Requiring Students To Volunteer May Be Overkill

By Debra Viadero — December 16, 1998 1 min read
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Schools don’t need to force students to volunteer in their communities, new national data from the U.S. Department of Education suggest. The key to kindling a spirit of community service in a school may be simply to make those kinds of opportunities available.

The data come from “The Condition of Education 1998,” a compendium of educational statistics published by the department’s National Center on Education Statistics each year.

Besides information on volunteer activities, the 379-page report includes new and previously published data on academic performance, homework habits, college-going rates, and dropout rates.

Although dating from 1996, the data on community-service participation are new to the report this year. They show that rates of volunteering in schools that arrange, but do not require, community-service activities for their students are almost as high as those in schools that require and arrange volunteer projects.

In both kinds of schools, just over half of 6th to 12th graders had spent some time volunteering.

Rates were lowest in schools that required community service but did not help place students in an activity. Less than one-fifth of students in those schools had clocked any volunteer hours.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Between 1984 and 1996, the proportion of high school students taking Advanced Placement exams more than doubled, rising from an average of 50 out of 1,000 students to 131 out of 1,000.

  • Despite the recent national attention given to school violence, the percentage of high school seniors who reported having been victimized in some way at school has changed little since 1976.

  • From 1971 to 1997, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who finished high school rose from 78 to 87 percent.

Single copies of the report can be obtained for free from the Education Department at (877) 433-7827. The report number is NCES 98-018. Excerpts are also available on the World Wide Web at nces.ed.gov.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 16, 1998 edition of Education Week as Requiring Students To Volunteer May Be Overkill


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