CalServe District Partnerships Sustainability Survey Results
The California Service-Learning (CalServe) Initiative of the California Department of Education (CDE) is funded under a formula grant administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, Learn and Serve America. CalServe provides funding assistance to school-community partnerships through 12 regional service-learning networks and 28 local educational agency district partnerships, which are funded through competitive grants.
In order to determine what the grantees believed to be important in making service-learning a sustainable and successful program, the CDE commissioned a recent survey to take a closer look at 15 grantees who had just competed their six-year grant cycle. This paper reports the results of that survey.
The results of the 2000–2006 CalServe District Partnerships Sustainability survey found that service-learning is alive and doing well in California. Grantees are for the most part making their participation goal of schools and communities working together to advance the program, and are pleased with the results. The 2001 federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation is no longer an impediment to the existence or future development of local service-learning programs.
Regional grants support service-learning efforts to increase the capacity for the design and implementation of service-learning in the 11 county superintendents' regions across California. CalServe District Partnership grants target school districts and county offices of education and fall into two categories: developmental and sustainable. Developmental partnerships receive grant support to design and initiate a coordinated, strategic service-learning initiative within a district, a region, or a county. Sustainable partnerships have received prior funding as developmental partners and have demonstrated adequate progress toward the establishment of a districtwide or countywide service-learning initiative. All partnership grantees are eligible for up to six years of CalServe grant support.
Purpose of the Survey
In addition to being a resource document for the general public and service-learning practitioners, the results of this survey will be used by a statewide service-learning advisory committee composed of diverse stakeholders from both public and private sectors to discuss and ultimately provide recommendations for the future of service-learning in kindergarten through grade twelve (K–12), as supported by the CDE's CalServe Initiative.
This survey builds upon the results of an earlier, similar survey (Affiliate Report) conducted in 2005, which looked back over almost nine years of service-learning experience in California school districts and county offices of education. Like the former survey, this survey will be used as a reflective assessment of prior CalServe grant programs that received grant funding in the past and are no longer fiscally connected to CalServe. The ultimate goal is to support effective programs from a learning and community-connection perspective and to promote the sustainability of programs so that grant funds are no longer needed.
Although both surveys asked similar questions, the results of this survey reflect the significant changes that have occurred in K–12 education since the implementation of the NCLB legislation in 2001. The earlier survey showed that the implementation of NCLB had a significant negative impact on the service-learning programs that the grantees were trying to implement.
Service-learning programs reviewed under the prior survey were often seen as add-ons and not integral to the districts' academic growth. Service-learning resources were often diverted to other programs, personnel were reassigned, community partners became hard to find, and district administrators felt service-learning was "just another thing to do." Grantees that received their first funding during the start of NCLB were finding it difficult to get started. The future of service-learning did not appear very bright.
The new survey shows that NCLB has become a fixture in all districts and is no longer consuming all of the districts' resources and attention. Service-learning is no longer viewed as being in competition with NCLB, but rather as a valid pedagogical tool to help meet the achievement goals of NCLB. Unlike the earlier survey, NCLB was rarely mentioned during the interviews.
This survey is based on the results of a telephone survey conducted during the summer of 2006 with the coordinators of the 15 CalServe District Partnership Sustainability grantees at the end of their six-year period of grant eligibility. The grantees' responses were for the most part anecdotal and narrative, but nonetheless produced a substantial amount of useful information. Many of the statements contained in this summary were not taken directly from the respondent's survey forms; rather they reflect the writer's overall impressions from being the sole interviewer and recorder for the 15 interviewees.
The original interview questions, which appear in the following narrative in boldface type, provide the framework for this summary of the service-learning sustainable program coordinators' responses. In this report, the term "district" is used to refer to an entity that can be either a school district or county office of education.
1. Please describe the status of your districtwide implementation of service-learning opportunities with respect to CalServe's 50 percent goal.
Most survey respondents either met or exceeded CalServe's 50 percent goal. For the few who had not, the major impediment seemed to be that they had started late in the process. However, even these grantees were optimistic that they would soon have a service-learning policy in place and meet their 50 percent goal.
The respondents were about evenly divided as to whether their students should receive at least one service-learning experience annually or at least once during each grade span. Those grantees who chose the annual approach seemed to have more robust programs and had service-learning more completely incorporated into their curricula. They appeared to have a more sustainable program and had taken much less of an "add-on" approach than had their colleagues who opted for the grade span approach.
In almost all cases, some verification was required from the service-learning coordinator, a classroom teacher, a principal, or, in at least one case, members of the governing board that the service-learning opportunity had occurred.
a. Describe the impact that your local governing board-adopted policy, regulations, or other administrative methods have had on promoting and sustaining high-quality service-learning districtwide.
A few of the districts had not yet developed or adopted a districtwide service-learning policy. This was typically the result of getting a late start on the process, usually as a result of a rapid turnover in administration or staff. For those districts that had local governing board approval, there were primarily two types of board policies: mandatory or permissive.
