Social Development Programs Don’t Result in Better Behavior

Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children 

National Center for Education Research

 Programs to improve young students’ social skills and character have almost no positive effect on the behavior and academic performance of elementary school students, according to this study.

After looking at 6,660 third-grade students, caregivers, teachers and principals in 84 schools that implemented Social and Character Development (SACD) programs, researchers found “no differences in students’ social and emotional competence, behaviors, academic performance or perceptions of school climate” when compared with schools that did not operate those programs.

SACD programs provide a variety of activities to help teach students how to deal with their feelings, each other and adults, under the belief, the study notes, that failing to develop social competencies “can lead to problem behavior that interferes with success in school.”

The study looked at seven programs – including Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, Positive Action and Love in a Big World – as students moved from third through fifth grades. It sought to measure such things as altruistic behavior, problem behavior, feelings of safety, support for teachers and academic confidence. The control group schools engaged in various efforts to improve social competence as part of their “standard practice.”

Researchers found statistically significant positive effects on only two of 20 student outcomes that were measured for each year – student support for teachers, in the first two years.

Positive Action, a company based in Twin Falls, Idaho, cites on its website “rigorous evaluations” showing improvements in such behaviors as bullying, dropping out and drug use. Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, put out by the Channing Bete Co. of South Deerfield, Mass., says evaluations have shown positive effects that include fewer teacher reports of aggressive student behavior and increased student ability “to tolerate frustration” and “use effective conflict-resolution strategies.”

The new study was a project of the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Center for Education Research is part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Free, 491 pages.



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