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The School Administrator
Service in an Age of Standards|
Nearly 840 miles apart, high school juniors in Jefferson Parish, La., and Chicago faced the same pressing deadline and graduation requirement.
Students in both public school systems had to perform some sort of service to the community to earn a diploma. In Chicago, students had to complete 40 hours of service. In Jefferson Parish, 60 hours were expected of each student. In both systems, the class of 2001 was to be the first to come under the new requirement.But before the 1999-2000 school year was over, one system (Jefferson) had revoked its policy under pressure from educators who viewed the service requirement as competing with academics. The other district (Chicago) has a successful program up and running with thousands of participating students. Together, the case histories of Chicago and Jefferson Parish offer a sober reality check for school systems contemplating mandatory community service for graduation.Their disparate experiences illustrate the successes and failures of school systems nationwide that have embraced civic responsibility by requiring students to volunteer in their community. Some districts have done this by mandating that students complete their service as a prerequisite to graduation, with administrators and teachers keeping track of the hours. Others have decided to incorporate community service into regular lessons in an approach known as service learning.The number of school systems that now mandate some form of service has mushroomed. According to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse for based in St. Paul, Minn., the number of high school students performing service increased nearly seven-fold from 1984 to 1997, when 6.1 million students did some form of community service. In 1997, 96 percent of school districts offered some form of community service, up from 27 percent in 1984. Between 16 and 18 percent of school districts required service for graduation, up slightly from 1984, according to studies cited by the clearinghouse.
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