Home > Uncategorized > Here’s a Tough Question for the Biden Administration: Why Not Get Behind the Community Schools Model?

Here’s a Tough Question for the Biden Administration: Why Not Get Behind the Community Schools Model?

April 1, 2021

In a recent post I let Joe Biden off the hook for breaking his promise to teachers that he would abandon the use of standardized tests despite the lack of any evidence that they measure anything worthwhile. It struck me that taking up the battle over testing, which seems to have bi-partisan support, was a losing proposition. But here’s a better way forward, instead of staking out a position of being AGAINST tests, why not aggressively stake out a position of being FOR community schools. There are two reasons for doing so: they work and their local community building ethos mirrors the philosophy of local governance that should be the Democratic party’s brand.

As this YES article by Florinda Rodov indicates, community schools are demonstrably effective:

The idea behind community schools is that poverty, housing instability, trauma, and subpar health care impede students’ ability to learn, so schools must mindfully address these challenges. While about 5000 community schools exist nationwide, they’re most prevalent in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the $200 million Community Schools Initiative in 2014 with the goal of creating 100 community schools. Over time, they’ve grown to 267 schools serving 135,000 students in low-income areas. According to a three-year study by the Rand Corporation released in January, they’re working…

Encouragingly, math and English scores are up at P.S. 67, as are attendance rates. Meanwhile, discipline incidents are down. Across the 113 (out of 267) community schools Rand studied over three years, it found improvements in attendance, math scores, and graduation and promotion rates. Among elementary and middle community schools, disciplinary incidents were down compared to non-community schools. Furthermore, behavioral incidents declined among Black students and students with disabilities. But disciplinary incidents among high school students didn’t decline. And while math scores improved, English scores did not. Still, the results are promising enough for Treyger to declare, “Every school should be a community school.”

By integrating services for children in one place it makes it possible to break down the inter-agency silos and address the whole child more effectively. And that whole child approach is what children at risk need the most:

This whole child approach tackles physical, socio-emotional, and academic needs equally. While benefiting individual students, it also addresses systemic concerns. For example, restorative discipline practices such as positive reinforcement, talking circles, and community building instead of zero-tolerance policies including suspensions and expulsions create a supportive school culture, according to Derek Anello, PWC’s VP of Programs. They also mitigate the chance that students will end up in the school-to-prison pipeline, which refers to the punitive discipline that starts in pre-K and pushes kids out of school, onto the street, and into the criminal justice system. Boys of color and those with special needs are disproportionately affected, but girls of color also face biased disciplinary action.

The notion of viewing schools as part of a system makes sense politically for Democrats, who acknowledge that problems like racism, sexism, and “othering” are systemic and not the fault of individuals… and undoing a culture that reinforces racism, sexism and “othering” requires a systemic approach where everyone works together to define inclusivity and harmony.

Of course one problem with community schools is that what they offer to a community eludes measurement that can readily be converted to spreadsheets the way test scores can be used. And because the needle on test scores didn’t move significantly across the board the appetite for expanding the programs in NYC diminished. But test scores are NOT the be all and end all of education nor are they the be all and end all of “success”. If the Biden administration wants to improve schools he could do so by maintaining the standardized tests beloved of the green-eye-share crowd but placing those tests in their proper context: as a fraction of what is important in schools and an even smaller fraction of what schools should be providing in the way of learning.

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