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Character Education
April 2019


What does the research say about the relationship between character education programs and student outcomes?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Goss, S. J., & Holt, C. R. (2014). Perceived impact of a character education program at a Midwest rural middle school: A case study. Education Leadership Review of Doctoral Research, 1(2), 49–64.

From the Abstract:
"The purposes of this study are to describe key elements of one school's character education program, and to determine the impact that this program had on academics, attendance, and discipline incidents within that school."

Holtzapple, C. K., Griswold, J. S., Cirillo, K., Rosebrock, J., Nouza, N., & Berry, C. (2011). Implementation of a school-wide adolescent character education and prevention program: Evaluating the relationships between principal support, faculty implementation, and student outcomes. Journal of Research in Character Education, 9(1), 71–90. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The Capturing Kids’ Hearts Campus by Design model is a school-level intervention that impacts student behavior by enhancing school climate through improved relational and conflict management skills. The purpose of this randomized controlled study is to evaluate the effect of the intervention model on risk factors and protective factors that impact student behavior. The results demonstrate that the level of principal support and quality of faculty implementation is related to a predictive of student acquisition of specific prosocial behaviors (protective factors)."

Jeynes, W. H. (2019). A meta-analysis on the relationship between character education and student achievement and behavioral outcomes. Education and Urban Society, 51(1), 33–71. Available for purchase from

From the Abstract:
"An extensive meta-analysis, including 52 studies, was undertaken on the relationship between character education and student achievement and behavioral outcomes. Additional analyses were done to determine whether the effects of character education differed by student grade level, locale, race, and so on. The results indicated that character education is associated with higher levels of educational outcomes, no matter what type of standardized or nonstandardized measure was employed."

Khoury, R. (2017). Character education as a bridge from elementary to middle school: A case study of effective practices and processes. International Journal of Teacher Leadership, 8(2), 1–19.

From the Abstract:
"This qualitative single-case study illuminates the significance of effective character education implementation during elementary school years as students transition into middle school."

Skaggs, G., & Bodenhorn, N. (2006). Relationships between implementing character education, student behavior, and student achievement. Journal of Advanced Academics, 18(1), 82–114.

From the Abstract:
"Over a 4-year period, researchers measured several outcomes in 5 school districts initiating or enhancing character education programs. Based on student, teacher, and administrator surveys, there was a noticeable improvement in character-related behavior. In certain districts, suspension and drop-out rates also decreased after the implementation of the character education programs; however, the relationship between these behavioral indicators and character education was inconclusive. Character education programming had little impact on student achievement, perhaps because of the lack of a direct relationship between character education goals and student achievement goals."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Character, Education, Middle school

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.