FAQs on Community Schools

FAQs on Community Schools

What is a community school?

What is a community school?A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, services, supports and opportunities leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.[i] Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone — all day, every day, evenings and weekends.

The National Center for Community Schools believes that community schools become more effective as they develop the following four capacities:

  • Comprehensiveness – Community schools are responsive to a wide spectrum of identified needs by marshalling the full complement of partnership resources.
  • Collaboration – There is shared leadership by all stakeholders: educators, parents, students, funders, community members, providers, policymakers.
  • Coherence – Systems of management are coordinated and integrated.
  • Commitment – Sustainability planning and activities are employed from the start.

What results do community schools seek to achieve?

Partners involved in community schools work to achieve these key results:

  • Children are ready to enter school;
  • Students succeed academically;
  • Students are actively involved in learning and the community;
  • Students are healthy physically, socially and emotionally;
  • Students live and learn in stable and supportive environments;
  • Families are actively involved in children’s education;
  • Communities are desirable places to live.[ii]

Why are community schools better than traditional public schools?

Community schools increase opportunities for children to succeed in school by adding the kinds of resources known to make a difference: increased parental involvement in children’s education;[iii] extra learning opportunities through educational enrichment;[iv] consistent access to adult guidance and support;[v] and ready access to health, dental and mental health services. In addition, community schools address contemporary economic and social realities, including families’ child care needs.

Are there different models of community schools?

“Community school” is an inclusive term used to describe a number of frameworks for the coordination of school-community partnerships. There are many excellent models of community schools, including Beacons, Bridges to Success, The Children’s Aid Society community schools, Communities in Schools, Healthy Start, Schools of the 21st Century and University-Assisted community schools. All of these groups are active members of the national Coalition for Community Schools. In her book Full-Service Schools, Joy Dryfoos singled out The Children’s Aid Society’s community schools approach as a model of “how to put together both sides of the fundamental full-service equation: restructuring of education, plus helping children and their families by providing health, mental health and social services on site.”[vi]

What are the defining components of community schools?

Because community schools is a strategy and not a program, there can be considerable variation from model to model and from site to site. Since most community schools have as their primary goal the promotion of student learning and healthy development, typical program components include after-school and summer enrichment, family engagement and services designed to remove barriers to student learning, such as medical, dental, mental health and social services. Many community schools also offer early childhood education, adult education and community-wide events.

How many community schools are there in the United States?

Reliable estimates from the Coalition for Community Schools indicate that there may be as many as 5,000 community schools in this country. Several cities have adopted community schools as a preferred reform strategy: Chicago now has more than 150 community schools; Portland (Oregon) has 55 community schools, known as SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhood) Schools; Lincoln (Nebraska) has 25; New York City has more than 100, including 80 Beacons, 18 Children’s Aid Society community schools and other models.

What results have community schools achieved?

A recent synthesis of the work of mature community schools initiatives conducted by the Coalition for Community Schools found multi-faceted gains:

  • improved academic performance in both reading and math;
  • improved student and teacher attendance;
  • reduced dropout rates and improved graduation rates;
  • improved behavior;
  • gains in indicators of positive youth development, such as leadership and conflict resolution skills;
  • greater parent involvement; and
  • community benefits, such as better use of school buildings and safer neighborhoods.[vii]

In an earlier report prepared for the Coalition for Community Schools, researcher Joy Dryfoos reviewed 49 evaluations of community schools and found that 46 reported positive outcomes. Academic gains were reported by 36 of the 49 programs; these gains were generally improvements in reading and math test scores. In addition, 19 programs reported improvements in school attendance; 11 reported reductions in school suspensions; 12 showed increases in parent involvement; 6 noted lower rates of neighborhood crime and violence; and several documented multiple positive outcomes.[viii]

The Children’s Aid Society has contributed to this developing knowledge base through a variety of external evaluation studies conducted since 1992 by teams from Fordham University, the Education Development Center, ActKnowledge and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Taken together, these studies showed a variety of positive results from implementation of the community schools strategy: improved student achievement; increased parental involvement; higher student and teacher attendance; improved school climate; decreased special education referrals; and improved mental and physical health.[ix]

[i] Martin J. Blank, Atelia Melaville and Bela J. Shah, Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools, Washington, DC: Coalition for Community Schools, May 2003, p. 2.

[ii] Coalition for Community Schools, Community Schools: Promoting Student Success, Washington, DC, no date.

[iii] A New Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement, Washington, DC: Center for Law and Education, 1995.

[iv] Reginald M. Clark, Critical Factors in Why Disadvantaged Children Succeed or Fail in School, New York, NY: Academy for Educational Development, 1988.

[v] Bonnie Benard, Fostering Resiliency in Kids: Protective Factors in the Family, School and Community, Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratories, Western Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities, 1991.

[vi] Joy G. Dryfoos, Full-Service Schools: A Revolution in Health and Social Services for Children, Youth, and Families, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994.

[vii] Coalition for Community Schools, Community Schools Research Brief ’09, Washington, DC, 2009.

[viii] Joy. G. Dryfoos, Evaluation of Community Schools: An Early Look, Washington, DC: Coalition for Community Schools, 2000.

[ix]The Children’s Aid Society, Summary of The Children’s Aid Society Community Schools Results to Date, New York, NY, 2006.