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Study Outlines Volunteer Role In U.S. Schools

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Washington--More than a million people perform volunteer work in schools each year, but small schools, rural schools, and those with high minority enrollments attract relatively few of them, a study by the National Research Council has found.

Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos, in releasing the study last week, praised the "vital role" of volunteers, but said he would not establish an office within the Education Department to promote volunteerism, one of the report's recommendations. He said the money already budgeted in this area was "substantial."

The Congress earmarked $988,000 in 1989 for volunteer programs, of which $380,000 was awarded to the National Association for Partners in Education for a center on school-volunteer and partnership programs.

The report, which was prepared by the nrc in consultation with a committee of educators and researchers, also recommends that the department collect more and better data on the number, duties, and effectiveness of volunteers.

The $290,000 study, "Volunteers in Public Schools," was mandated by the Congress in 1986 and funded by the Education Department.

It cites e.d. data estimating that 1.3 million people would volunteer in schools in the 1987-88 school year, about 295,000 of them in private schools. Volunteers were found in about 60 percent of public schools and 65 percent of private ones.

Disparities Between Schools

Of schools with fewer than 150 students, 40 percent reported no volunteers and those that used them averaged 7 volunteers per school. In contrast, 75 percent of schools with more than 500 students used volunteers, averaging almost 30 per school.

The report also found more volunteers in elementary schools than in secondary schools. Suburban schools turned out an average of 32 volunteers per school, while urban areas averaged 25 and rural areas only 11.

Almost half of schools with minority enrollments of 50 percent or more reported having no volunteers, but only about 30 percent of schools with minority enrollments under 50 percent had no volunteers.

Noting that schools with high minority enrollments are most often in low-income neighborhoods, the report suggests that parents in these areas might not have the time and energy to volunteer, that there may be fewer intact families and thus fewer parents, and that "there may be less understanding in such areas of the need for and importance of providing volunteer services."

The study suggests that schools considering expansion of volunteer efforts and federal officials considering a national youth-service effort ensure that such programs don't have the "unintended consequence" of increasing the disparity between rich and poor schools.

It recommends federal grants to help establish an "infrastructure" at the local level that can steer volunteers where they are needed.

The study discusses characteristics of successful volunteer programs and describes 13 "exemplary" efforts.

It is available for $12.50 from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418; (800) 624-6242.--j.m.

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