Assessing Service Learning Using Pragmatic Principles of Education: A Texas Charter School Case Study
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In light of escalating school violence, school reform must consider numerous factors affecting education that address the fragmentation of child development. Charter schools are increasingly gaining public and private sector support because they provide the flexibility of a private school but receive public financial support. This flexibility allows charter schools to explore innovative models of education that address student developmental needs.
The purpose of this case study is to observe the service learning model of education practiced by the American Institute for Learning, a Texas charter school. Pragmatic principles of education, espoused by John Dewey, are used to assess the practice of service learning. In addition, current research proposed by the Search Institute is used to assess the level of healthy developmental assets present in the school's student population. Four components of pragmatism ( e.g., collaborative learning, collaborative teaching, community education, and practical education) are identified from the literature and used as the basis of the first working hypothesis. The second working hypothesis observes student support and motivation which are assessed using eight developmental categories identified by the Search Institute (e.g., social support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity).
Classroom observation and surveys administered to students, teachers, counselors, and curriculum developers, provide evidence for assessing the school's service learning model and the developmental status of some of its students. The extent that pragmatic and developmental characteristics are present are assessed on four levels: excellent, good, fair, and poor. This rating system provides the basis for analyzing the school's strengths and weaknesses.