Community Schools: A Model for National Educational Reform
By Sid Salvi '12E
The Idea: transforming all schools nationwide into community schools will improve student performance, increase parental involvement and strengthen communities.

Although definitions of community schools vary, community schools are essentially “both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources.” The community school model recognizes that students need to be physically, emotionally and socially prepared to learn. Utilizing community partners, community schools purposefully integrate academic, health and social services to improve student and adult learning, strengthen families and promote healthy communities.

Most community schools share the following features:

—A partnership between a public school and at least one other community organization, such as nonprofit organizations, city service agencies, universities or foundations

—Extended hours including weekends and summers

—A set of programs and services developed to support students and families, including primary health care, dental care, parent education, child care and job training

—Activities and policies aimed at engaging parents and community members

Most schools cannot fully meet students’ physical, emotional and social needs. Moreover, an environment of poverty severely affects student performance in school:

—According to researchers at the University of Michigan, prekindergarten children in the highest socioeconomic status group score on average 60 percent above the scores of children in the lowest socioeconomic group.

—Fourth graders living in poverty performed dismally on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams — only 22 percent scored at or above proficiency in math, and only 17 percent scored at or above on reading. Only 15 percent of eighth graders living in poverty scored proficiently on NAEP math and reading assessments.

—Low-income youth (ages 16 to 24) drop out at a rate four times that of their higher-income counterparts.

Research shows that community schools improve student performance and increase parental involvement.

Improved student performance:

—Better academic performance: An independent review of the national community school initiative, Communities in Schools, has reported that students in their schools excelled significantly in math and reading scores over students in other schools. Students in New York City’s Children’s Aid Society (CAS) community school program from 2004 to 2007 scored significantly higher on their math tests than students in other city schools. In the period from 2006 to 2007, 42.1 percent of students who spent more than half their time in a CAS community school met the proficiency standards on the state math test.

—Dropout rates reduced

Community schools have a significant impact on reducing the dropout rate. Nationwide, Communities in Schools found net increases in elementary, middle and high school attendance for community schools over their matched comparison group. In Tukwila, Washington, Community Schools Collaboration’s on-time graduation rate has increased annually since 2001; the rate of absentee and dropouts for middle and high school students also has dropped. In New York City, the Children’s Aid Society students who participated in after-school programs for three or four years had better school attendance than students who participated for less time or no time at all.

—Greater parent involvement

Parents of community school students are more engaged in their children’s learning and school. A study of the San Mateo County Community Schools shows that 93 percent of parents attended parent/teacher conferences and 95 percent more frequently encouraged their child to complete their homework and talked to their child about school.

Next steps:

Drawing upon lessons learned from England’s “Every Child Matters” initiative, the United States could develop a national community schools model to be included in any overhaul of “No Child Left Behind.”

Components of a national community schools model:

—A core menu of services: England’s “core offer” model simplifies the transition process from public school to community school. While schools should personalize services based on the needs of students and community, the “core offer” guides the process.

—Ensuring sustainability of funding: In England, many are concerned that poorer schools will not be able to continue offering services if federal funding ends. The United States must devise a method to ensure that all community schools can provide their full-range of services even if federal funding stops.

—Accountability: Under the “Every Child Matters” directive, English schools are instructed to design activities for which use and impact can be measured. Schools are continually evaluated on their ability to assess student and community needs and how well their services address those needs.

At this turning point in American history, the United States needs to invest more in education. The community schools approach ensures that no child will be left behind.

Further Information:

Martin J. Blank, Atelia Melaville, and Bela P. Shah, “Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools” (Washington, D.C.: Coalition for Community Schools, 2003).

Valerie E. Lee and David T. Burkham, “Inequality at the Starting Gate” (Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute, 2002).

National Center for Education Statistics, “The Nation’s Report Card,” available at (last accessed October 2009).

Children’s Defense Fund, “Child Poverty in America” (2008) (Source: U.S. Department of Education Statistics, “Digest of Education Statistics: 2007” (March 2008), Table 106).

A study of Communities in Schools, a national community school model found: net increases of +6.0% in grade 8 math and +5.1% in grade 8 reading scores for high-implementing community schools over their matched comparison group. Net increases in math scores for all grades over their comparison groups (+2.5% urban, +3.3% rural). Net increases in math for schools predominantly serving traditionally-low performing populations.

Communities in Schools found net increases of +0.2% in elementary, +0.1% in middle, and +0.3% in high school for high-implementing community schools over their matched comparison group.

Results from the Community Schools National Award Winners for Excellence, 2006 & 2007, Coalition for Community Schools.

Issue 15, Submitted 2010-02-17 02:59:01