The Center for Popular Democracy, the Coalition for Community Schools and the Southern Education Foundation published this new report.
See the full report at: Community-Schools National Report
For at least a decade, the dominant idea about how to improve outcomes for children and youth has focused on control and compliance; holding adults accountable for raising test scores. This approach has proved least effective for our most vulnerable students. In our search for silver bullets, reformers and policymakers alike have overlooked strategies that have long shown promise and for which there is mounting evidence of success. Community Schools is one of these strategies.
Community Schools combine challenging and culturally relevant learning opportunities with the academic and social supports each and every child needs to reach their potential. These schools, at their core, are about investing in children, through quality teaching, challenging and engaging curricula, wrap around supports, positive school climate, strong ties to family and community and a clear focus on results.
It’s clear the tide is turning, as interest in this vision of schooling is now evident in the nation’s major education policy, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We note in particular the inclusion of factors in accountability systems that extend beyond test scores, as well as provisions for the use of resources to strengthen school-community partnerships—including needs assessments, teacher
development on family/community engagement, and support for personalized learning—reflective of the Community Schools strategy.
This report profiles Community Schools across the country, all which demonstrate consistent improvement in a wide range of indicators of student success. The best of these schools leave nothing to chance. They are as committed to challenging academics as they are to health, wellness and social and emotional learning. They are sustained by the broad support they enjoy from their communities. And they represent the ultimate purpose of our schools: to prepare young people to pursue their aspirations and participate fully in our economy and democracy.
This report intends to shed light on how Community Schools come alive in practice, and the improvements in academic and social outcomes that emerge when these schools are given a chance to work. There are over 90 communities across the country with significant efforts underway.
In low income communities and communities of color, we have not always valued the power of citizen input and the capacities within communities to coalesce around their children. This needs to change. When communities are excluded from our improvement strategies they are not likely to be sustained and children lose. School climate suffers, chronic absenteeism persists, discipline problems push students out of school and learning outcomes suffer.
We hope you will take to heart the lessons from community schools across the country that we profile in this report.
If we are to create truly transformative learning opportunities for children and youth, especially the least advantaged, we need to examine closely the strategies this report highlights. We owe our young much more than a basic education. We owe them a genuine opportunity to determine for themselves how they will work and live in this great country.
These are the six research-based Community School strategies that allow for greater student-centered learning, community investment and engagement, and school environments squarely focused on teaching and learning:a
1. Curricula that are engaging, culturally relevant, and challenging. Schools offer a robust selection of classes and after-school programs in the arts, languages, and ethnic studies, as well as Advanced Placement (AP) and honors courses. Also offered are services for English Language Learners and special education students, GED preparation programs, and job training. Pedagogy is student-centered.
2. An emphasis on high-quality teaching, not on high-stakes testing. Assessments are used to help teachers meet the needs of students. Educators have a real voice in professional development. Professional development is high-quality and ongoing, and includes strengthening understanding of, and professional alignment with, the Community School strategy.
3. Wrap-around supports and opportunities such as health care, eye care, and social and emotional services that support academics. These services are available before, during, and after school, and are provided year-round to the full community. Community partners are accountable and culturally competent. The supports are aligned to the classroom using thorough and continuous data collection, analysis, and reflection. Space for these services is allocated within the building or within walking distance.
4. Positive discipline practices, such as restorative justice and social and emotional learning supports, are stressed so that students can grow and contribute to the school community and beyond. School safety and positive school climate are achieved through these mechanisms. Suspensions and harsh punishments are eliminated or greatly reduced.
5. Authentic parent and community engagement is promoted so the full community actively participates in planning and decision-making. This process recognizes the link between the success of the school and the development of the community as a whole.
6. Inclusive school leadership who are committed to making the Community School strategy integral to the school’s mandate and functioning. They ensure that the Community School Coordinator is a part of the leadership team and that a Community School Committee (Committee)—which includes parents, community partners, school staff, youth, and other stakeholders that are representatives of the school’s various constituencies—has a voice in the planning and implementation of the strategy.
The six strategies we recommend are aligned with decades of academic research on successful schools. Research has found that deeper learning can be achieved through authentic curricula and assessments, wrap-around services that address student social and emotional needs, and supportive, skill-building environments for educators.4 Community schools have been found to impact not just test scores, but also attendance and family engagement and a multitude of other indicators.
Transformational Community Schools achieve success by implementing the above strategies through the following mechanisms:
1. An asset and needs assessment of and by both school and community;
2. A strategic plan that defines how educators and community partners will use all available assets to meet specific student needs and get better results;
3. The engagement of partners who bring assets and expertise to help implement the building blocks of Community Schools; and
4. A Community School Coordinator whose job is to facilitate the development and implementation of the strategic plan in collaboration with school and community members/partners, and to ensure alignment of solutions to needs.