Education Week - July 18, 2018 - 12
Volunteering Rates Dropped Among Young Americans
Yet interest in doing good
reached a high point
By Sarah D. Sparks
High school and college students are less
likely to volunteer or give to charity today
than they were 15 years ago, even as young
adults express the most interest in community
engagement in a half-century.
The University of Maryland's Do Good Institute, which studies civics, used U.S. Census
data to track rates of volunteering and charitable giving by Americans from high school
age to retirement age, from 2002 to 2015.
Across every age group, volunteering has declined since 2005, it found. About 25 percent of
teenagers volunteered in 2015, down from 28
percent in 2005-ending 30 years of rising volunteerism among high-school-age Americans.
Less than a quarter donate to charity, a rate
that has been flat since 2008.
"Civic engagement is much like a sport; you
can't jump into a game without understanding
the rules and practicing it. But many people
think that citizens can get to age 18, jump in,
and do well and care about [community service]," said Jennifer Bloom, the executive director of the Learning Law and Democracy Foundation, a nonprofit civic education organization
in St. Paul, Minn., that was not involved with
The study comes as states and districts de-
bate the best way to engage young people in
civics and community service in the wake of
student protests in the spring against school
While tragedies like the shootings or the
hurricanes that struck Texas and Florida last
year often spark immediate sympathy from
young people, they don't necessarily lead to
longer-term engagement, said Nathan Dietz,
an associate research scholar with the Do Good
Institute. He co-wrote the study with Robert
"A disaster is self-initiating [for volunteers],
but ... the key is learning to harness that energy to do things when there isn't a traumatic
event," Dietz said. "Teaching engagement and
... innovation can help people have that experience on a smaller and less-traumatic scale."
The study found the civic drive at an all-time
high among rising high school graduates. Of
incoming college freshmen surveyed by the
Census, nearly half wanted to become leaders
in their communities, and 80 percent wanted to
"help others who are in difficulty."
Those rates are higher than any time since
the Census began tracking the attitudes in the
Teenagers overwhelmingly volunteer
through organizations, the Do Good study
found, with school-sponsored service activities
leading the pack.
Although 41 states require students to take
Principals: Schools Must
Raise 'Expectations' for
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
cation Week Research Center.
Fifty-two percent of the school
leaders surveyed said there is "too
little" civics education in schools,
while another 48 percent said
there is just the right amount.
Only one principal who participated in the survey felt there
was "too much" civics education.
The survey was fielded online in
February, March, and April to 524
school-based leaders. The margin
of error is plus or minus 4 percent.
"I think there's not enough, and
I think there's not enough of an
expectation," said Julia Putnam,
the principal of James & Grace Lee
Boggs School in Detroit, a charter
school serving students in grades
K-8. "I don't think that the way we
talk about education makes it a
goal or an expectation that students
come out feeling like informed, active citizens."
But student interest in civics
appears to be building. About half
of principals-51 percent-said
there's been an uptick in their
students' engagement around civics since the February massacre
at Marjory Stoneman Douglas
High School in Parkland, Fla. That
event-and the Parkland students' own subsequent activism-
spawned nationwide walkouts and
protests around the country in
March and April.
The students participated in the
walkout at Elisha Robert's charter
school, STRIVE Prep-Rise in Denver, part of a regional network of
charters where most students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.
But, she said, her students-unlike the Parkland students, who are
from a well-resourced community-
aren't sure how to take their activism to the next level.
"They don't understand the next
piece of accessing power," Roberts,
the school's principal, said. "They
might organize a walkout and feel
really strongly, and then it ends
there. They don't understand, OK,
great, the next piece is to contact
your local government. ... I've definitely seen them caring about issues
more. But there's still that disconnect of 'what do I do next?' "
Not Enough Time
Roberts said her school strives to
help its students understand and
engage on issues that affect them
and their community.
But not all schools are able to
make time for those types of lessons.
Seventy percent of principals and
other school leaders surveyed said
their schools don't offer civics as a
12 | EDUCATION WEEK | July 18, 2018 | www.edweek.org
a civics course to graduate, just 11 require
students to be involved in service learning
projects, and only Maryland requires students
to complete a set number of independent community-service hours to earn a high school
diploma, according to a separate study by the
But the University of Maryland researchers found that differences in policies on civics
or volunteering were not associated with the
widely disparate state-level rates of volunteering and giving, and volunteering in high
school looked very different in different states.
Kansas, Maine, and Nebraska led the country, with more than 40 percent of students
volunteering-while in Arkansas, Louisiana,
New Mexico, and Tennessee, fewer than 1 in 5
teenagers got involved. (The institute plans to
release a follow-up study later this month, digging into what might be behind the differences
in states' volunteering rates.)
Top-10 states Maine and Michigan both
have service-learning requirements in their
civics standards, but fellow leading states
Kansas and Nebraska do not. Among the 10
states with the lowest volunteer rates, Alabama requires service learning, while Tennessee does not. In Maryland, the only state that
requires community service hours for graduation, 34 percent of high school students and
33 percent of college students reported volunteering. That puts the Old Line State in the
top 20 states for volunteering among those
age groups, but far below the top volunteering states.
State policies "just don't have as much influence as people think they do," Dietz said.
"There are other factors-[such as] the availability of good, appealing opportunities to volunteer that make young people feel they can
make a difference-that are much more important in determining how much volunteering takes place among teenagers."
Dietz and Bloom argue that how schools
structure those activities can make the difference between students who later disconnect
and those who become lifelong volunteers.
One-off school "volunteer days" generally don't
help students reflect on their volunteering experiences and plan for future engagement.
For example, Bloom recalled her own
children spending a day working in a soup
kitchen-a common school-sponsored volunteering activity.
"They weren't asked to reflect on the problem [of food insecurity], just on their feelings,"
she said. "Well, my kids felt bad because of how
many kids are hungry and so on, ... and it's
good to be compassionate and committed, but
they didn't understand the problem in a bigger
way at all. So they didn't see a way through it.
They didn't see where they are or how their
time could be put to good use other than this
one volunteering piece."
Prior studies of mandatory communityservice hours also suggest students who were
required to volunteer in high school are less
likely to do so as adults.
Jackie Viana, the district supervisor for
social studies at the Miami-Dade County,
SCHOOL LEADERS' VIEWS ON CIVICS EDUCATION
More than half of school leaders-52 percent-said their schools provided
"too little" civics education. They frequently cited the pressure to focus on
tested subjects like reading or math as a challenge for civics teaching.
When it comes to obstacles to teaching civics at your school, how
much of a challenge are the following considerations?
Pressure to focus on
subjects other than civics
because they are tested or
Civics education is not a
district or school priority
n Very Challenging
n Somewhat Challenging
n Not Much of a Challenge
(i.e., textbooks, materials)
Civics is too political/
Lack of student interest
in the subject