Until recently, I was involved in the assessment of the Leader In Me (LIM) program of the Acadiana region of Louisiana. For those of you that are not aware, The LIM is an initiative for schools to introduce positive behavior developed by Franklin Covey. It is essentially the elementary program of the seminal Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The local United Way of Acadiana supported the program started pilot testing in 2010. It quickly expanded to include over 30 schools in the 2017-18 school year.
The LIM has great “face validity” in that it makes intuitive sense. If you actively teach a student how to behave, the student has a greater awareness of what is expected. It is the type of soft skills or non-cognitive skills that are now actively being investigated by economists (see https://www.nber.org/chapters/c13701.pdf and https://www.nber.org/papers/w25147 ). The concept is that there is a second set of skills that determine success in business such as the ability to seek compromise, push through adversity, or confidence is public speaking. These non-cognitive measures seem to be at least equally important to a child’s long-term success. The LIM has its primary effects on these skills that cannot be tested.
I remember the first time I walked into a LIM school. While not tall in stature, I towered over the child that met me at the door, shook my hand, and confidently escorted me visitors’ reception. I was not sold on the LIM program yet the school assembly actively engaged a vast majority of the students with a vision of the need to meet the standards of the LIM. I toured classrooms where multiple students realistically assessed their successes and goals for academic study – in a way many of my college students could not. The summative effect of my interaction with LIM students left we to strongly believe that there is a positive effect of LIM on cognitive as well as non-cognitive skills.
As a quantitative evaluator, I needed more than the anecdotal evidence of dozens of students. We set out to observe the positive effect of the program. One would think 30 schools should be enough. It is not that simple.
- I met experienced Lighthouse or top-tier schools other schools may not implement as well.
- In fact, there is a lack of hard standards in what constitutes LIM implementation. Not all schools are faithfully implementing the program and thus less likely to see the true results of the LIM (if any).
- LIM was the type of program that is more likely adopted by the most challenged schools. It is difficult to create a comparison or counterfactual.
- LIM was adopted over years with changing standardized tests most importantly the sputtered attempt to adopt the common core.
- Early evidence indicated a possible downturn in cognitive measures for the first year or two.
- Quantitative analysis was going to be possible but not easy. To make it convincing, advanced modeling was going to be necessary within a quasi-experimental design.
The LIM is what would be called a positive behavior support program. It is difficult to draw a theoretical line from behavior to academic achievement. It is so much easier to design a program that teaches a skill directly aligned to an academic goal. Overall, there is reason to believe that LIM has positive effects but showing those effects will not be easy. Still, the fact that it may be difficult to show effects should not be interpreted to mean that effects don’t exist.