Statewide Service Programs Sought

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Chantilly, Va.

State education officials and community-service leaders from 21 states gathered here last month to swap strategies for persuading legislatures to enact mandatory service-learning programs.

The two-day conference, titled "Citizenship Education: Mandating Service at the State Level,'' was hosted by the Maryland Student Service Alliance, which spearheaded the drive two years ago that made Maryland the only state so far to require students to perform community service as a condition of high school graduation.

Maryland calls on its students either to perform 75 hours of service during their middle and high school years or to comply with a locally designed program approved by the state superintendent. (See Education Week, Aug. 5, 1992).

"I hope other states will make sure that every single student will develop values of citizenship,'' said Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the founder of the M.S.S.A. and a deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department.

In a speech that concluded the conference, Thomas G. Carroll, a special assistant to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, reiterated the Clinton Administration's support for community service. He noted that President Clinton had endorsed the idea of mandated service for high school students in a recent letter to Ms. Townsend.

Mr. Carroll also said that state and local officials could choose to fund service programs with money under several new programs the Administration has proposed--"the safe-schools act,'' the "school-to-work opportunities act,'' and the "goals 2000: educate America act.''

"You 21 states are on the front end of the reform movement here,'' Mr. Carroll said. "And there's a lot of support coming your way.''

The conference's 160 participants discussed service learning, curriculum development, and integrating service into education reform. They exchanged ideas on how to overcome bureaucratic and financial obstacles that often thwart efforts to impose a statewide mandate.

Lessons in Lobbying

In one session on building support for a service mandate, Rick Battistoni, who directs Rutgers University's service program, said that a well-articulated public argument for service is fundamental, as teachers, students, and administrators need to be convinced that it is worth their time.

Teachers unfamiliar with service learning should receive paid training, another participant suggested.

Pat Kells, the executive director of the Kansas office of community service, suggested that lobbying the state's "heavy hitters,'' such as the governor or chief state school officer, should be the first step.

Student support was critical to Maryland's success, Ms. Townsend said. Whenever possible, articulate and enthusiastic young people should be enlisted as lobbyists, she said.

A state mandate could relieve financial problems, particularly those associated with transportation costs, as state officials would be more likely to supply funding, suggested Linda Potter, who runs a community-service program for an Ohio district.

Schools should also look to corporations for financial help, as they often have their own "volunteer dollars,'' another participant advised.

Andrea Laskey, a job-training coordinator from New Hampshire, provided a dissenting voice, arguing that mandating service is unrealistic and unnecessary.

Service should be a voluntary, individual decision, she said, noting that "some students will just earn the credits to get out of high school.''

Bernadette Chi, the community-service coordinator for the California Department of Education, agreed that "mandatory volunteerism'' is an oxymoron, but argued that integrating service learning into the curriculum makes it part of an education about citizenship.

"What have we been doing in schools to build citizenship?'' Ms. Chi asked. "Sometimes sitting in a classroom isn't the best way to do it.''

Vol. 13, Issue 24

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