A crisis (or opportunity) for service-learning in schools

A recently released report “Community Service and Service-Learning in America’s Schools” by the Corporation for National & Community Service, analyzes trends in service-learning for youth.

The numbers are interesting – the percentage of K-12 schools who say they “recognize” or “arrange” student participation in community service remains high. Although down slightly from a whopping 92% in 1979, it increased from 83% to 86% in the nine years since the last survey. But the study confirms a downward trend in school service-learning, from 32 percent in 1999 to 24 percent in 2008.

Community service is different from service-learning. Service-learning has clear curriculum and learning objectives, and is integrated into classes and subjects. So for a school, service-learning is a bigger commitment that requires funding, resources, and attention, all of which are in short supply these days.

Peter Levine blogged this past week about this crisis in the service-learning movement. Peter is director of CIRCLE, (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) out of Tufts University which conducts research on the civic and political engagement of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25.

He says,

“It’s my sense that the movement for service-learning has reached a crisis point. It isn’t included in federal education law; it isn’t a priority in an era of concern about reading and math; the federal funding has been cut (in real terms) since 2001; and the quality of programs is so uneven that outsiders could be reasonably skeptical about its value.”

Dan Butin of The Education Policy Blog blames this directly on NCLB, “In such an age of standardized accountability, of course service-learning offerings would be minimized and marginalized. And especially when a reform effort at the K-12 level is not rooted deeply, it becomes a casualty of another innovative pedagogical and curricular offering left behind in an age of all too many things left behind.”

Of course, every crisis brings the opportunity for creative solutions. Peter goes on:“On the other hand, the best programs are superb; they fit the outlook of the incoming administration; and there is strong support for service-learning in the Kennedy-Hatch Serve-America bill that both Senators McCain and Obama promised to sign. That bill would direct most resources to poor districts, which today are much less likely to offer service-learning. So we could be poised for improvements in quality, quantity, and equality. Or else service-learning could falter if Kennedy-Hatch isn’t fully funded and the grassroots movement continues to shrink.”

Yes, we can!
The time could not be better to reinvigorate service-learning in schools. Schools can become centers of community redevelopment, eco-awareness, technology support, and service. With support and funding,  service-learning could transform lives of youth and bring community benefits — especially in poor neighborhoods where the need is greatest and these programs have the most impact.

Direct link to report: Community Service and Service-Learning in America’s Schools 2008 (PDF)

Sylvia

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One thought on “A crisis (or opportunity) for service-learning in schools”

  1. Thanks for an interesting post. I’m a high school junior and in my school, there are informal “programs” to make students aware of community service and show them the benefits of taking part in community service. But we certainly don’t have a “service learning” part of our studies. As you say, that takes a lot resources, funding, and attention. As it is, something super popular like sports programs continue to get cut in my school and district, due to tough budget issues. The people in charge certainly aren’t going to support something like “service learning”, unfortunately (too bad, because I think it would be a good thing in our school). So no wonder the trend is down for service learning in schools. Again, it’s too bad.
    -Sally

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