2006 Assessment of the Humane Living Program

In January of 2006, HEART launched a program designed to teach students how they can lead a more humane life. The instructional curriculum developed by HEART is a comprehensive 10-lesson humane/character education program, which was launched as an 18-month assessment phase project. During this period, empirical data was gathered to support the case for mainstreaming humane/character education into school curricula. Instruments were developed to assess changes in students aptitude and behavior, including: knowledge of specific facts; ideas and attitudes, including notions on empathy; altruistic behavior; perspective-taking ability; school climate; and willingness to speak up, take positions and ownership of the future.

Below please find summaries of the assessment. The Year 1 report covers the first 6 months of the study in the spring semester 2006. The Year 2 report analyzes data collected from the fall semester 2006 and the spring semester 2007.

Evaluation of the Humane Education Project in New York City

Ann Higgins-Alessandro, PhD and Josephine Choe, MA, Evaluators
Applied Developmental Psychology Graduate Program, Department of Psychology,
Fordham University

Year 1- Summary

This is the first study to evaluate the Humane Education program as it was implemented in New York City elementary and middle schools in the spring semester 2006. Results showed that the 10-week Humane Education program is very promising. The very positive pre to post-intervention results indicate that the program affected student participants knowledge, concerns, and interest in taking action regarding humane issues.

This report gives results from the Year 1 evaluation that was conducted as a pilot study to provide some understanding of the strengths and challenges of the Humane Education program as implemented in three New York City schools in grades 4-8 during the 2005-2006 school year. The Humane Education program was designed by experts in the field and a professional Humane Educator, Mr. Bob, was hired to implement the program. The Humane Education program consisted of 10 one-hour sessions taught once weekly to each class. The professional Humane Educator taught all classes thus creating consistency across classroom experiences. In Year 1, students came from 12 classrooms across 3 schools in the NYC public school system. There were 5 male and 7 female classroom teachers who stayed in the room while Mr. Bob taught the Humane Education Program. The majority of students were in the 5th and 7th grades.

The study and questionnaires used were designed by the principal evaluator to assess students moral reasoning and, more importantly, changes in their knowledge, concerns, and interest in taking action in the fields addressed in the humane education course. Because this was a pilot study to assess what aspects of the curriculum were most effective and to understand changes in knowledge and attitudes in individual students, it was important to use the same students to assess differences from pre-test to post-intervention. Of the 153 students in the sample, 88 took both the pre-test and post-test and could be matched. This sample was used to examine pre-post intervention changes. Responses to questions were indicated on a 1 to 5-point scale. Data were analyzed using co-variance analysis of variance (ANCOVA) and regression statistics. Students wrote responses to a moral dilemma that were coded and analyzed separately. Both pre and post-intervention measures were administered by the professional Humane Educator. The project had the approval of the New York City schools. Schools were chosen based on their interest in the program and willingness to implement it.

Overall, 17 analyses comparing pre to post-intervention responses were conducted; 13 of them showed significant positive results. Students knowledge increased significantly in all 6 areas assessed, including knowledge of the condition of child factory workers, the needs of wild animals, habitat destruction, air pollution, the greenhouse effect, and causes of bullying. Students concern increased significantly in all 4 areas assessed for animals and the environment, for farm animals, for companion animals, and about air and water pollution. Most importantly perhaps are the two findings that students interest in taking humane actions by joining a group to help animals or the environment and by their urging their friends to join such a group both increased significantly.

In addition to examining pre-post intervention increases, the relationship of student responses to questions about explicit program goals were assessed. One example of a program goal was to interest students in taking action. All findings showed positive results mixed with some null results, meaning that student responses to some but not all relevant content questions predicted their responses to the explicit goal questions. A summary of the findings shows that students who expressed concern for humane issues, who believed individual actions can be helpful, and who said learning about child laborers helped them make responsible choices were most likely to also believe that the strategy of letter writing campaigns to government representatives and to companies would be useful. In addition, students with the same and other similar concerns showed interest in joining an animal or environmental protection group and in urging their friends to join as well. These findings form a picture of the concerned, personally responsible, activist, even at the young ages of these middle school students.

Analyses were done to assess whether the program was less effective for either boys or girls or for younger or older students; overall the results show that the Humane Education curriculum and the way it was taught was appropriate for all middle school students. When age effects were found, they made sense. For instance, older students believed more strongly that they can help others lead a humane life by setting a good example than did younger students.

The average stage of moral reasoning used to solve the cheating/helping a friend dilemma was Stage 2/3, meaning that these students do not differ from their age peers as measured in many other samples (Power, Higgins, & Kohlberg, 1989). This level of reasoning struggles with conflicts between doing right as defined by doing concrete favors for others (such as doing their homework), especially for friends (Stage 2) and considering the role of group norms (the rule against cheating) and longer term consequences (such as students expecting others to help them cheat) in making decisions (Stage 3). On this dilemma, Stage 3 reasoners consider whether cheating is really helping a friend to learn or just to get by for the day as well as considering issues of fairness to the class as a whole. Although no changes in level of moral reasoning was expected and none was found; there were very clear differences in the choices and opinions of students. Before the intervention, almost 60% thought that helping a friend by cheating was the most important issue, while after the intervention, almost no student said that; instead, over 60% reported that not copying/cheating was the most important issue. At post-test, only 5% said that letting the friend copy was the most important issue. The dilemma was one between people not involving humane education issues in the curriculum and the dilemma was not discussed by Mr. Bob or the teachers in class; thus, changes shown in thinking about and solving a social/moral problem tangential to the program’s curriculum argues for the appropriateness and potential impact of humane education as an aspect of social/moral and character education programs. Finally, although only 18 students personally said they would cheat at the pre-test, only half that number, 9, said they would cheat at the post-test. Given that Humane Education never raised the issue of cheating, it seems that middle school students applied their developing concern for others, animals, and their world to the problems of Max, Jamal, and George, the three friends in the cheating dilemma.

