Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne Encourages Schools to Adopt a Character Education Program Ahead of Grant Applications

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne (R) released a statement Tuesday encouraging schools to adopt a character-focused curriculum created by Character Counts (CC) as new matching grant applications will open soon.

“When I was last Superintendent, from 2003 to 2011, we successfully implemented The Six Pillars of Character [Six Pillars]: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and good citizenship,” said Horne. “Unlike social and emotional learning [SEL], which has become a distraction from academics, this program was integrated into education such as students writing essays on each of the pillars. As we renew the focus on academics, it could provide an important balance to our students’ education.”

A character education curriculum can be taught in Arizona between kindergarten and 12th grade. The state lists 17 different character traits schools can teach, such as attentiveness, diligence, generosity, and initiative, on top of the Six Pillars. A character course must provide instruction on at least six of the listed traits, give presentations by teachers or mentors who demonstrate the characteristics, and use activities to reinforce how to apply these behaviors in real life.

As stated by the U.S. Department of Education, because students spend a large portion of their developmental years in classrooms, those long hours provide an opportunity to “explain and reinforce the core values upon which character is formed.”

The Six Pillars program was developed by the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center (Ray Center) at Drake University. Should schools choose to implement the program, the course would provide students with an education surrounding the six specific character traits.

“By prioritizing character development and positive school culture, PK-12 schools can see improvement in students’ character and academic skills, and ensure their school is a safe and welcoming learning environment,” said J. Scott Raecker, executive director of the Ray Center.

Under Arizona law, public or charter schools that incorporate a character education course are eligible for a state matching grant. While Horne encouraged using the Six Pillars program, schools are not required to utilize it to receive the grant. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) also approves other programs, such as the Essentials, Leader in Me, and My Best Me.

However, the school’s funds being matched must come from a lawful source and cannot be money received from a previous character education grant. Additionally, schools that receive the money are subject to review from the ADE’s Grants Management Fiscal Monitoring unit, which was established to ensure schools use sound management practices.

The grant application opens for schools on March 1st, 2023, and closes on April 15th. A spokesperson for the ADE told The Arizona Sun Times that 29 public schools in Arizona received the previous matching grant.

Furthermore, it is no secret that Horne disapproves of the SEL style of teaching. SEL involves teaching students how to process and understand emotions, establish and maintain relationships, and build social skills. In an interview with ABC15, Horne said he does not want to put teachers in a situation where they must address feelings when they do not have the training or desire to do so. The CC website does mention SEL; however, the ADE spokesperson told The Sun Times that the Six Pillars program does not include any SEL components.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Tom Horne” by Tom Horne.



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