Improving education: Community schools

21 Dec

There is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education. There is only what works to produce academic achievement in each population of children. That is why school choice is so important. For some communities and for some children, “community schools” might improve education achievement. The Coalition for Community Schools is a great resource for those interested in “community schools.”

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends.

Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities. Partners work to achieve these results:

  • Children are ready to learn when they enter school and every day thereafter. All students learn and achieve to high standards.
  • Young people are well prepared for adult roles in the workplace, as parents and as citizens.
  • Families and neighborhoods are safe, supportive and engaged.
  • Parents and community members are involved with the school and their own life-long learning.

To learn more about the Coalition’s vision of a community school, read the section An Enduring Vision in the Coalition’s report, Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools. Also, watch as the U.S. Secretary of Education speak of the importance of community schools on Charlie Rose.

For more information on what it means to be a community school, read Community Schools: Partnerships for Excellence (PDF, 426k).

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has written an interesting article about “community schools.”

In Why community schools are part of the answer, Strauss writes:

Community schools, by directly dealing with many of the out-of-school issues that affect how students do in school — such as violence, family mobility, etc. — help to create the conditions that allow young people to actually concentrate on academics. Community schools seek to create conditions for learning that include:

*Fostering early childhood development through high-quality comprehensive programs.

*Providing students qualified teachers, challenging curriculum and high standards and expectations.

*Addressing the basic physical, mental and emotional health needs of families.

*Creating safe, supportive school climates through community engagement.

There is not a single model of community school initiatives but rather a number of different ones that share common principles, according to the Coalition for Community Schools. The coalition is an alliance of elementary, secondary and post-secondary organizations at the state, local and national level that are involved with education, youth development, community planning and development, family support, health and human services and more.

One of the many models of community schools, which serve millions of children around the country, is called “Schools of the 21st Century,” which provides school-based child care and family support services.

Created by Edward Ziegler, a professor at Yale University who was an architect of the Head Start program, this model is now being used in 1,300 schools across the country and turns regular public schools into year-round centers where different services are provided to families the before, during and after school hours. You can learn about other models here.

The Center for American Progress’ report, Turning Around the Nation’s Lowest Performing Schools by Karen Baroody looks at strategies for turning around low-performing schools.

For more than a decade, Education Resource Strategies, Inc., or ERS, has worked with urban districts to transform the use of people, time, money, and technology so that all students receive the support they need to succeed. Based on this work ERS believes that successful school turnaround also requires district turn-around—fundamental changes in the way that districts think about and provide support for schools. ERS has identified five steps that districts can take in designing and implementing their school improvement programs that will increase the probability that their efforts will achieve lasting improvement:

1. Understand what each school needs. Districts must develop a comprehensive, systematic, and ongoing approach to identify the needs of schools, students, and teachers. Districts must evaluate the needs of current and incoming stu- dents, examine whether the principal and the teachers in the school have the skills required to address student needs, and assess school practices.

2. Quantify what each school gets and how it is used. Districts must identify all resources currently available to each school and understand how effectively schools are using those resources to improve instructional quality and meet individual student needs, through such strategies as teacher assignment and support, student grouping, and daily scheduling.

3. Invest in the most important changes first. Districts must aggressively target those challenges that make persistently low-performing schools different from other schools and provide the additional resources and support that each school needs to overcome the challenges. Key priorities, in order of importance, are to ensure each school has a strong school leader and teachers who collectively have the skills to meet student needs; to make sure that at-risk students receive basic health, social, and emotional support; to implement school designs that organize teaching expertise, time, and attention to match student needs; and to provide each school with the necessary central office support.

4. Customize the strategy to the school. Each school faces its own unique challenges–the needs of its particular students, the quality and skills of its leader and teachers, and the resources it currently receives. Districts must be thoughtful in tailoring the intervention strategy to each school’s most pressing and critical needs.

5. Change the district, not just the schools. Strategies that focus only on changes at individual schools, without addressing the underlying systemwide structures that allowed these schools to fail in the first place, will not achieve lasting improvement. Districts must ensure these schools have the resources and support they need to succeed even after intervention efforts are over, and leverage the lessons learned from turnaround schools to implement broader reforms that support the ongoing improvement of other low-performing schools in the district.

There is no silver bullet—no single solution for how to turn a failing school around. But by taking these five steps district leaders can improve their probability for sustainable and scalable success.

There is no one approach that works in every situation, there is only what works to address the needs of a particular population of children.

The current one-size-fits-all approach does not work.


Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools

Blank, Martin J.Melaville, AteliaShah, Bela P.

PDF ERIC Full Text 

Connecting the Dots: Progress toward the Integration of School Reform, School-Linked Services, Parent Involvement and Community Schools.

Lawson, HalBriar-Lawson, Katharine

PDF ERIC Full Text

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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