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Service Learning

"Service Learning" does not have one universally accepted definition, but it generally means sustained community service projects that are closely connected to formal instruction and curriculum. Service learning often involves close partnerships between schools or colleges and communities. CIRCLE is especially interested in the long-term effects of service learning on participants' civic behavior and attitudes.

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Impact of Participation in Service-Learning on High School Students' Civic Engagement

A CIRCLE Working Paper by Shelley Billig, Sue Root, and Dan Jesse of RMC Research Corporation examines the impact of service-learning on civic engagement. The study found that service-learning students scored higher than comparison students on several outcomes, although most of the differences were not statistically significant. Service-learning students were significantly more likely to say they intended to vote and that they enjoyed school. The study suggests that service-learning is effective when it is implemented well, but it is no more effective than conventional social studies classes when the conditions are not optimal. Being implemented well meant that it was of sufficient duration (at least a semester), that it was linked to standards, involved more direct contact with service recipients, and had cognitively challenging reflection activities among other components. The study also showed that service-learning had an effect beyond other active learning techniques. The study compared more than 1,000 high school students who participated in service-learning programs with those who did not participate in schools matched for similar demographics and student achievement profiles.

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Lessons on Civic Education from the Past and Present

Should schools be the only groups responsible for civic education? Working Paper 30: Recognizing the Role of Community in Civic Education suggests that communities and community organizations can also help young people develop the skills, values, and knowledge necessary to be active citizens.

The research looks at how mediating institutions such as the Hull House, the Highlander Folk School, and the Neighborhood Learning Community were able to provide rich models of learning in the community where community organizations work together to provide lessons in civic learning. The research suggests that the practice of civic education should reach beyond the schools into communities and community institutions. Additionally, for this type of education to be effective it needs to connect community-based learning with civic outcomes.


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Service-Learning in K-12 Public Education

This fact sheet offers a glimpse at the state of service-learning in K-12 public schools today, including rates of school and student participation, methods of program integration into schools, types of service projects, and duration of projects. Using a variety of data sources, this fact sheet also charts participation in service-learning over the past several decades. Although participation over the last five years seems to be slipping from an all-time high in the late nineties, this trend may be due to a change in the way service-learning is defined.

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Research findings about service learning have been collected by: