Strive To Attain 'Culture of Service,' Nation Urged
WASHINGTON--More than any specific program of national or community service, the nation needs a "culture of service'' and a network of state and local opportunities that are open and attractive to people of all ages, a report by the federal Commission on National and Community Service has concluded.
The federal government should limit its role to setting program standards, providing seed money for programs, and establishing a national clearinghouse to strengthen local networks and identify opportunities for service, says the report, which was released here last week.
In particular, the report says, youth service deserves "special emphasis.''
The report also details the current state of community service nationwide and suggests goals for broadening and improving service experiences.
The report is the first to be issued by the 21-member bipartisan commission established by the National and Community Service Act of 1990 to raise the profile of community service and administer federal grants to service programs.
"I hope that it will be used both as an inspiration as well as [to] offer some concrete guidance'' to the new President and Congress, Catherine Milton, the commission's executive director, said of the report.
The document acknowledges that youth service is "not a panacea'' for such social ills as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and crime. Nevertheless, it says, by helping youths develop self-esteem, practical skills, and a sense of civic responsibility, youth service can act as "social judo'' to combat young people's sense of isolation and alienation.
'Intensive' Summer of Service
While the youth-service movement has enjoyed a resurgence in the past 10 years, the commission found that many programs are new and small, funding and institutional support are tenuous, and relatively little evaluation has been done.
To improve service learning for school-age children--which now reaches relatively few students, the report says--the report suggests that every state and major metropolitan area should have elementary, middle, and high schools in which service "is a central practice across the curriculum.''
The report also advises that all middle school students should have the opportunity to participate at least once in a summer of "intensive, instructive, and important'' community service.
Achieving those goals, it says, would require gaining the support of service-learning coordinators, training teachers in service learning, and building state or regional resource centers.
It also suggests answers to some of the current policy questions about national-service programs, in which volunteers would spend a year full time or more than a year part time in various jobs.
The report does not specifically address President-elect Bill Clinton's proposal for a national-service program, which is still being fleshed out. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)
It does say, however, that national-service opportunities should be available to anyone, but that the "initial expansion'' should focus on youths, regardless of whether they are in or out of school.
Focus on Unmet Needs
In one model discussed by the commission, half of the participants would be at the college or postcollege level, and the other half would be precollegiate students or young people not planning to attend college.
The best type of program, the report argues, would be a network of diverse, locally based efforts. Such a network would include some federally operated programs, as well as ones operated by state and local governments and by private organizations.
The program should be voluntary, the panel says, and should be funded by a partnership between the federal government and the community in which the service takes place, as well as through private money.
The commission estimates that the total annual cost for 100,000 national-service participants would probably be about $2 billion, with the federal government shouldering $1.5 billion of that.
The federal government already spends $300 million a year on programs that could be considered national service, the report notes.
The commission also called it "paramount'' that Congress bear in mind that national-service workers are to meet unmet needs and not displace existing workers.
Influence on Clinton Team
The commission's work has already gained the attention of the incoming Clinton Administration.
Commission representatives have kept the Clinton transition team abreast of the panel's work for some time, Ms. Milton said. As a result, the panel and the Clinton team appear "closer together'' on the value of having young children involved in service, she added.
But other differences between the two groups remain.
The commission backs the figure settled on by Congress as the post-service payment to students in current national-service model programs: $5,000 per year of full-time work, which can be used for college or a down payment on a house.
However, in a report by the Progressive Policy Institute being used by the Clinton transition, Charles Moskos, a sociologist at Northwestern University, describes a model program in which participants would receive about $10,000 a year in wages and another $10,000 to be used for college, job training, or a down payment on a home.
The National and Community Service Act expires this year. Hearings on its reauthorization could begin as early as next month, according to a commission source.
Copies of the report, "What You Can Do for Your Country,'' are available at no charge from the Commission on National and Community Service, 529 14th St., N.W., Suite 452, Washington, D.C. 20045; (202) 724-0600.