On Community Schools

A note from Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest:

A groundbreaking new studyabout something you’ve likely never heard of might be the biggest education story so far this year.

For the past four years, Rand Corp. has studied New York City’s innovative Community Schools Initiative. It found that, in 113 public schools using the “community school” model, attendance improved, graduation rates increased, and more students passed courses and advanced grades on time.

What’s a community school, you ask? This video from the Learning Policy Institute goes a long way towards explaining. In short, they’re public schools that partner with local communities to create the conditions students need to thrive.

For example, students at the Bronx’s Benjamin Franklin School learn urban farming five days a week. A teacher helps them grow their own vegetables to eat for lunch and take home to their families.

These types of programs aren’t just a fancy New York City thing. Nationwide, there are more than 5,000 community schools.

Pocomoke High School on Maryland’s Eastern Shore pulls together families, home workers from social services, local agencies, and college representatives to build one-on-one relationships with students.

Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, a Denver high school, offers students mental health, dental, vision, and physician services.

The possibilities are almost endless, as long as the school is adequately funded—which is always the elephant in the room in education debates.

Decreasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy is slowly draining money from America’s public education system. The majority of states continue to spend less on education than they did ten years ago.

Fortunately, the growing #RedForEd movement has won not only higher teacher pay but also more funding for more school nurses, smaller class sizes, and more.

And in at least one case—the 2019 Los Angeles teachers’ strike—teachers were able to win promises from the local school district to transform 30 schools into community schools. This has cascaded into support from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose recent budget proposal calls for $300 million for community schools statewide.

A just-released poll shows that a majority of likely voters in the 2020 election view public schools positively but think they need more funding. If support for public education continues to grow, community schools might become the rarest thing in public policy: a silver bullet.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Hoyt Chosen to Lead Community School Alliance


TREE co-founder Lyn Hoyt has been chosen to lead a new group focused on community schools.

From a press release:

The National Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) announces a new state alliance coordinator advocating for community schools in Tennessee. Lyn Hoyt, co-founder of TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence) will lead Tennessee AROS to strengthen public school advocacy by recruiting alliance members that will support schools and districts committed to the creation of transformational community schools.

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. It is a “stakeholder model” created by the school and the community. Some of the student needs might include improved health with a donated dental visit, access to enrichment, tutoring or even access to food and clean clothes. Public and private partnerships shape these services.

“I will be advocating and educating about how a ‘transformational’ community school model works to help address academic and opportunity disparities. I will also help schools explore how a community school model might meet the needs of their children,” Hoyt said. “We are ready to work closely with organizations like the PTA, TREE, and TEA to shape an alliance that can partner with parents, teachers, and community members. We already have community school efforts going on in Tennessee and we want to support and grow those efforts.”

“I am excited to see Lyn bring her perspective as a Tennessee native, public school graduate, public school parent, and former PTO president to Tennessee AROS.,” says Inez Williams with the Tennessee PTA. “It all connects. Tennessee PTA believes strongly in the important role parents and community members play in student achievement. The community schools model provides an opportunity for all stakeholders in a community to truly be a part of their local schools’ success.”

Lyn also brings a perspective from her volunteer role as president of TREE: Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, a grassroots band of parents, teachers and public school advocates committed to growing child-centered education.

“This opportunity with TennAROS really allows me to pursue a meaningful role in helping communities connect their good works, their non-profits, their churches, those who want to give their time and talent to help public schools thrive.”

For now, Hoyt will also continue her role with TREE.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) is an unprecedented alliance of parent, youth, community, and labor organizations that together represent over 7 million people nationwide. We are fighting to reclaim the promise of public education as our nation’s gateway to a strong democracy.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 




Whatever It Takes


This story on Community Schools offers an interesting look at what it takes to overcome the impact of poverty on education. The bottom line: It takes patience and creativity. It requires an investment of resources.

From the story:

Though the Washington Heights principal firmly believes in the idea that students can only learn if their basic needs outside the building are met — a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach to struggling schools — he is also wary of the argument that infusing schools with social services will immediately lead to academic payoffs.

“Turning a kid’s lights back on on doesn’t make their test scores go up,” House said. “It’s the precondition for learning.”

House knows that firsthand. His community school, serving grades 6-12, was built a decade ago, but changes in key metrics like graduation rates and test scores haven’t come quickly. CHAH, which is 92 percent Hispanic and roughly 90 percent poor, has only recently come off the state’s “priority” list of low-performing schools.

The challenge, according to the principal, has not been finding agreement on the importance of addressing student needs:

I think most people probably don’t need to be convinced that access to health care or eyeglasses or mental health supports is a good thing for kids who might otherwise struggle to have access to those things—

I would argue with that though. I think people see that as a common-sense solution, [but] they’re not interested in paying for it.

I think House (the principal) has it right. People generally agree that kids need to have basic needs met as a precondition to learning. Unfortunately, the will do to whatever it takes is lacking.

Instead, we play at the margins. I appreciate the SCORE recommendations on teacher preparation. Improving the way we prepare teachers and providing them with early career support and mentoring is important for teachers and can improve outcomes for students.

I’ve long advocated for better pay for teachers. Not only do they deserve a professional salary, research indicates that better pay can improve outcomes for students.

Some in our state push vouchers while others suggest expanding the presence of charter schools will make a lasting impact.

Here’s the deal: None of these changes matter to a hungry kid who doesn’t have access to healthcare. The child who goes home to a house with no power or who attends seven schools in ten months because they are moved from one temporary housing solution to another or who has never seen a dentist — that child doesn’t care that teacher prep is a little better or that there’s a new way to evaluate teachers or that grading is now “standards-based.” Sure, these ideas may have merit and may provide some improvement to the school climate, but unless basic needs are met, learning will be difficult.

As House notes, there is often broad agreement on that point. What’s missing is the willingness to invest the money.

Here in Tennessee, we are not even adequately funding the number of teachers we need — we’re coming up $400 million short on that score. Instead of thinking of ways to provide critical social services to students, our General Assembly has eliminated the inheritance tax and the Hall Tax — foregoing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue so that those who have can have more.

We currently have around $900 million in a budget surplus from the 2015-16 fiscal year and we’re $140 million above projections for this fiscal year. How much of that will be invested in schools? Of that new investment (if any), how much will go to provide the wrap-around services students require to ensure basic needs are met?

We understand the challenge. We know the need. Will we do whatever it takes?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport