The AmeriCorps Role in Education Reform

AmeriCorps members are engaging schools in unprecedented numbers, and they could play an important role in reforming the system.

A large percentage of AmeriCorps members serve in public schools running before and after school programs, organizing recess sports, and acting as tutors and mentors for at-risk students. Robert Balfanz, Research Scientist for the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, argues that the presence of AmeriCorps can help combat downward trending schools. We have an “insider trading position for social policy” because we know who will drop out, when, and why, and have programs available to combat that trend.

Yet little research has been conducted about the efficacy of programs that use AmeriCorps volunteers, such as Sports4Kids, Citizen Schools, City Year, Communities in Schools, Education Works, and Experience Corps, even though these programs are a cost effective way to improve the quality of education and supplement overworked teachers.

Representatives from these programs came to speak at a Center for American Progress event yesterday on the preliminary findings and the ongoing role of AmeriCorps in educational policy. The results so far are impressive.

All programs showed significant educational improvements among students. Jessica Graham, Corporate Partnership Manager at Citizen Schools, cited evidence that their students outperform other schools on six of seven academic factors, and Stephanie Wu, Senior Vice President of Academy, Program and Service at City Year, showed improvements in the areas of socially adapting to the school setting, positive learning experience, literacy, and community building.

Community building and other AmeriCorps programs improve educational quality for both the students involved and also the volunteers themselves. Ayanna Rutherford of Sports 4 Kids argues that there is “evidence that these programs draw people into career paths with education or educational policy.” Graham also argued that “teachers, who are doing amazing work in academics, need help” in the form of AmeriCorps members who can relieve the burden. By giving children—and teachers—extra support, AmeriCorps members can help students succeed not only in school, but also in their communities, with potential long-term effects of lowered crime and pregnancy rates.

The substantial benefits of these programs indicate a need for increased support from both the public and private sectors to continue placing AmeriCorps members in our nation’s public schools. If, as Rutherford argues, what our children need is “sustained and consistent intervention,” an increase in the number of Corps members is crucial.

Expanding AmeriCorps to meet the needs of public schools can be seen as part of a larger commitment to making national service more mainstream and effective. Alan Khazei, founder and CEO of Be the Change, Inc., argues that in lieu of big government dictating community service, individuals need to believe in the idea of “big citizenship.” National service must scale to meet demand from the citizens, empowering Americans to solve problems.

By encouraging a year of service from young adults, promoting social entrepreneurship, and continuing to fund successful programs like those featured at the CAP event, AmeriCorps can set a national model for service. AmeriCorps members create real, positive change in schools, and the public and private sector need to come together to bring the benefits to all at-risk children.

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.

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