the Hasidic communities of New York, for there are many.
It is important not to romanticize Hasidic life. No community is perfect, and even strong ones have members who suffer deeply, perhaps even because of those very structures that make them strong. Indeed, many Hasidic schools do have problems (and some stakeholders recognize them and want to fix them). If the Times had limited the scope of its report to such problems, then its treatment of Hasidic communities would be less objectionable: It is the case that Hasidic schools don’t do a great job of teaching math and English, and it is the case that many Hasidic schools don’t care about this shortcoming. Their priorities lie elsewhere.
To be sure, a weak secular education is not a necessary feature of these schools. As Eli Spitzer noted in the online journal Mosaic, non-Hasidic Haredi (or ultra-Orthodox) schools are similarly strict in their religious observance and circumscribed in their interactions with secular culture, yet offer both a muscular secular and religious education. Similarly, many of the strongest schools in New York are Orthodox, even if elite, Modern Orthodox prep schools are excluded.
But the Times did not find space to mention this in its 8,000-word report, published both in English and Yiddish as a helpful service both to Hasidim and to the Pulitzer Prize committee. This omission was almost certainly by design. The report seemed to take issue with the very existence of these schools and the culture in which they exist: they “wall [students] off from the secular world”; they “drill students relentlessly, sometimes brutally, during hours of religious lessons conducted in Yiddish”; a teacher “was told that he could not...discuss politics with his students.” A follow-up editorial accused Hasidim of failing to teach their children the skills needed to participate in democracy, while criticizing them for influencing New York politicians to leave them alone. Asks Ira Stoll in The Algemeiner: “If their schooling is as inadequate as the Times claims, how have they managed to be so politically effective?”
The Times report’s biggest elision is its failure to account for why parents choose to send their kids to these schools in the first place. Hasidic schools are private schools; the parents sending their children there could instead send them to public schools or non-Hasidic Haredi schools. Of course, some parents in these tight-knit communities might worry about ostracism. Many others may take issue with the poor quality of secular education provided in Hasidic schools, even if they are otherwise satisfied with the quality of these schools. But nothing suggests that most parents who send their kids to these schools are anything less than happy with them.
Over the last few years, schools have increasingly focused on “decolonizing” curricula and “culturally relevant” pedagogy. The same paper that brought us the 1619 Project has given warm coverage to such efforts. But support for culturally sensitive curricula should not just be limited to cultures that don’t offend the Times’s sensibilities.
Hasidim have tightly knit communities and tend to be happy, but this is not the reason they choose to be Hasidic. They choose to be Hasidic because they believe in certain things and profess certain values—beliefs and values that have been cultivated over centuries, if not millennia. It would be arrogant to reject these out of hand, and it would be problematic to justify support for Hasidic communities solely on the basis of our own standards of flourishing. Pluralists should support these communities even if the people in them were less happy, even if the families in them were less strong, even if their practices are, by our own lights, wrong. It is disconcerting for the Times to use its outsize influence to persuade the government to disrupt such communities. Tolerance is not tolerance if it extends only to things we like.
Editor’s note: This was first published by City Journal.
Research is resoundingly clear that regularly reading to and with our children leads to all sorts of positive outcomes. It boosts children’s brain development, expands their vocabularies, strengthens their listening skills, fosters creativity and imagination, and deepens the emotional bonds between children and their caregivers.
For gifted preschoolers and kindergarteners, reading with their parents or other caregivers can be especially beneficial. As Dr. James T. Webb writes in one of my favorite books about parenting gifted children, “As a group, they [gifted children] hit developmental milestones earlier—sometimes much earlier—and more intensely than other children, they process more abstract ideas at an earlier age than other children, and they react to stimuli with more sensitivity.”
As a result, parenting gifted children is equal parts a gift, a challenge, and a huge responsibility. They tend to have strong verbal abilities, intense curiosity, a wide range of interests, uncanny memories, and a strong desire to learn. But they often tend to view the world somewhat differently than their peers, and can be highly sensitive, intense, and (at least in our household) prone to over-excitability.
As with getting physical activity, reading or listening to stories is particularly powerful for gifted children because it gives them a break from their busy, inquisitive, and intense brains. Books also allow parents to expand on what their kids are learning in school and nurture their interests and passions, and they help gifted children make sense of themselves and the world around them.
At least once a week, I take my two young children to our local library and allow them to pick out whichever books pique their interest. While my three-year-old usually bolts for the Disney princess section, my five-year-old inevitably brings home a stack of informational texts with titles ranging from Animals of East Asia to Transportation Technology (mixed in with the occasional book about Legos). Their actual book choices don’t matter nearly as much to me as fostering in them a deep and lasting love of reading. All reading is good reading.
