CNCS: Student Service on the Rise, but Less Connected to Learning

New report shows fewer schools using effective education strategy

Wednesday The Corporation for National and Community Service released a new report showing that community service in U.S. schools has reached an all-time high. 68 percent of all K-12 schools offer or recognize some kind of service opportunities for their students but that service-learning is down.

The report, Community Service and Service-Learning in America’s Schools 2008 (PDF), found that while community service has increased in K-12 schools, the percentage of schools with service-learning declined from 32 percent in 1999 to 24 percent in 2008.

The study is the result of a survey of a national sample of more than 2,000 K-12 public school principals across the United States.  The results were released at the Academy for Education Development.

To view the full report and other information, visit

“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, the out-going 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 reason service in school matters at all is that research shows that introducing young people to service sets them on a path to lifelong civic engagement.  Tuft’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) reports that volunteering empowers youth with the knowledge that they can make a difference in their communities.  Last year the Corporation published another report, Leveling the Path to Participation, that also found that youth from disadvantaged circumstances who volunteer feel more influential in their communities than do their peers who don’t volunteer.

One guess as to the decline in service-learning is that school leaders may falsely believe that service-learning only benefits a student’s civic achievement. In truth, research has shown that service-learning increases a child’s capacity to achieve academically as well—by deepening the learning experience and diminishing negative behaviors.

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 57 percent less likely to have service-learning activities; in 2008 they were only 35 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.

In New Orleans: Service by the People, for the People

Marginalized New Orleans Youth Strive for a Brighter, Greener Future

The Corps Network has recently launched a new service program in New Orleans. The Conservation Corps of Greater New Orleans (CCGNO) combines many goals:

  • Engage local youth whom the schools have not reached, including formerly incarcerated and court-involved 16-24 year olds
  • Prepare these youth with highly marketable and potentially lucrative green job skills
  • Give them the chance to use sustainable practices to restore the environment and historic structures, conserve energy, and build community
  • Revitalize New Orleans, a city still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina
  • Innovate service learning practices by implementing them without the classroom
  • Transform the public perception of marginalized youth by giving them a platform and a voice
  • Instill in these youth the value of service to community at an early age

CCGNO leverages some investment from the Federal government, to not only transform the lives of its Corps members but also to rebuild and rejuvenate New Orleans infrastructure and community.

The program graduates its first class of Corps members this Friday through its Service Learning Showcase, where 100 Corps members will share their accomplishments from their three-month term of service.

During their term, Corps members visualized success, researched and assessed community needs, proposed and implemented sustainable projects, and finally evaluated their own outcomes. Corps members have served side by side with up to seven peers, plus professional mentors who have guided them. They have served in agencies throughout Greater New Orleans.

Recruited from the parishes of Greater New Orleans, the inaugural class of CCGNO show that quality service-learning comes through youth ownership. By mid-2009, CCGNO hopes to have graduated 800 Corps members.

While some service corps programs are hit-or-miss when it comes to career transitions, CCGNO is all about green workforce development, and commits to propelling its graduating Corps members towards green jobs and further education.

For further reading on bringing all voices to the environmental movement, check out In November 2008, Green For All’s founder Van Jones published a book Green Collar Economy. Also read this New York Times blog post (from 11/10/08) about Van Jones and the Obama administration. Check out this interview with Van Jones, who explains more: