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Community Schools Are an Effective School Improvement Strategy, Brief Says

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Done well, community schools can be an effective school improvement strategy, a new research brief says.

And a survey of existing data suggests community schools could meet the standard of an "evidence-based" school improvement intervention under the Every Student Succeeds Act, concludes the brief, which was released Monday by the Learning Policy Institute and the National Education Policy Center.

"We conclude from our review that the evidence base on well-implemented community schools and their component features provides a strong warrant for their potential contribution to school improvement," the brief says. "Sufficient evidence meeting ESSA's criteria for 'evidence-based' approaches exists to justify including community schools as part of targeted and comprehensive interventions in high-poverty schools. This evidence also supports community schools as an approach appropriate for broader use."

Community schools work with community partners and organizations to offer more comprehensive supports, assisting students with things like access to food, health care, and tutoring opportunities. The strategy has taken hold in districts around the country, include New York City, which has expanded community schools as part of its school turnaround efforts.

For students to succeed in the classroom, they must often confront out-of-school factors, like hunger, that can keep them from learning, advocates for community schools say. And, while community organizations like food pantries are often eager to provide those supports, a coordinated approach that uses the school as a hub can make their work more effective, they say.

The new research brief was released at an event hosted by the Coalition for Community Schools, which also gave New York City an award for its efforts Monday. It comes a few months after separate studies of the community schools approach questioned its effects on attendance and achievement.

The Learning Policy Institute defines a community school as a "place-based school improvement strategy" that typically includes four key components: integrated student supports, expanded learning time, family engagement efforts, and collaborative leadership and practices.

The research summary concludes that community schools efforts have a higher likelihood of success if they include the following:

A comprehensive approach

Community schools should include all four "pillars" mentioned above. And strategies should be concerned with effective implementation. For example, that means not just providing extended learning time, but being thoughtful about how that time is used, the brief says.

A local focus

Schools should be mindful of both local assets and local needs. And they should use data to determine if strategies need to be adjusted. Data should measure whether programs are meeting their goals and also how many children are exposed to particular services and strategies.

Effective planning

When creating a community schools plan, educators and policymakers should take time and build trust between the school and the community. And the process should involve input from parents, students, and other community members.

Support research

Policymakers should support researchers who seek to do more rigorous evaluations of the approach, the brief says.

Read the whole brief here.


Further reading on poverty and community schools:

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