Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

California County Boards Of Education Recognize Orange County
Character-Based Literacy Program

The Orange County Department of Education’s Character-Based Literacy (CBL) Program has received the California County Boards of Education 2007 Exemplary Program Award. CBL combines character education and standards-based literacy, which are integrated across the curriculum. Orange County Superintendent of Schools William Habermehl states that “its first objective is to promote practices that positively influence the cognitive process that encourage school pupils to become good citizens.” Presently, 32 county offices of education and 17 school districts in California are using CBL.

The CBL project was developed by Steve Johnson of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University to serve students who have had marginal success in school and are at serious risk for school failure and antisocial behavior. For this reason, the program began in the court-community schools operated by the county offices of education. These schools are a safety net for students who are incarcerated; in foster or institutional care; homeless; hospitalized; or in special community schools for expelled, delinquent and out-of-control youth. CBL’s value-themed units are both innovative and exemplary, moving students away from anti-social thoughts to pro-social thoughts, values and behaviors, while maintaining a high degree of academic expectation. CBL began as a vision of teachers and administrators who believe that student character, literacy, and school success can markedly improve in special schools settings.

CBL engages student imaginations, connects them to characters they care about, and provides opportunities to discuss the value context of the literature while placing them within a historical timeframe, often integrating science as well. All of the middle school and high school reading selections are taken from California’s Recommended Readings in Literature so student readings mirror their community of neighbors and friends from other schools. This also makes their transition back to regular schools all the more successful.

Major funding for the development of CBL has come from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and from the Markkula Family Foundation through generous and repeated multi-year grants. Additional funding for expansion in southern California has been provided by the Daniels Fund and the Von Der Ahe Foundation.

March 2007


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