During our weekly library runs, I also try to grab a book or two that I hope will help further their social and emotional development. Yes, books are part of SEL, too, as well as a wonderful way to explore and foster children’s innate curiosity for facts, data, and knowledge. It can also be powerful and reassuring when kids see themselves in precocious literary characters.
So if you haven’t yet, let this be a plea to make reading a regular part of your routine with your gifted child or children. Read with them books about their favorite subjects or that feature children like them. Expose them to a wide range of engaging, challenging reading material. And make sure to ask lots of open-ended questions as you read together. What do you think happens next? How do you think the main character is feeling? Why did you choose this book?
Below are some of our favorite books—with plenty of pictures—that may also be hits with your gifted preschoolers or early elementary students. Happy reading!
If your child is curious, fixated on numbers, or asks endless questions about why things are and how things work, he or she will love this heartwarming story about Albert Einstein as a child. It reinforces for gifted children that it’s OK to be different from other students and that it’s a positive thing to keep reading, wondering, and learning.
Some gifted children experience challenges relating to their peers and siblings, as their development is so out of sync with their age. But even our extroverted children love this story, which focuses on how hard it can be to try to fit in, and why it’s best to always be yourself. This book is also fairly easy for early readers to read out loud or by themselves.
Here’s a great one for gifted children who are really into math and numbers, but who, like the main character, may have trouble following rules or sitting still. Like Where Oliver Fits, it touches on the importance of being yourself and finding friends with similar interests.
Busy, spirited kids will also surely relate to the main character, Betty, in this new book by actress Reese Witherspoon. As the author recently explained, “Betty’s curiosity, enthusiasm, and sense of adventure teaches kids that anything is possible—especially with great friends.”
For gifted children, increased sensitivity is often accompanied by perfectionism and a fear of making mistakes. This book by Emily Ley helps reassure children that they are enough just as they are, and that perfection is overrated. As the Cub Scouts say, just “do your best.” (Note: This book includes Christian messaging. A good secular book about the pitfalls of perfectionism is The Girl who Never Made Mistakes.)
In catchy rhyme, this book tells the story of a girl who dreams of being an engineer. While initially held back by fear of failure, throughout the story she learns from her mistakes and proudly begins to pursue her dream. One of the most powerful lines for kids in the book is that “The only true failure comes if you quit.”
This is another great book that reassures gifted kids that it’s a good thing to be different. It tells the story of a girl who loves to invent and tinker, who isn’t well understood by her peers, but who, thanks to her unique talents, ends up a hero.
These books are a slam dunk for kids who soak up facts like a sponge. There are tons of choices, with topics ranging from space to famous places, historical figures, and more. (Our son’s latest favorites are Little Kids First Big Book of the World and the Weird but True! Series.) Nature lovers will also enjoy the Nat Geo Kids (and Little Kids) magazines, which are a perennial hit in our household.
According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), gifted children are often unusually creative and out-of-the-box thinkers. This quick read about a go-kart-building competition underscores the importance of creative thinking and working together with friends. (Another good read about creativity, frustration, and perseverance is The Most Magnificent Thing.)
Olivia is a short but sweet story about a headstrong little pig who is “good at lots of things,” including wearing herself and others out, and resisting naps and bedtime. (Sound familiar?) The underlying messages for precocious toddlers and preschoolers are pretty powerful: It’s important to have self-confidence, and your parents or guardians will always love you no matter how challenging or exhausting your behavior and antics. Olivia exhibits self-confidence and a sense of purpose, both traits common in gifted children.
This is a great book for budding mathematicians. It introduces simple math concepts such as counting, addition, and subtraction in a colorful, interactive “lift-the-flap” format. (Another fun, slightly more advanced math workbook for number-minded preschoolers and kindergarteners is The Complete Kindergarten Math Workbook.)
Children with unusually large vocabularies for their age will likely relate to the boy in this story who is occasionally exhausted by his expansive vocabulary and very active brain. The main character eventually realizes that his love of words is a gift, and should be shared with others. The rich and lyrical vocabulary used throughout is an extra treat for adults and kids alike.
According to NAGC, “Being outdoors in nature can offer [gifted children] a break from anxiety, providing a quiet space in which to relax and calm down.” There are many wonderful books about nature, but Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is beautifully illustrated, and covers everything from gardening and growing to the changing seasons. Other fantastic nature-themed books that my kids enjoy are There’s a Tiger in the Garden, A Walk in the Forest, and Tiny, Perfect Things.
Gifted children are often rapid learners with an impressive capacity for retaining information. But all children interested in science or anatomy will enjoy this engaging and informative book about how the brain works, how we learn, and how our brains grow. The companion book, Goodnight to Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, is equally wonderful.
Everyone knows that teachers are the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement, so getting the best ones in front of the neediest students is critical. Recent research, however, questions the desirability of inducing strong teachers to move to lower-performing schools by investigating whether negative impacts may accrue to students in the schools they leave behind, and whether those effects might outweigh any benefits in destination schools.
