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Walton Family Foundation Celebrates Character Day by Increasing Support for Character Research

September 13, 2017
$1 million grant to Harvard University to increase understanding of effective character teaching, learning and evaluation practices

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Today, the Walton Family Foundation announced a $1 million donation to Harvard University to advance research on and understanding of effective character teaching, learning and evaluation practices. The grant, which is being announced on Character Day, supports the efforts of Dr. Martin West, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and will help more educators identify, implement and measure the effectiveness of character development efforts.

The grant will directly support the Boston Charter Research Collaborative, which pairs high-performing Boston charter schools with researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. Together, researchers and educators work together to identify new measures of character skills and strategies schools can use to help students develop them. The BCRC is a unique partnership between researchers and practitioners and serves as a model for similar collaborations to address the field’s most pressing evidentiary needs.

“Educators recognize the importance of skills not captured by traditional academic performance indicators, but they haven’t had tools to track their development,” said Harvard University’s Martin West. “This grant will allow us to expand our efforts to support educators in identifying and sharing effective strategies to build the full range of skills students need to succeed in school and beyond.”

This grant builds on the $6.5 million the foundation pledged toward character education research in 2015 as part of its commitment to rigorous accountability standards for schools, teachers and students. The foundation supports research on how to teach and measure character successfully in the same way it supports more traditional measures of student performance to help students and schools improve.

"There is a lot of research in K-12 education on student proficiency and graduation rates, which is of course very important," said Marc Holley, Director of Strategy, Learning and Evaluation at the foundation. "But it is also important to look at non-academic outcomes, such as how effective we are at teaching character development. Traits like empathy, gratitude, honesty and persistence are critical life skills, and it is important to understand how students are developing in these areas.”

In addition to its support of Harvard University, the Walton Family Foundation is supporting Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania, who popularized the notion of “grit” as an essential component of student success. Dr. Duckworth's, Character Lab, which she founded with Dave Levin of KIPP and Dominic Randolph of the Riverdale Country School, is studying innovative character interventions to help more schools and students.

About the Walton Family Foundation
For three decades, the Walton Family Foundation has continued the philanthropic vision begun by Sam and Helen Walton. Their legacy is more important than ever as the foundation accelerates efforts to improve K-12 education for all students in America, to protect rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and to give back to the region that first gave Sam and Helen Walton opportunity. In 2016, the Walton Family Foundation awarded grants totaling more than $454 million. Learn more at