Peter C. Scales

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The use of service-learning in middle and high schools has expanded in the 1990s (Scales & Koppelman 1997), but the gap between what is being done in schools and what research tells us about the impact of service-learning is uncomfortably large. Service-learning advocates are convinced of its profound impact on young people, both personally and socially. The quantitative research consistently shows positive effects, but the quality of the research has not been consistently high, the effects observed vary from study to study, and positive academic effects are the least commonly documented. The scarcity of data on academic impact may be because relatively few programs have established academic impact as an important goal (Scales & Blyth 1997). Search Institute researchers, in partnership with the National Youth Leadership Council, conducted a national search to identify middle school service-learning programs in order to take a closer look at both the effects of service-learning and the reasons for those effects. We selected three schools in Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Missouri to participate in the study during the 1996-1997 school year (we had planned to follow students into the 1997-1998 school year, but the followup data were not useful because schools were unable to maintain the control groups).