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NYTimes David Kirp Sees Promise in Community Schools

January 13, 2019

The Community School Comes of Age, the NYTimes David Kirp op ed article from earlier this week, describes how the community schools are getting a foothold in New York City. I was heartened to read this, because the “community school” described in Mr. Kirp’s article is very much like the “network school” that is the overarching theme of this blog. Mr. Kirp uses NYC’s Island School, a K-8 school serving 50 students most of whom are homeless, as the prototypical community school and uses a recent RAND Corporation study as evidence that this model is succeeding:

A 2017 RAND Corporation study of the first wave of New York’s community schools concluded that they are generally on the right track. They are staying open longer and finding new ways to help their students. They’re working with families and relying on mentors to persuade students of the value of education.

These practices are critical, according a 2017 report from the Learning Policy Institute (where I’m a senior fellow) and the National Education Policy Center. That study combed the voluminous research to identify the elements of a good community school. When schools both “support academic success and social, emotional and physical health” and “offer a promising foundation for progress,” the report concluded, research shows that students’ reading and math scores go up and they’re more likely to graduate. Fewer of them skip school. And they act out less often.

The broad mission of community schools can pose problems… especially when the administrators are pulled in many directions:

Most community school principals, the RAND evaluation noted, have built solid relations with partners — nonprofit groups, government agencies and businesses that can connect their school with essential services. But some reported feeling whipsawed between what they saw as competing priorities: giving students the extra support they need, versus increasing test scores.

“We’re mandated to do lots of different things,” one school leader complained. “There needs to be a real understanding of how much time do we have in a school day, in a school year.”

Mr. Kirp’s article included one very good and very consequential finding:

The community school approach represents a sea change, for it rejects the “no child left behind” belief that test scores are all that matter.Studies show that Americans are losing faith in that approach. In a 2018 survey of 3,000 adults, conducted by Columbia University Teachers College, two-thirds agreed that “students cannot develop basic academic skills without community resources, health and community services to students and families.” This isn’t a partisan issue — more than half of self-described conservatives concurred.

And this finding leads to an important question as we enter the 2020 election: which candidate will look at the fact that 2/3 of the voters agree that “students cannot develop basic academic skills without community resources, health and community services to students and families” and pledge to eliminate the test-and-punish approach that does absolutely nothing to provide the necessary community resources, health and community services to students and families? And more importantly, will the NEA and AFT use this finding to continue to push for schools to provide the community resources, health and community services to students and families? 

 

 

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