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Service-Learning and Community Service in K-12 Public Schools
NCES: 1999043
September 1999

Summary of Key Findings


Incorporating service-learning into K-12 schools is a growing area of interest to educators. Like community service, service-learning requires students to serve their communities. However, service-learning takes community service one step further by incorporating the service experiences of students directly into their school work. Service-learning has long been viewed as a possible means of improving education, with roots stretching back to late-19 th -and early 20 th -century. For example, John Dewey, an advocate of service-learning, believed that students would learn more effectively and become better citizens if they engaged in service to the community and had this service incorporated into their academic curriculum (Dewey, 1916). Though first suggested over a century ago, the incorporation of service-learning into the curriculum did not begin in earnest until the early 1970s, and it has only been in the last decade that extensive reform efforts have emerged.

Legislative reform over the past 10 years has set in motion a growing national emphasis on increasing students' involvement with their local communities and linking this service to academic study through service-learning. The National and Community Service Act of 1990, through the Serve America program, and the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, through the Learn and Serve America program, provided support for service-learning activities in elementary and secondary schools (Corporation for National Service, 1999). In addition, through programs such as AmeriCorps, the federal government has offered opportunities to high school graduates, college students, and recent college graduates to serve local communities in exchange for stipends and payment of education loans or money toward future postsecondary education. Both Learn and Serve America and AmeriCorps are administered by the Corporation for National Service, a federal organization also created by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. Two previous studies, one looking at high schools in 1984 and the other looking at 6-12 grade students in 1996, provide tentative evidence that service-learning has become more pervasive since the early 1980s. Based on a study conducted in 1984, researchers reported that 27 percent of all high schools (public and private) in the United States offered some type of community service and 9 percent of all high schools offered service-learning, defined as curriculum-related service programs (Newmann and Rutter, 1985). The 1996 National Household Education Survey (NHES), conducted by NCES, found that 49 percent of all students in grades 6 -12 participated in community service (U. S. Department of Education, 1997). Of the students participating in community service, 56 percent reported that their community service was incorporated into the curriculum in some way.

1 High schools include high schools and combined schools. Combined schools are schools that contain both elementary and secondary grades. The highest grade in these schools must be at least 9th grade.