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


The findings from the National Student Learning and Community Service Survey indicate that community service and servicelearning are rooted in the U.S. public elementary and secondary education system. The data suggest that there has been an increase in the percentage of public schools involving their students in community service activities, and much of this service is being integrated into the curriculum. For example, in 1984, 27 percent of all high schools were reported to have community service and 9 percent were reported to have service-learning (Newmann and Rutter, 1985). During the 1998-1999 academic year, these percentages were 83 percent and 46 percent, respectively (Table 1). At the same time, the majority of schools with service-learning provided some support to teachers interested in integrating service-learning into their curriculum. Among schools with service-learning, the most frequently cited reasons for involving students in service-learning revolved around strengthening relations among students, the school, and the community.

While this brief uses some of the data from the FRSS study on school level service-learning to provide much needed basic information about the state of service-learning in our public schools, more analyses can and should come out of these data. For instance, while it is clear that many schools support service-learning to some degree, it is not clear how deep such support is. Detailed items from the study about the level of support for teacher service-learning training could help answer this question. Another issue that could be explored using these data deals with the subject areas in which service-learning is integrated. A third question that could be addressed is to what extent and in what capacity students are involved in selecting the service activities they will perform. Of course, this study cannot answer every important question about schools' and students' experiences with service-learning, suggesting the need for further studies. For example, it would be interesting to learn if schools that have initiated service-learning activities build on their early experiences by institutionalizing service-learning over time. Such a question and others examining changes in school's use of service-learning, student participation, support for teachers, and funding require research allowing analysis of changes across time.