In conclusion, the Year 1 evaluation study of the Humane Education program showed many positive results using a stringent design; that is, only assessing the same students at pre and post-intervention in order to assess individual learning and change from the beginning to the end of the program. The program as it was taught increased students knowledge, developed their concerns, and increased their interest in joining groups and taking other actions to further humane education-related causes. These results demonstrate that such difficult and large issues as animal neglect and harm, the poor conditions of child factory workers, and air and water pollution can be taught in ways that enliven and empower children and pre-adolescents.

Reference

Power, F.C., Higgins, A., & Kohlberg, L. (1989). Lawrence Kohlberg’s Approach to Moral Education. NY: Columbia University Press.

Year 2- Summary

The Humane Education program was conducted in New York City elementary/middle schools in the Fall 2006 and Spring 2007. The results of these evaluations found that the Humane Education program has a substantial impact on students knowledge, beliefs and positive attitudes toward animals and the environment, and created or strengthened their intentions to take purposeful action in support of humane ideals.

The Humane Education program was designed by experts in the field and a professional Humane Educator was hired to implement the program. The Humane Education program consists of 10 one-hour sessions taught once weekly. The professional Humane Educator taught all classes thus creating consistency across classroom experiences. Both pre and post-test surveys were administered by the professional Humane Educator. The project had the approval of the New York City schools. Schools were chosen based on their interest in the program and willingness to implement it.

In Fall 2006, 2 schools with 205 Humane Education students and 101 comparison students participated in the evaluation. In Spring 2007, 5 schools and 317 Humane Education students and 57 comparison students participated in the research. Data were analyzed using hierarchical linear regression analyses.

The study and questionnaires used were adapted from those designed for the pilot study by the principal evaluator to assess students reactions to each session and, most importantly, changes in their knowledge, beliefs, and interest in taking action in the fields addressed in the humane education course. A factor analysis was done on both pre and post intervention surveys. The variance in student responses accounted for by the items in each analysis was approximately 50-60 % showing that the surveys demonstrate construct validity; that is, the items measure what they are supposed to measure and group together accordingly.

In the 2005-2006 academic year, the humane education program was first introduced to the NYC schools. Results from the evaluations of that first implementation (Year 1 study above) were promising; results from the current study are stronger, showing a mature educational program that has clear effects.

Simple average scores tell a clear story; that the Humane Education intervention impacted students knowledge. The average level of knowledge about how to save human and animal habitats was 4.23 on a scale of 5 in the Spring 2007, the only time that outcome question was asked. In the Spring 2006, after the Humane Education intervention, students reported they felt empowered (3.14), were interested in helping animals and the environment (3.87), and would promote humane practices (4.09). On the post-intervention survey in Spring 2007, the average score for feeling empowered was 3.52, for being interested in helping animals and the environment, 3.97, and for promoting humane practices, 4.23. Since all of these averages are on a 1-5 scale, it is clear that the students had high levels of commitment to humane ideals and practices.

Most telling are the changes from before to after the Humane Education intervention. In the Fall 2006, students general empathy increased on a 5 point scale from 2.86 to 3.68, their concern for animals and the environment from 2.35 to 4.14. The Spring 2007 averages are comparable: 2.32 to 3.84 for general empathy and 2.41 to 4.40 for concern for animals and the environment. Student beliefs about animal treatment did not change which demonstrates the focus of the intervention its focus is on providing information to increase students knowledge and to empower them to make decisions based on what they have learned. In other words, Humane Education is a true educational program.

The hierarchical regression results demonstrate that students increased knowledge effected their concern and intentions to act to help animals and the environment. Those results reveal that students learned and gained knowledge that they felt they could put into action by writing their political representatives, being active in clubs or groups inside and outside of school, and encouraging their friends and peers to become active in such clubs and groups. Specifically, on the post-intervention survey, there were significant effects of the intervention (in comparison with control student responses) and of students reporting that their ideas had changed: 1. on the concern they reported having for animals and the environment, 2. for promoting humane practices, 3. for intending to help and act (write a representative, join a club or group) and 4.feelings of empathy for people and animals.

The impact of the Humane Education curriculum was also significant. Students who reported that they had more knowledge of animal neglect and the plight of migrant and child laborers, who understood the social and ecological conditions that promote bullying, animal neglect, and animal endangerment, and who reported a stronger sense of right and wrong were: 1. more concerned for animals and the environment, 2. had stronger beliefs about humane ideals, 3. felt empowered, and 4. reported stronger intentions to act and help. On the post-surveys, students also reported that positive relations with their peers significantly impacted almost all the outcomes discussed above. This shows that the Humane Education intervention had a positive effect on students relationships with one another in the classroom and likely outside the classroom as well.