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Community Schools ARE the Way Forward… BUT… They DO Take Time and Patience

August 11, 2016

Last Sunday the NYTimes op ed writer David Kirp’s essay detailed the positive impact of “community schools”, a reform initiative advocated by NYC Mayor de Blasio instead of  the market-based “reform” movement advocated by his predecessor, Mike Bloomberg. What is a community school? Kirp offers this description:

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships with local organizations intended to deliver health, social and recreational supports for students and their families. The idea of a school that serves as a neighborhood hub holds widespread appeal, and 150 school districts, including Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Albuquerque, Tulsa, Okla., and Lincoln, Neb., have bought into the idea.

While a “community school” costs roughly $800 annually, an analysis by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education at Columbia indicates that every dollar spent to provide community schools “…generates a return of at least $3”. Their analysis indicates that:

“Providing the program to 100 students over six years would cost society $457,000 but yield $1,385,000 in social benefits” — higher incomes, lower incarceration rates, better health and less reliance on welfare.

Kira’s article is titled “To Teach a Child to Read, First Give Him Glasses”, and he notes early in the article that poverty stricken parents often cannot afford glasses but schools educating a vision impaired student are nevertheless held accountable for that child’s progress. Kirp offers this anecdote as an example:

“You wouldn’t think it’s acceptable to send a child to school without having glasses or without dental care, but it’s O.K. for that child to take a reading or math test,” Mark Gaither, the principal of Wolfe Street Academy, a justly renowned community school in Baltimore, told Maryland lawmakers. “But that’s the situation poor parents face.”

As Mr. Kirp notes, community schools are designed “…to deliver the emotional support that battle-scarred children badly need — recruiting a squadron of social workers, training teachers to counsel students and teaching older students how to mentor their younger classmates.”  And when schools have the wherewithal to provide social and emotional support, students can thrive. He writes: “After-school and summer programs not only keep poor kids off the streets, but they also give them the academic leg up and the array of opportunities that better-off families can afford to buy.” 

There is one big problem with community schools: achieving the kinds of test score improvements used as a metric for success often takes time and persistence.

Results-hungry policy makers expect test scores to rise overnight, but getting students engaged in their own education must come first. A recent evaluation of Baltimore’s community schools concluded that the schools whose students did best academically were those in the program longest.

As noted in an earlier blog post, Mayor de Blasio ultimately needs to satisfy those “results hungry policy makers” who never got the results they anticipated when they used the test-and-punish methods for over a decade but somehow believe the mayor’s approach should be deemed a failure after only two years in place. Chirps’ concluding paragraph indicates that he “gets it”:

New York’s experiment is drawing attention among educators nationwide. If the venture succeeds, other cities may follow suit, but if fails, the community schools movement will take a hit. The impressive evaluations will recede in significance, and critics will dismiss the strategy as just another failed fad. Fingers crossed, then, that the city gives the experiment enough time before rushing to judgment.

From my perspective, I’m keeping fingers crossed that the public recognizes that a return to the test-and-punish model is bankrupt…





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