AmeriCorps Study Shows Improvement

Shirley Sagawa released some results from her upcoming report, which show that AmeriCorps can fill an important void in American education.

More information on the event: "The AmeriCorps Role in Education Reform"

The lunch hour at George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco used to be a time of chaos and conflict, where kids ended up in the principal’s office for fighting. Now, thanks to Sports4Kids, students play active games on the playground, resolve their own conflicts, and stay better focused in afternoon classes.

At PS57 in New York, teachers appreciate the extra help that City Year corps members offer them and their students, as well as their successful efforts to engage parents in this East Harlem neighborhood school.

When a teacher at Captain Arthur Roth Elementary School in Cleveland thinks a student needs extra help sounding out words or understanding what he reads, she can call on a member of the Experience Corps team to give one-on-one attention in literacy.

All of these programs place AmeriCorps members in public schools serving low-income communities. Along with three other high-performing programs, they are part of a forthcoming Center for American Progress study that examines the role of AmeriCorps in public schools. None of these programs field classroom teachers, but all are playing important, largely unsung roles that support efforts of principals and teachers in providing a positive environment for learning. Preliminary findings suggest that AmeriCorps:

  • Improves school climate, providing students with positive role models and mentors and helping them learn to resolve conflicts and improve their classroom behavior
  • Increases opportunities for students to receive one-on-one and small group assistance, making it easier for teachers to ensure that all students succeed
  • Helps engage the community, including parents, in the school as partners supporting education

In addition, the experience of serving in a low-income school shapes the career plans of AmeriCorps members, and builds their awareness of the challenges facing public education.

About half of the 500,000 individuals who have served as AmeriCorps members did their term of service in the field of education. They range from young adults to senior citizens, and represent the full diversity of races, ethnicities, education, and economic backgrounds. The AmeriCorps members in our study offer a consistent presence in the schools, either on a full-time basis for a year, or part-time for multiple years. All were trained, and work under the supervision of AmeriCorps program coordinators who mentor them. Importantly, all of these programs work closely with principals and teachers to make sure their efforts support the academic program of the school.

At Captain Arthur Roth Elementary, where the Experience Corps AmeriCorps program is run by the local Retired Senior Volunteer Program, 15 older adult corps members, including one in a wheelchair, arrive for duty before 9 a.m. The school, whose study body is 99 percent African American and 99 percent eligible for free or reduced price lunches, is located in a drug-infested neighborhood, according to Principal Conrad Hamlet, who had seen the program operate in other schools and was eager to bring it to Roth Elementary. At the request of teachers, the corps members work with K-3 students one-on-one, helping them to sound out words, understand what they are reading, and complete classroom assignments.

Studies of Experience Corps, which operates nationwide with 500 AmeriCorps members as well as additional volunteers, show that 97 percent of teachers agree or strongly agree that the members improve the learning environment, with three out of four reporting that students made significant academic progress as a result. Teachers at Roth Elementary point to another benefit, not documented in formal evaluations: “When my tutors come to the room, my kids’ faces light up,” notes one teacher. “We’re in an inner city, and a lot of the kids need love and care. On top of tutoring [the children], they give them the love they need.”

Experience Corps, and any of the other programs in the study—as well as dozens of others that do similar work in schools—could be expanded to make this resource available to principals of struggling schools looking for extra help. They are making a significant difference building a positive environment for learning, as well as helping students achieve. However, none operate on a large enough scale to really boost school success for the millions of students who could benefit from more attention than a classroom teacher can provide.

The complex challenge of giving every student an excellent education demands good principals, talented teachers, high standards, and a system of accountability. But it also requires caring adults, one-on-one attention, community support, and a school climate primed for learning—all of which AmeriCorps can help deliver. As Congress considers the reauthorization of the National and Community Service Act, it should target new resources to struggling schools to realize the potential of this underutilized resource.

More information on the event: "The AmeriCorps Role in Education Reform"

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Shirley Sagawa

Senior Fellow