Test scores count, but character building rides alongside

Alan Borsuk:

“Character and opportunity go hand in hand.”

That’s the opening sentence of a recent piece by Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution. In seven words, he describes exactly why I find myself writing more about what schools can do — and what some schools are doing — to build the character of students.

Character is an important, but often overlooked, part of the recipe for educational success. In the push for higher scores in reading and math, how to get higher “scores” on character gets insufficient attention. But a growing body of research points to how intangible traits like respect, responsibility, determination and a gritty ability to overcome setbacks are at least as important as academic skills.

There are schools, including several in the Milwaukee area, that have established reputations for the quality of their character-building efforts and, not coincidentally, for the academic progress their students achieve. I’ve visited several that have won awards for character efforts. They offer healthy school cultures, even when dealing with kids with a lot of challenges, and they have results to show they also have some muscle in their academics.

That said, the number of schools remains small — even as the door to working on character and culture is opening more widely for Wisconsin schools. New energy and resources are being made available.