Rising Recognition of Service-Learning in the United States

Service-learning perceived as a highly effective educational solution for college and career readiness.

In the noisy world of education reform and improving academic outcomes for students, service-learning has been quietly building recognition over the past year. Familiarity with the teaching strategy that links students’ academic goals to improving their communities has risen five percentage points from 2010. Now 14 percent of the U.S. public says they are extremely or very familiar with the academic strategy.

This is among the finding of a new National Youth Leadership Council survey of 1,011 adults conducted by Vision Critical in early April 2011 using its Springboard America online panel, which is weighted to represent the U.S. population.

“While advocates of service-learning have long recognized its strengths, the general public has not necessarily understood what service-learning is and how it benefits students,” said Kelita Bak, NYLC’s CEO. “We’re pleased to see the growing awareness of this powerful teaching strategy.”

Half of respondents (50 percent) said instruction that involves “meaningful learning experiences in the community where students tackle real problems like improving local parks, designing museum exhibits, or improving teen driver safety” would be very or extremely effective in preparing students for college or a career after high school. About half of respondents (49 percent) also said that providing K-12 students a more academically rigorous curriculum would be very or extremely effective. These two options topped the list of five learning strategies suggested in the survey.

The general public remains skeptical of the quality of U.S. high schools, giving them a grade of C on providing students the necessary education in key academic subjects. High schools also receive Cs on equipping students with important skills such as leadership and critical thinking. “Since service-learning experiences have demonstrated effectiveness in helping young people develop these skills, incorporating more of this kind of teaching could potentially help high schools improve in these areas,” said Bak.