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Pandemic Proves Worth of Community Schools Model

December 26, 2020

As noted in several posts, the pandemic has laid bare the underlying problems of public schools that were not visible when test scores were the sole metric for measuring quality… and, as two recent articles indicate, the pandemic has brought to light the value of community schools, a value that was not necessarily reflected in those same test scores.

As In the Public Interest writer Jeremy Mohler noted in a blog post earlier this month, even though charter schools and school choice have garnered headlines, neither has improved schools by any metric nor have either addressed the underlying causes of the performance gap between affluent districts and those that serve children raised in poverty. One model, however, HAS made a difference, a difference that became clear when the pandemic closed schools in March: community schools.

Community schools are public schools that partner with local communities to create the conditions students—and communities—need to thrive.

That means connecting schools with services provided by nonprofits and other public agencies, like mental health care. That means after-hours learning for students and parents, like culinary arts. Most importantly, that means more parent and teacher involvement in the school’s decision-making process….

But research is revealing really how successful community schools can be as more and more open. Not only can they improve student educational outcomes, but community schools can also reduce racial and economic achievement gaps.

Just before COVID-19 hit, a four-year Rand Corp. study found that 113 community schools in New York City had improved attendance, increased graduation rates, and saw more students passing courses and advancing grades on time.

Mr. Mohler also noted that there is nothing new about community schools. The idea was outlined in 1902 speech John Dewey gave to National Education Association!

Jane Quinn’s  Hechinger Report opinion piece, “To the Rescue– The Schools We Need Now Are Community Schools“, draws on some of the same findings as the ITPI article and offers these additional insights on the characteristics of a community school and why they have been particularly responsive in the pandemic:

…researchers have reached consensus on the common features found in different types of successful community schools: integrated student supports; expanded learning time and opportunities; family and community engagement; and collaborative leadership and practice.

This consensus can help other district leaders who have come to understand — through the crisis caused by the current pandemic — that they cannot, by themselves, respond to all the needs of their students and families.  They require partners who can bring skills and knowledge to address food insecurity, health and mental health crises, child care needs, technology access problems and housing issues.  Community schools across the country have been able to marshal resources because they’ve put partnerships in place that provide a quick response to current realities.

Ms. Quinn offers several concrete examples of how these community schools provided timely support and how they function in the real world. In a world where we are being compelled to separate from each other, the value of the networks that are inherent in community schools are becoming clearer and clearer… and the need for the interconnectedness of agencies that serve children is increasingly coming into focus.

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