Educating for active citizenship: Service-learning, school-based service, and civic engagement.
Executive Summary and Key Findings
This brief is the second in the Youth Helping America Series, a series of reports based on data from the Youth Volunteering and Civic Engagement Survey, a national survey of 3,178 American youth between the ages of 12 and 18 that was conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2005 in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau and the nonprofit coalition Independent Sector.
The survey collected information on teen volunteering habits, experiences with schoolbased service-learning, and other forms of civic engagement. While the first brief in the Youth Helping America Series focused on youth volunteering and social institutions, this brief focuses on participation in school-based service — service opportunities made available or required by schools — among middle school and high school aged youth. We pay particular attention to the extent to which youth participate in service-learning courses, which integrate school-based service opportunities into the academic curriculum such as those programs supported by Learn and Serve America.
By approaching school-based service from the perspectives of youth, it is possible to identify: 1) who among youth participate in school-based service; 2) their perceptions of what they accomplished in the experience; and 3) the relationship between this school-based service and their attitudes and behaviors toward other forms of civic engagement.
According to the survey, 38 percent of youth — or an estimated 10.6 million students nationwide — report current or past participation in community service as part of a school activity or requirement. Of these students, 74 percent, or approximately 7.8 million, are either currently enrolled or were enrolled within the previous year in a course that contains a service component, while 26 percent participated in such a course at some time in the past. High school students are more likely than middle school students to have participated in at least one school-based service experience.
Of all school-based service experiences, more than three-quarters — or 77 percent — take place as part of a course that contains one or more of the generally accepted elements of high-quality service-learning. These elements include:
(1) Planning the service activity (36 percent of all courses)
(2) Participating in regular service for a semester or longer (36 percent of all courses)
(3) Writing or reflecting on the service experience in class (51 percent of all courses)
To determine whether youth participated in service-learning, as opposed to simply schoolbased service, we developed a service-learning quality index that counts the number of highquality elements associated with the school-based service experience. Among the students who participate in school-based service, whether currently or some time in the past, we found that 10 percent — or an estimated 1.1 million — participate in service-learning with all three of the quality elements, 26 percent with two of the elements, and 41 percent with one of the elements.
While the majority of students report that their experience with school-based service had a positive impact on them, we found that students who report current or past participation in service-learning that includes reflection, planning, and service that lasts at least one semester, are more than twice as likely than students who participate in school-based
service with none of the three quality elements to report that their experience had a very positive impact on them.
The study also found that the likelihood of a student's participation in school-based service, as well as in courses that involve one or more quality elements of service-learning, is related to several school factors:
- High school students (defined as grades 9 - 12) are more than 30 percent more likely than middle school students (defined as grades 6-8) to participate in school-based service, whether the participation occurred within the previous year or some time in the past.
- Students in private schools are more than 50 percent more likely to engage in schoolbased service than students in public schools. They also are more likely to engage in service-learning courses that include reflection, planning, and/or service that lasts at least one semester.
- Participation in school-based service is higher among students with grade-point averages of B+ or higher (43 percent) than among students with grade-point averages of B or lower (35 percent), as is participation in service-learning courses with one or more of the quality elements.
- Among youth who have participated in school-based service, high school students (80 percent) are more likely than middle school students (68 percent) to have participated in service that contains at least one of the three elements of quality service-learning.
- In addition, the study found that youth coming from families where their parents and/or siblings volunteer are more likely to report current or past participation in school-based service, as well as service-learning courses that contain planning, reflection, and/or regular service that lasts at least one semester.
- Participation in school-based volunteer service, and especially service-learning courses with several quality elements, also was found to have a strong positive relationship with several measures of civic engagement, including their stated likelihood of future volunteering, their sense of personal efficacy, and their interest in current events and politics. Indeed, the strongest of these relationships are around future civic behaviors and attitudes. For example, we found that:
- Youth who report past participation in school-based service are more likely to have volunteered through an organization in the past twelve months than those youth who have never participated in school-based service, 59 percent to 48 percent, respectively.
- Students who report current or previous participation in a service-learning course that includes reflection, planning, and service that lasts at least one semester are 40 percent more likely than school-based service participants to say they are very likely to volunteer in the upcoming year, and 71 percent more likely than individuals who have never engaged in school-based service.
- Youth who report current or past participation in service-learning courses that include reflection, planning and service that lasts at least one semester are 63 percent more likely than those who have never engaged in school-based service to say that they take a good deal of interest in world events.
- Participants in school-based service talk about politics with their friends and parents more often than non-participants do — and even more so when the service is part of a servicelearning course that includes reflection, planning, and service that lasts at least one semester.
- Youth who report current or past participation in service-learning courses that include reflection, planning, and service that lasts at least one semester are almost three times as likely to believe they can make a great deal of difference in their community than youth who participated in school-based service without any of the quality elements of service-learning.
- Finally, youth from affluent families are more likely to participate in both school-based service and service-learning courses that include quality elements. However, youth from low-income families who participate in school-based service and service-learning demonstrate many positive relationships to civic attitudes and behaviors, highlighting the importance of making school-based service and service-learning courses accessible to students of all backgrounds.
- high school (14-18 years old)