A team led by USC researcher Adam Kho looks at data from Tennessee’s Innovation Zone (iZone) schools. A turnaround effort for the state’s lowest-performing schools, the iZone was one of several interventions that Tennessee implemented as part of its successful Race to the Top application in 2010 and its No Child Left Behind waiver in 2011. Local iZones are networks of low-performing schools that remain part of their district but are managed separately. Most are in the Volunteer State’s three major urban areas: Nashville, Chattanooga, and Memphis. Along with hiring new leaders and extending learning time for students, one of the highest priorities for iZone schools was to recruit high-quality teachers. The state provided up to $7,000 bonuses for those willing to teach in the iZone—the better the teacher, the higher the bonus—and districts added more to the bonus pool as their budgets allowed. Data show that the efforts bore fruit in terms of improvement in the teaching corps and in student achievement. But little attention has been paid to the outcomes of students in nearby non-iZone schools, many of which were the source of those high-quality teachers who were induced to move away.
Kho and his team focus on the 2011–12 to 2014–15 school years. Student data include demographics, school assignments, and test scores on statewide end-of-year exams in reading, math, and science for grades three through eight. Teacher data include race/ethnicity, education level, years of experience, school and grade level assignments, and teacher quality as measured by their annual TVAAS scores. TVAAS specifically measures “the influence of a district, school, or teacher on the academic progress (growth rates) of individual students or groups of students from year to year” and shows “the impact that the teacher, school and school district have on the educational progress of students” regardless of starting point. The researchers use a series of value-added equations to estimate achievement gains or losses. Their preferred model utilizes school-by-year fixed effects, which makes comparisons between buildings easier. They also compare schools that did not experience turnover as part of this effort.
During the study period, more than 650 teachers transferred into iZone schools. Ninety-two of them came from buildings in the same district as their receiving school. Seventy-one percent of transferring teachers had master’s degrees, far above the 56 percent of teachers who transferred to non-iZone schools over the same period. The average iZone transferee had 7.9 years of teaching experience, slightly less than their non-iZone peers. Sixty percent of transferees had earned an effective TVAAS rating in the previous year, higher than non-iZone transferees (54 percent) but lower than a comparison group of teachers who stayed put (67 percent).
Sending schools had fewer non-white and economically disadvantaged students than receiving schools, but greater percentages of both groups than the average school in iZone districts—reflecting the stark racial and economic divide between certain schools in districts like Memphis—and much greater than the average school in the state. Similarly, sending schools were higher performing on state tests than receiving schools but worse than the average school in iZone districts. Student achievement impacts were determined using a smaller sample size, however, because just 238 iZone transferees taught in tested grades.
The team’s preferred model showed that students in grades that lost (and had to replace) 100 percent of their reading teachers to the iZone scored 0.10 standard deviations lower on reading assessments than grades that lost none of their reading teachers. Thus, they multiply 0.10 by the percentage of teachers lost/replaced in a grade to calculate the average effect on sending schools. The same process is followed in math and science. On average, grades in sending schools that lost reading, math, and science teachers to the iZone replaced 53, 62, and 65 percent of their grade-level teachers in those subjects, respectively. Students in all tested subjects in all grades at sending schools recorded lower test scores in the year following teacher departures for the iZone. Controlling for the percentage of teachers lost, most decreases were small—from 0.04 to 0.12 standard deviations, with the largest seen in science—and not statistically significant. The more teachers a grade level sent, and the higher the TVAAS score of those teachers prior to departure, the larger and more significant the negative effect.
The researchers take these modest negative effects in sending schools and combine with the positive effects in receiving schools (as observed by a team from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance in 2017), and they find an overall positive impact of the recruitment effort. In short, when higher-quality teachers moved schools, positive student outcomes followed them. The kids they left behind did worse, and the kids they taught instead did better, despite previous years of underperforming. TVAAS scores did not fully explain the differences between student outcomes—suggesting additional unobserved mechanisms related to teacher turnover—but the bottom line seems pretty clear: Teachers matter, and boosting the number of highly-effective teachers matters even more.
SOURCE: Adam Kho et. al, “Spillover Effects of Recruiting Teachers for School Turnaround: Evidence from Tennessee,” AERA Journal (August 2022).
A recent study by Evan Rose, Jonathan Schellenberg, and Yotam Shem-Tov estimates the effect of teacher quality on criminal justice contact. It uses education data and arrest records that cover all students in North Carolina public schools in grades three to twelve from 1996 to 2013 and include information on student test scores, teacher and classroom assignments, demographic characteristics, and disciplinary and attendance records. The criminal justice data include arrests, convictions, and sentences. Combined, the data include almost two million students and 40,000 teachers, allowing the researchers to track individual students, their teachers, and many different student outcomes.
