South Dakota Survey Results, 1998-2000
In the most thorough, scientific study yet of CHARACTER COUNTS!, and of character education in general, students in South Dakota report a dramatic reduction in crime and misbehavior.
Researchers looked at schools that launched CHARACTER COUNTS! in 1997-98. In that year and each year since, as many as 8,400 middle and high school students filled out extensive evaluation forms, covering demographics, attitudes and behavior. In addition, over 345 teachers responded to questionnaires about the students.
Results for 1999-2000 show that over the last two years:
- Students who said they had broken into another’s property dropped 50 percent.
- Students who said they had used a fake ID dropped 56 percent.
- Students who said they had taken something without paying fell 46 percent.
- Students who said they had drunk alcoholic beverages dropped 31 percent.
- Students who said they had taken illegal drugs dropped 32 percent.
- Students who said they had defaced or vandalized property declined 46 percent.
- Students who said they had teased someone because of race or ethnicity dropped 45 percent.
Students also reported substantially fewer misdeeds of other kinds, such as cheating, lying to teachers and using physical force in response to insults.
Teachers saw the improvements too. The gains were even more pronounced among elementary school students (who did not fill out surveys), but were plain in the higher grades. For instance, in 1997-98, 34 percent of teachers said the older students “help each other more often,” while in 1999-2000, 51 percent did.
- The more exposures per month students had to CHARACTER COUNTS!, the more responsibly they behaved.
- Students reported improvements in every category of misdeed.
- Teachers saw better student behavior toward others and toward authority.
- Some student attitudes improved to a statistically significant degree.
There were also a few neutral or negative results:
- Although students reported a decline in misbehavior, they did not report an increase in positive behaviors, like volunteering for community work. Indeed these figures actually dwindled slightly, though the results may be experimental artifacts.
- Teachers noticed only slight change in adherence to school rules among young people in grades 7-12.
- Some student attitudes did not improve. Reasons why are unclear.
- The relation of teachers' training in CHARACTER COUNTS! to their reports of student improvement is curious and hard to decipher. Among grade 7-12 teachers, the correlation over two years went from strong to weak. Among grade 1-6 teachers, it moved in the opposite direction, from fairly weak to strong.
This investigation is a five-year effort, and has now passed the halfway point. The South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service/4-H is carrying out the survey, with funding from the South Dakota State 4-H Foundation. CHARACTER COUNTS! Project Leader Rachelle Walsh-Vettern coordinates the effort. Bill Wright conducted it in the first year, and Marcey Moss did in the second and third.