service learning shrinks

(Des Moines, IA) I’m here to talk to teachers, students, and nonprofit leaders about service-learning: the intentional combination of community service with academic work. This is a big deal–24% of schools offer it. But the prevalence has declined, according to a new study by the Corporation for National and Community Service–down from 32 percent in 1999.

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. 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 eqaulity. Or else service-learning could falter if Kennedy-Hatch isn’t fully funded and the grassroots movement continues to shrink.

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