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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform.

Social Studies Opinion

‘Counting on Character’ at NHA

By Rick Hess — January 25, 2013 1 min read

Shows how on top of things I am. Just as I was writing yesterday’s blog on Daniel Lautzenheiser and Andrew Kelly’s Democracy Prep case study, the AEI Program on American Citizenship was releasing a second case looking at how citizenship-oriented charter schools go about their work. In this second piece, titled “Counting on Character,” the terrific Joanne Jacobs takes a close look at National Heritage Academies (NHA) and its approach to character and citizenship education.

It’s easy to miss, because NHA flies below the radar, but NHA (which operates 74 schools in nine states) is the nation’s largest charter operator in terms of student enrollment, educating over 48,000 students in grades K-8. Jacobs reports that NHA schools hold a weekly “moral focus assembly,” and that the schools explicitly teach manners through interactions with educators, school leaders, and families.

She also writes that NHA schools, which enroll an ethnically diverse population hailing from many different countries, “are unabashedly America-centric.” One school she profiles has a student population that is 60 percent black and 11 percent Latino, with students coming from 40 different countries and speaking 30 different languages at home. Schools display framed copies of the nation’s founding documents on the walls and teach “core democratic values” including sovereignty, patriotism, truth, and diversity. NHA’s approach would be hard to duplicate in a traditional district school, where some families would be uncomfortable with various stances and where school leaders and teachers can feel pressed to go easy on talk of “moral focus,” on unapologetically preaching a specific vision of “good manners” to students and parents, or on “America-centricism.”

I think it’s a tremendously interesting piece that shows a school system taking character and citizenship very seriously, and which forces readers to confront vital questions on how we really feel about schools teaching old-fashioned values to 21st century kids. For what’s it’s worth, I think I’m wholly behind what NHA is doing--but would be curious to hear from those who might feel otherwise.

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