Research supporting service-learning

Yesterday I blogged about a crisis (or opportunity) for service-learning in schools.

This is based on a new report Community Service and Service-Learning in America’s Schools by the Corporation for National & Community Service.

In a nutshell, the report confirms a decade long decline in more formal, curriculum based service-learning. However, it also shows a recent slight upward trend in school support for youth doing community service work.

But here’s why the decline in service-learning is worrisome. From the report’s summary:

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.

More research from Learn & Serve America on the Impact of Service-Learning:
Research studies of service-learning, an educational method that intentionally connects community service to classroom learning, demonstrate that service-learning programs can have positive impacts on youth in three general areas: academic engagement and achievement; civic attitudes and behaviors; and social and personal skills. The studies also demonstrate that students gain the maximum benefit when their service-learning experience includes a direct tie to the curriculum, planning and design of service projects by students, structured reflection on the service experience in the classroom, and continuity of service for at least one semester. This issue brief offers some of the most compelling evidence to date on how service-learning positively affects youth. Issue Brief on “The Impact of Service-Learning: A Review of Current Research” (PDF)

Sylvia

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One thought on “Research supporting service-learning”

  1. Sylvia,

    Thanks for these posts. I have been unsettled by the fact that there must be more. I touch on serious issues that lend themselves to service learning but have a difficult time starting (3 classes to prep for, enormity of pbl in all of them, etc.) You have opened up a few resources and reasoning that this should be forefront in our thinking. What suggestions have you found that would help educators going it alone?

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