New Report: Community Service and Service-Learning in America’s Schools 2008

Posted by on December 8, 2008


Corporation for National and Community Service Releases Report on Service Learning in U.S. Public Schools

The Corporation for National and Community Service released a new report showing that community service in America’s schools has reached a new peak, with 68 percent of all K-12 schools offering or recognizing service opportunities for their students.

The report, Community Service and Service-Learning in America’s Schools 2008, found that the prevalence of community service has risen in K-12 schools, up from 64 percent from a similar study conducted in 1999. High schools are especially supportive of community service, with a whopping 86 percent of high schools recognizing student service, up from 83 percent in 1999.

While school-based community-service has remained robust, the percentage of schools with service-learning declined from 32 percent in 1999 to 24 percent in 2008.

The report provides an in-depth look at the prevalence of community service and service-learning in public schools and provides insight into recent trends. It is the result of a survey of a national sample of more than 2,000 K-12 public school principals across America conducted by the Corporation in partnership with the independent research firm Westat. The results were released today at a meeting of several hundred educators, youth advocates, and policymakers at the Academy for Education Development.

“This report comes at a critical time when our educational needs are great, our resources scarce, and our educators are searching for answers,” said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation. “The number of students failing to graduate is rising to epidemic proportions. Yet we see that many schools are missing a key opportunity to use this proven strategy to help their students become more motivated and engaged both in and out of the classroom.”

The report found that a majority of schools with students participating in recognized community service activities also arrange at least some of these activities for students. This is a positive sign that that schools are increasingly committed to the ethic of community service and the value it provides to their students, schools, and community.

The growth of community service in America’s schools is likely a contributing factor to the increased levels of civic engagement in today’s youth. UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that 66.7 percent of students entering college in 2006 believe it to be very important to help others in difficulty- the highest percent in 26 years. Research continues to show that introducing people to service while they are still young can set them on a path to lifelong civic engagement. CIRCLE reports that young people who volunteer are more likely to believe that they can make a difference in their community. The Corporation’s 2007 report, Leveling the Path to Participation (PDF), also found that youth from disadvantaged circumstances who volunteer are more likely to feel empowered to make an impact than those who don’t volunteer.

The decline in service-learning may be attributed, at least in part, to principals’ beliefs about the benefits of service-learning. According to principals, the primary reasons that schools engage in service-learning is because it helps to augment students’ civic behaviors. For example, 53 percent of principals reported in 1999 that they value service-learning as a way to help students become more active members of the community. A large body of research shows that service-learning has many positive effects on students’ academic achievement and engagement in school. Yet, only 12 percent of principals reported in 1999 that they value service-learning participation as a way to improve student achievement in core academic courses.

Research confirms that service-learning is a strong vehicle for enhancing and deepening the learning experience to improve both civic and academic behaviors. Service-learning can also diminish “risky behavior” and behavioral problems at school and help students develop social confidence and skills. While community service also has positive impacts on students, service-learning offers a much more substantial service experience through structured activities that give youth leadership roles and connect the activities to reflection and learning.

“Schools across America have rallied around community service and they are to be applauded,” said Dr. Robert Grimm, the Corporation’s Director of Research and Policy. “But research shows that service-learning offers more meaningful service opportunities for students and has numerous impacts on both students’ civic and academic success. Service helps learning come alive. It is time to put learning back into service.”

Other key findings of the study include:

* The majority of school districts do not provide service-learning policies, according to school principals. Only 19 percent of school principals report that their districts have a policy that promotes service-learning, and 28 percent of principals do not know whether their district has such a policy.

* Elementary schools are the least likely to offer service-learning activities. 20 percent of elementary schools have service-learning programs, compared to a quarter of middle schools and over a third (35%) of high schools. Furthermore, over half (51%) of elementary school principals believe their students are too young to engage in service-learning.

* The class gap in service learning is decreasing but still exists. Schools in low-income areas are significantly less likely to have service-learning activities than other schools. In 1999, schools in low-income areas were 36 percent less likely to have service-learning activities; in 2008 they were only 26 percent less likely to offer service-learning. Still, only 20 percent of schools in low-income areas currently offer service-learning activities compared to 27 percent of schools that are not in low-income areas.

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