Schools of character

In On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character, Samuel Casey Carter profiles schools that “set high expectations for personal attitudes and behavior and created both good people and good students,” writes Jay Mathews on Class Struggle.

Carter looks at five traditional public schools, three public magnet schools, two public charter schools and two private schools ranging in size from 220 students to 2,624 at Hinsdale Central High in a Chicago suburb.

Mathews writes:

He describes in some detail, with many examples, the four traits that mark the path toward a school of strong character: a strong belief that culture determines outcomes, a nurturing but demanding culture, a culture committed to student success and a culture of people, principles and purpose.

. . .  in his next book I would like see him go deeper into each story and find the hidden flaws and the silent malcontents. I want to know what resistance had to be overcome to establish a school of good character. I want to hear from those who see such efforts as coercion rather than evangelism, if there are any.

A senior fellow with the Center for Education Reform, Carter studied the cultures of more than 3,500 schools across the U.S. before choosing his examples.

The schools profiled are: Arlington Traditional in Arlington, Virginia (PK-5); Osmond A. Church in South Ozone Park, NY (PK-8), An Achievable Dream in Newport News, Virginia (PK-12); Cotswold Elementary in Charlotte, North Carolina (K-5); Grayhawk Elementary in Scottsdale, Arizona (K-6); Atlantis Elementary in Port St. John, Florida (K-6); Benjamin Franklin Public Charter School in Franklin, Massachusetts (K-6); Hope Christian in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (K-8); Providence St. Mel in Chicago, Illinois (K-12); Harvest Park Middle School in Pleasanton, California (6-8); Veritas Academy in Phoenix, Arizona (6-12); and Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale, Illinois (9-12).

Carter co-authored No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools. This book looks at schools serving a mix of students, arguing that affluent students face character challenges too. Four of the schools serve predominantly low-income, minority students.

In researching Our School, I saw the importance of building a school culture that values hard work and learning. I saw kids who’d once mocked serious students as “school boy” or “school girl” cheer classmates for doing homework or earning higher grades. But culture isn’t magic. Once students have decided they want to learn, they need skilled teachers, a well-designed curriculum and a lot of extra help to fill in academic holes.

About Joanne


  1. I think you’ll find the character of the student body – and expectations for motivated and committed character – to be the key ingredient in any charter school that ends up creating success where the neighborhood schools couldn’t. It’s also in play at the neighborhood schools that are successful. It’s, really, all about the character of the students and the community. That said, effective administrators and teachers can do much to foster such character – and, more importantly, charter and magnet schools can “require” it.