A mandatory policy means that a service-learning experience is a requirement of all students in the district. A few districts tie completion of a service-learning project directly to eligibility for graduation. The requirement could be stated either in terms of hours or in terms of number of service-learning activities. However, in either case, the student has to have at least one service-learning experience prior to graduation. One district is attempting to adopt a mandatory policy, but they must first negotiate its terms with the local collective bargaining units.
A permissive policy means that a service-learning experience is not necessarily required of the students, but rather the board supports and recommends that service-learning opportunities be provided.
The coordinators in the districts that have a mandatory policy tend to believe the administrators and teachers have bought into the concept and practice of service-learning and that it is firmly institutionalized in the district. These coordinators appear to have little or no doubt that service-learning will continue, even with changes in staffing or the administration.
The notion of institutionalization tends not to be as strong in those districts that have adopted a permissive policy. In the permissive districts, the coordinators tend to characterize the program as the brainchild of one or a few locals, or that the current successes are tied to a limited number of charismatic or highly motivated staff.
One coordinator commented, "Teachers, students, and community members enjoy and find purposes in service-learning and thus participate in the projects and activities because of that enjoyment, not because the board policy requires it."
Almost all of the respondents believe that their district's policy is appropriate for the type of service-learning program that they are currently running.
As might be expected, implementation of service-learning in a district usually comes about from either a top-down directive of the administration or as a result of the grassroots efforts of concerned parents, community leaders, or teachers.
In at least one of the large top-down districts, the coordinator indicated there was initial resentment among the teaching staff shortly after the policy was adopted because the teachers felt this was just another add-on program or fad. However, as the program developed, most of the teachers saw the benefits and are now supportive of the program.
In the grassroots districts, as was expected, the staff seemed to be very supportive of service-learning, but the coordinators were not always sure that the program would continue, particularly if funding for the program were to be discontinued or threatened. However, where there was strong financial support from the community, the coordinator was more optimistic.
One board readopted a community-service resolution as a service-learning resolution, simply by changing the words community service to service-learning. Based on the coordinator's responses, this interviewer questions whether the changes in the policy statement actually resulted in a full-fledged change from community service to service-learning.
None of the districts have interpretive regulations to accompany district policies.
b. Do you believe service-learning opportunities will continue in your district? If so, please describe the plan for incorporating service-learning into existing programs or administrative plans (e.g., local educational plan, single-school plan integration, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation, teacher training, etc.).
Almost all of the coordinators believe that service-learning will continue in their district after the CalServe grant expires. However, in those districts where there was heavy reliance on the CalServe grant, the coordinators indicated that the program could be reduced, if not eventually cut, once the grant expired. In those districts where the district is assuming a significant portion of the funding or where local independent funding had been obtained, the notion of continuation is much stronger.
A best case example for continuation would appear to be a district where there was a mandatory top-down policy with secured local funding. Not surprisingly, the coordinators who are the most optimistic about the continuation of service-learning in their districts come from districts where service-learning is fully supported by both the administration and the staff and where there is strong community support.
School districts appear to be very creative in incorporating service-learning into their programs and plans, although they did tend to specialize. For example, some districts are strong in environmental work; others focus more on the social services aspect; and still others on community development.
The more established a service-learning program is, the more involved service-learning is in the various plans and programs of the school. Many of the high schools consider service-learning to be part of the WASC accreditation process, and at least half of the districts incorporate, or plan to incorporate, service-learning into their locally developed school site plans—in some districts as an instructional methodology.
Districts tend to start their service-learning activities in the history-social science classrooms. In those districts with more established programs, service-learning can be found throughout the curriculum areas, including the "hard" sciences.
In most districts, service-learning is prominent in the staff development sessions for new teachers and is usually a part of the staff development activities for existing teachers. In two of the districts surveyed, service-learning is part of the subjects covered during the hiring interview process. Moreover, in two other districts, service-learning is addressed as part of the annual teacher review process. Most districts have some component of service-learning staff development for their advisory committee members and community partners.
2. Describe the process for creating the advisory committee for service-learning.
In most of the districts, either a school safety committee or a community service advisory committee was converted into the service-learning advisory committee. In most of the others, the service-learning advisory committee was established by the staff and administration and then expanded to include community members, parents, sponsors, social service clubs, and other locally prominent organizations.
In one district, there is no advisory committee. The coordinator works directly with the individual local community sponsors and then with selected district staff—in effect, creating an advisory committee for each sponsor. As expected, districts with no senior high schools have difficulty getting student voices on their committees, particularly at the junior high school level. Their difficulty stems from the fact that junior high students’ focus is more short-term, and these students tend to be more mobile. Almost all of the districts found the advisory committees to be very useful in terms of providing both support and assistance. Working closely with the advisory committee was a key to obtaining and maintaining a successful service-learning program; it did not seem to matter whether the grantee was a large suburban district or a small rural district.
The smaller the community, the more difficult it is to maintain a large, functioning committee. In one district, the advisory committee is the local school-site council. In most districts, there is a high mobility rate among the members of the advisory committee.
3. Please describe the roles and responsibilities of the districtwide service-learning coordinator. Will this role continue in the district?
