Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Strange Bedfellows: No Child Left Behind and Service-Learning

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Strange Bedfellows: No Child Left Behind and Service-Learning

Article excerpt

This article explores the relationship between service-learning and the scientifically-based research clause of the No Child Left Behind Act. It reviews the state of the service-learning literature base with regard to academic achievement, and provides specific strategies in which service-learning can be used under the guise of No Child Left Behind, including pairing service-learning with other school reform efforts and using service-learning strategically.


Some view the No Child Left Behind Act (Public Law 107-110, 2002) as the school yard bully of public education. Bullies are usually big and strong. They control others through threats and the use of force. They tend to have little empathy for the people they are trying to control. They expect others to cow-tow to their demands. They create environments of fear and frustration. The No Child Left Behind Act forces schools to do what it wants and punishes them if they do not. No Child Left Behind declares the principal and foremost role of the schools is to ensure that students acquire academic skills. This act mandates, "curriculum, and instructional materials [that] are aligned with challenging State academic standards" (No Child Left Behind, [section] 1001, 115 Stat. 1439). No Child Left Behind requires all students to perform at "proficient" levels in mathematics, reading, and science by 2013-2014. If students in schools do not perform at this level, No Child Left Behind authorizes the withholding of 25% of the state's administrative funds under Title I, Part A. This can be a hefty loss and significantly impact the fiscal survival of the schools. No Child Left Behind also mandates that schools identified as "in need of improvement" be overhauled and employ methods of instruction that have been scientifically validated.

What will happen to service-learning at a time when schools are bullied into adopting methods of instruction that have been validated by rigorous, scientifically-based research as specified in No Child Left Behind? The power of a bully is reduced when others are educated about the bully's methods, we empower the victims, and we commit ourselves to creating a better environment (Barone, 1997; Benard, 2004; Henderson & Milstein, 1996). To create the best learning environments, it is important that university faculty educate themselves about No Child Left Behind and its application to service-learning and to the reforms posited by the service-learning movement.

Scientifically-Based Research

No Child Left Behind uses the phrase "scientifically-based research" more than 100 times (Center on Education Policy, 2003). Without a doubt, Congress wants schools to avoid the use of teaching methods "that had no scientific evidence and effectiveness and were not improving children's academic achievement" (Center on Education Policy). In doing so, Congress emphasizes the need to use teaching methods based on "experimental studies that randomly assign subjects to experimental and control groups" (Center on Education Policy, 2003, p. 163). No Child Left Behind defines scientifically-based research as "research that involves the application of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to education activities and programs" (No Child Left Behind, [section] 9101, 115 Sta. 1964). According to No Child Left Behind, scientifically-based research is research that: employs systematic, empirical methods that draw on observation or experiment; (ii) involves rigorous data analyses that are adequate to test the stated hypotheses and justify the general conclusions drawn; (iii) relies on measurements or observational methods that provide reliable and valid data across evaluators and observers, across multiple measurements and observations, and across studies by the same or different investigators; (iv) is evaluated using experimental or quasi-experimental designs in which individuals, entities, programs, or activities are assigned to different conditions and with appropriate controls to evaluate the effects of the condition of interest, with a preference for random-assignment experiments, or other designs to the extent that those designs contain within-condition or across-condition controls; (v) ensures that experimental studies are presented in sufficient detail and clarity to allow for replication or, at a minimum, offer the opportunity to build systematically on their findings; and (vi) has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal or approved by a panel of independent experts through a comparably rigorous, objective, and scientific review ([section] 9101, 115 Stat. …

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