Can Money Build Character In Illinois Schools

Can money help build character? That is what many Illinois Schools are banking on. The Illinois Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) Network will receive a grant of $471,038 to fund a four-year program character education program in the Illinois Schools. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced that the state will receive on of four awards given by the Partnerships in Character Education (PICE) for 2007.

Illinois Schools’ State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch believes this award represents the state’s successful commitment to character education over the last decade. Illinois Schools started the PBIS program almost ten years ago, and credit it with helping to create safe learning environments and emotionally stable students.

Character education gained popularity after the devastating Columbine incident, and experiences a surge of attention with national tragedies like the Virginia Tech massacre. But does it really work? Parents, administrators and educators of Illinois Schools have been asking that question for years. One criticism is that “additional programs” like character education take time away from Illinois Schools’ critical academic learning, arts and physical fitness activities. Some view character education as a vacuous feel-good program that takes resources needed to help Illinois Schools meet ever-increasing state and national standards.

Proponents in Illinois Schools point to studies showing that children displaying more of the positive assets that these programs focus on, like achievement motivation, conflict resolution and empathy, show less high-risk behaviors. One 4-year University of Louisville study found that younger students and girls benefit more from these programs that older boys. However, this grant is aimed specifically at eight high schools.

PICE grants attempt to teach, “core ethical concepts” like responsibility, respect for others, and citizenship to awardees like the Illinois Schools. Requirements for the grant include proof of integrating current character education programs into classroom curriculum and teacher training, and involvement of parents and the community. Illinois Schools will be assessed on its ability to reduce the number of discipline occurrences, improve academic standing and show positive character development among students.

Illinois Schools’ educators in favor of the program insist that parents are still responsible for the majority of a child’s character development, but that schools have a responsibility to support that goal by teaching appropriate skills and providing a nurturing environment. Illinois Schools’ PBIS Network is one of 147 programs to receive character education grants since 1994. The eight Illinois Schools to benefit from the current PBIS award are Foreman High School, Kelvyn Park High School, Bolingbrook High School, Alton High School, Rock Island High School, Romeoville High School, and Springfield High School, and Springfield Southeast High School. In addition to Illinois Schools, the other award recipients were the Los Angeles Unified School District, New York City Department of Education, and the Black Hill Special Services Cooperative, out of South Dakota.

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