The coordinators perform a wide range of functions, including developing, providing, and monitoring service-learning training for staff, teachers, sponsors, and community members; developing and overseeing service-learning projects; providing staff support to advisory committees and school board members; posting service-learning lesson plans on the Internet; making public appearances in support of service-learning; providing technical assistance and support to neighboring districts; making sure that service-learning activities are tied to state curriculum standards; tracking progress toward making service-learning graduation requirements; coordinating with local institutions of higher learning regarding service-learning; securing grant funding; obtaining donations; coordinating evaluation activities; monitoring budgets; preparing state-level reports; and administering the CalServe grants.
About half of the coordinators believed that the role of coordinator would continue because it is, or will be, funded by the district or by a community partner. The other half of the coordinators believe that the role of coordinator will disappear with the ending of the grant money, but that the function of the coordinator will be shared among existing staff members. In those districts where the coordinator believes that service-learning has become institutionalized, he or she believes that the role of coordinator has become less important and could be eliminated, or the residual functions could be absorbed by other staff members.
4. Please describe the evaluation elements that will continue to be used. Will service-learning be integrated into other evaluation processes?
Many of the districts surveyed found that the case study process was very useful and beneficial, but the process is prohibitively time-consuming and expensive and probably would not be continued once the grant funding ceased. Most of the districts employed an independent outside evaluator. Those districts that did not employ an outside evaluator used a number of different evaluation strategies, but not necessarily in a formalized manner that would result in a formal report. Few districts performed the evaluations internally.
Some districts' evaluations consist of a project binder or checklist to guide the completion of each service-learning activity. Completion of the form’s requirements ensures that all the indicators of a quality service-learning activity have been met. A few districts use Web-based software to track the completion and evaluation of their students' projects.
One district's evaluation process consists of relying on the Categorical Program Monitoring process, other district annual reviews, monitoring of the number of students meeting the graduation requirements, and periodic reports made to the governing board.
Another district uses teachers to certify that individual students have participated in a service-learning project. Then it is up to the individual teacher to evaluate how well the program works based on the quality of the materials, reflection reports, or objective tests.
All districts believed that evaluation was necessary and an important part of the service-learning process, but many districts were not clear on how the evaluation process should work in their district.
Two districts that use pre- and post-test surveys are reluctant to continue their use because of teacher resistance.
5. Please provide additional thoughts and suggestions.
Without exception, the districts interviewed believe that service-learning is a useful and beneficial program—even those districts that experienced some resistance to the program during the implementation stages. The coordinators report that members of the community often report they now feel they are active participants in the school program and that the community benefits greatly from less vandalism, the useful projects that have been completed, and the notion that the community and school(s) now have a somewhat shared agenda. As one coordinator stated, "The schools have now become the hub of the community."
Many districts would like to remain connected to others in the service-learning community, either through inclusion in a listserv or by invitations to regional or state meetings and trainings.
One coordinator offered the following advice to those districts beginning the process of implementing a service-learning program: "Start the service-learning adoption process by assessing what the district concerns are, what the students' academic needs are, what the community needs and concerns are, and then making service-learning a strategy to accomplish what the district has already identified as to what it wants to accomplish. Then, service-learning becomes part of the school-site plans, academic planning, curriculum development, etc., rather than service-learning being only a special event or add-on program."
Most districts expressed the belief that the state, through funding and consultant support, was very instrumental in service-learning becoming institutionalized in their district. As one coordinator stated, "The district appreciates the help they are able to get from the state and looks forward to continuing to work with the state. We would like to see the state start a Webcast or something like it to see how other districts are coping after the expiration of the grants. Our district recommends that new grantees get their boards to develop a service-learning policy early on, getting at least one board member and the school principals to participate in the development of the policy. We found that service-learning is a good teaching method and is what the teachers are interested in. Do not focus too much on the projects and the grant; it’s all about high-quality teaching. It would help if the state provided a simple sequential check-off list of key elements and where the grantees should be in the process, including state reporting requirements. This is a good program to keep going."
The excessive amount of paperwork associated with case studies and state-required reports seemed to be a common complaint. One coordinator commented, "The paperwork is huge and not commensurate with the benefits received; more so than with other grant projects, particularly so because of the small amount of money involved. This factor may discourage people from participating in service-learning. Volunteers are not able to do the paperwork, and the resulting heavy load on the coordinator is discouraging. Evaluation represented a huge time commitment. It is difficult to recruit teachers to do the studies. Those teachers who had done case studies in the past know how much work they are, and as a result, are reluctant to do them again." On the other hand, several coordinators believed the case studies were well worth the effort to do them.
Another coordinator commented, "The service-learning program has yielded many very positive results. Service-learning has had a huge impact on parental involvement in their children’s education and on developing a vision for (the district). Parents line up to go on bus trips and look forward to the next trip. Older siblings are now working with younger siblings on service-learning projects. Various service clubs, such as the Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions, have been very supportive and involved, as well as the Chamber of Commerce. Our district has also been fortunate to have the support of the local media as well. The local paper actively looks for projects showing students doing good stuff. A new superintendent will be coming on board soon, and district staff is optimistic that the new administration will continue the active support for service-learning. Service-learning has become a community program in (the district)." The coordinator believes that although service-learning has become important in both the district and the community, it still has a way to go before it is fully institutionalized.