The researchers found that elementary and middle school teachers have large effects on students’ rates of future arrests, convictions, and incarceration. Teachers who are good at improving behavior and attendance and reducing the odds that students will repeat a grade are particularly likely to reduce later criminal justice contact.
Importantly, however, teachers who increase student achievement do not necessarily improve discipline, attendance, or grade repetition—or reduce students’ odds of criminal justice contact. Shifting a student to an elementary or middle school teacher with a 1 standard deviation higher effect on test scores has no significant effect on the likelihood of arrest between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one.
What are those teachers who minimize criminal justice contact doing so well? Recent academic literature links non-cognitive and social-emotional skills to good attendance and discipline in school, as well as long-term outcomes. Teachers who reduce criminal justice contact the most may be those best at teaching those skills.
To gauge how important this is, various authors have looked at hypothetical scenarios examining the effects of removing the worst performing teachers from the classroom. For example, in a seminal (and much-debated) article, Eric Hanushek assessed the academic effects of firing the bottom 5 percent of teachers based on the short-term academic improvements of their students and found that this would sharply increase educational outcomes.
Similarly, the present study simulated the impacts of replacing the bottom 5 percent of teachers based on their effects on long-run outcomes such as criminal justice contact and college attendance. They found that this would likely result in large improvements, including a 6 percent reduction in criminal arrests.
Certain teachers are good at boosting academic outcomes, while some are better at boosting other outcomes. In classrooms where students are at risk of skipping school or being suspended, teachers may choose to focus on developing non-cognitive and social-emotional skills at the expense of academics. If discipline and attendance are proxies for non-cognitive and social-emotional skills, then much of the effects of teachers talented at teaching those skills are not being captured in standardized testing data.
The upshot of all of this is that non-cognitive skills are crucial for long-term success, especially in reducing likelihood of criminal justice contact. The data show that individual elementary and middle school teachers can have large impacts on criminal justice outcomes and college attendance years down the line.
In theory, teacher evaluation could be based partially on non-cognitive/criminal justice value-added data. But such data would only be captured years later, and by that time would likely not be useful for HR decisions.
In practice, principals will not have this kind of information at their fingertips. Principals should see this study as further evidence that test scores do not capture all of the effects that teachers have, and therefore should be cautious in using test scores as an overriding factor in hiring and firing decisions
SOURCE: Evan K. Rose, Jonathan T. Schellenberg, and Yotam Shem-Tov, “The Effects of Teacher Quality on Adult Criminal Justice Contact,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 30274, July 2022.
Education Gadfly Show #841: Good news for a change: Most states appear to be spending their ESSER dollars wisely
On This week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast, Carissa Miller, CEO of the Council of Chief State School Officers, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss how state education agencies are spending the 10 percent of ESSER funds set aside for them. Then, on the Research Minute, Amber Northern reviews a study on how providing information about the likely financial outcomes of college and career paths affects high schoolers’ choices.
- CCSSO’s analysis of how the relief dollars are being spent: “States Leading: How State Education Agencies are Leveraging the ESSER Set-Aside,” August 2022; and an accompanying webinar.
- The study that Amber reviewed on the Research Minute: Gabriele Ballarino et al., “The effects of an information campaign beyond university enrolment: A large-scale field experiment on the choices of high school students,” Economics of Education Review (December 2022).
- Indiana is using federal Covid-relief funds to create vouchers for parents for tutoring programs in six school districts, and eligibility may expand soon. —Chalkbeat
- “These kids ride a ‘bike bus’ to school. Residents line the streets and cheer.” —Washington Post
- Community college teacher preparation programs—which dramatically cut the cost and raise the convenience of earning a teaching degree—are making jobs in education accessible to a wider diversity of people. —Education Week
- A group of teachers in Fairfax County, Virginia, have been pushed into waging an underground war against low expectations by preparing struggling students for advanced math coursework. —Jay Mathews
- A widely-used test for language disabilities misunderstands the complexities of Black English Vernacular, leading to overdiagnoses of Black students. —John McWhorter
- “Average ACT score for the high school class of 2022 declines to lowest level in more than 30 years.” —ACT
- Columbus City Schools is failing to provide busing to charter school students, a possible violation of Ohio state law. —Columbus Dispatch
- A Harvard economist finds that providing students financial incentives is a cost-effective way of improving academic outcomes. —EconTalk
- Education is a key issue in Pennsylvania’s contentious governor race between Republican Doug Mastriano and Democrat Josh Shapiro, with Shapiro in favor of school choice. —The 74
- “New studies help explain why some schools reopened while others stayed virtual.” —Chalkbeat
- The Texas Supreme Court will soon decide if the state’s education agency has the authority to remove Houston’s school board members due to the district’s low performance. —Texas Tribune