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7 A Call to Action The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people. President John Adams This study on the use of volunteers in the public schools is the product of the interest of the Congress and the concerns of the U.S. Department of Education. Mandated by Congress and supported by the department, it is the first comprehensive attempt to provide scope and understanding to the phenomenon of school volunteerism. The committee spent 18 months studying the issues. Members have talked with and listened to experts at all levels, including those who run the school systems, those responsible for volunteer programs, the teachers and other school personnel who make use of the services and direct the activities of the volunteers, the volunteers themselves, and the students and others who are the beneficiaries. We have listened to academics as well as policy makers at the federal and state levels, explored the litera- ture, and traveled widely. Throughout, each of us has brought to the task his or her respective and unique expertise that, taken together, has en- abled us to see the broad canvas of our efforts. CONCLUSIONS We believe that the school volunteer movement is a serious response to serious educational problems that face the nation today and for some time to come. In the course of its study, the committee has come to admire and appreciate the efforts and manifold contributions that volunteers make on behalf of students across America. Volunteerism constitutes a resource of potentially huge dimensions, one that has barely been tapped and that can help schools better respond to many disturbing changes in our society the greater fragility of family 103
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104 VOLUNTEERS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS life, the damaging danger of drugs, and the widening gap between the privileged and the deprived. Volunteers provide benefits to schools that otherwise would be unavailable. School volunteers truly represent what President Bush has called "a thousand points of light." The committee wishes to emphasize most strongly, however, that the use of volunteers in schools is not and cannot be a substitute for public funding of education. Nor should it allow any violation of the principle of professionalism through the substitution of volunteers for professionally trained educators. Volunteers are a supplemental resource, reflecting the complex interaction of individual and local initiatives that draw on local experience, leadership, and management. In the same vein, the commit- tee cautions against dependence on individuals and corporate philanthropy to provide comprehensive educational goods and services. The committee concludes that much remains to be done if the great resource of volunteers is to be understood and used to its fullest poten- tial. Although it found some research studies, ample anecdotal evidence, and many informal evaluations of the value of volunteer service, much more scholarly, empirical research on the effects of volunteers on school staff, student motivation, and performance is needed. Simply put, the educational community needs better research and evaluation on the ef- fects of school volunteer programs. It needs more information better disseminated about what determines the success of both small and large programs, what is needed, and what works best. The committee also urges school systems that expand their volunteer programs to try to ensure some balance in the distribution of volunteer resources among schools in affluent and in poor areas. Expansion could carry unintended and potentially negative consequences if the result is greater inequity between rich and poor schools. It is important to con- sider whether the introduction of incentives such as stipends may ad- versely effect the motivation, effectiveness, and representativeness of the volunteer pool. In all these instances, policy makers as well as adminis- trators and teachers must be sensitive to the possibility of unintended consequences. The committee emphasizes the need for adequate statistics on the use of school volunteers. Our efforts to document changes in the size of the volunteer group over time and to profile its characteristics were ham- pered by insufficient reliable and consistent national data. The committee became aware, during its deliberations, of the growing interest in national service programs, as exemplified by the different legis- lative initiatives proposed in 1989. Although our charge did not extend to an in-depth review of this issue or of the individual legislative proposals, the subject did arise frequently in conversations with local officials during our visits to observe the different volunteer programs. Those interactions,
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A CALL TO ACTION 105 coupled with our interest in these programs as sources of supply of vol- unteers, and when added to the expertise present within the committee' have led us to several observations concerning the implementation of a national service program as a source of school volunteers. The issues that require understanding and agreement on the part of authorities at all levels include ensuring that the program not overwhelm the local capability, that the volunteers can be used efficiently and effec- tively, and that adequate supervisory capability exists. The number and type of volunteers should be determined by the local authority, and it is advisable that any stipends be commensurate with performance. Ade- quate training should be provided to volunteers so that they understand their roles vis a vats the local educational establishment. Finally, research and evaluation to measure the effects should be integral components of any program. Above all, the federal role should be one of assistance- providing guidelines, carrying out research, disseminating information, and acting as a clearinghouse; carrying out the program must be left to local leadership. RECOMMENDATIONS Although we are fully aware and supportive of the fact that the key responsibility for developing and implementing programs that use volun- teers lies with local leadership, we are nonetheless equally of the belief that thoughtful and reasoned national policy can substantially assist in nourishing the creativity of volunteer programs in thousands of schools and districts. Accordingly, we strongly recommend that to accomplish these objec- tives: · The President use his good offices to encourage and support the school volunteer movement; · The Secretary of Education exercise leadership by -establishing an office in the department to encourage promotion by the states of local volunteer activities, to help states coordinate such efforts through dissemination of information, and to encour- age private sector volunteer activities; supporting research and evaluation studies on the processes and the consequences of the use of volunteers in schools; and -taking responsibility for the collection, analysis, and dissemina- tion of national data on the use of volunteers in schools; and · The Congress provide funds to states to enable them to encourage and organize local school volunteer activities, provide support for the activities proposed by the President and those to be under
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106 VOLUNTEERS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS taken by the U.S. Department of Education, and provide a forum for the stimulation of ideas to further the objectives of volunteer- ism in the public schools. More specific recommendations with respect to data collection; research and evaluation; and participation by educators, school boards, commu- nity leaders, and state and federal officials are presented at the end of Chapters 3, 4, and 6.
Representative terms from entire chapter: