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Investing in the Emerging Field of Character Research

September 18, 2015
We're pledging $6.5 million over the next three years to support character research
The Walton Family Foundation is committed to rigorous accountability standards for schools, teachers, and students. But if it’s true that “what gets counted ends up counting,” it’s also past time to seriously consider the next frontier of student success measures.

Today, as we celebrate Character Day, I’m pleased to announce that the Walton Family Foundation is joining partner foundations to invest in the emerging field of character research. Over the next three years, we have pledged about $6.5 million to support researchers who will help us learn more about character — how to teach it successfully, how to measure it effectively, and how to marry what we learn with more traditional measures of student performance to help students and schools improve.

Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania, who popularized the notion of “grit” as an essential component of student success, and the Character Lab, which she founded with Dave Levin of KIPP and Dominic Randolph of the Riverdale Country School, are studying innovative character interventions and how to scale effective approaches to help more schools and students. Angela is also developing technologies to assess grit that avoid some common biases.

We are also proud to support Dr. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who has formed the Boston Charter Research Collaborative — which partners high-performing Boston charter schools with researchers from MIT and Harvard. Marty and his team are building a data warehouse, gathering information about everything from students’ character self-assessments and test scores to demographic information and detailed data on their behavior in school.

These researchers are asking essential questions that could teach all of us how students learn and how teachers teach. Our expectation is that their work will enhance assessment and accountability for schools, teachers, students, and our entire community.

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