May 25, 2016
Monique M. Chism, Ph.D.
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202
Re: Community Schools Recommendations for U.S. Department of Education, Non-Regulatory Guidance
Dear Dr. Chism,
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the ESSA Request for Non-Regulatory Guidance.
Partners for Each and Every Child (Partners for), a project of The Opportunity Institute, is focused on advancing equity and excellence for all children in the United States’ educational system. Using the recommendations in the Congressionally-commissioned Equity and Excellence Commission’s final report – entitled For Each and Every Child – as a polestar for collaborative education reform, we advance equity in education by equity in education by supporting and connecting non-partisan stakeholder communities around the country.
The Coalition for Community Schools is an alliance of over 200 national, state, and local partners dedicated to the mission to unite school, family and community for young people’s success. We are a broad coalition of education, health, youth development, and civil rights organizations. And we represent more than 150 communities across the country implementing community schools at scale.
The Southern Education Foundation works to advance equity and excellence in education for all students in the South, particularly low income students and students of color. SEF uses collaboration, advocacy, and research to improve outcomes from early childhood to adulthood.
We were pleased to see explicit language that advances the vision of community schools within key provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including the Full-Service Community Schools Grant program within Title IV, Part F, Subpart 2. The legislation recognizes that achieving excellence in American education depends on providing access to opportunity for all children, and that increasing inequality within external social, economic, health and community factors – traditionally viewed as outside of the domain of schools – have a significant influence on academic outcomes and a persistent achievement gap. It also acknowledges the significant learning from community school practitioners as well as program experts around the country, who have guided and shaped school and community partnership strategies through efforts such as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods and other collective impact strategies.
The growing momentum around community school strategies reflects an education landscape that recognizes the complex nature of teaching and learning, and appreciates that particularly for our most vulnerable schools and communities, teaching and learning and supporting student success must be a shared effort. It recognizes that public schools (often neighborhood hubs), have a unique opportunity to provide access to effective and integrated service delivery that support conditions for high quality teaching and learning by partnering with organizations representing youth development, academic enrichment, mental and physical health, human services, foster care, early education, adult education, and family engagement.
The success stories of the comprehensive and inclusive partnership approach to education, especially in high-poverty communities, provide promising evidence that community schools are an essential equity strategy. The integrated and tailored focus on academics, health, nutrition and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.
However, notwithstanding the growing cadre of exemplars around the country, spanning school size, district, and across both urban and rural settings, the research to explicitly identify and understand the key components of effective implementation is still nascent, especially in demonstrating a causal relationship between implementation of a comprehensive and integrated community school strategy – not just individual program pieces – and increased student achievement.
Instead, the majority of the community school conversations to date, have focused largely on advocating for a whole-child approach to education that defines teaching and learning beyond the narrow constraints of a traditional classroom and school infrastructure and practice. To illustrate, community school advocates have emphasized the importance of student support program ingredients that are largely seen as “non-instructional” (e.g. out-of-school time, school-based health, family engagement, college and career readiness, and early education), that are then assumed to add up to a comprehensive and coherent strategy at the school.
The simple logic of this argument presumes that there is the readiness, willingness, staff and program resources, culture, and leadership capacity for existing school stakeholders to understand and implement a fairly transformational shift in the way that schools function. Many community school efforts have struggled to fill in the gaps in logic, without a basic recipe to guide successful implementation. In addition, without clear standards against which we can measure effective implementation, there is little consistency in understanding what is needed to transform a school culture and practice.
For the past 16 months, Partners for has worked in collaboration with the National Coalition for Community Schools to engage and support the local and national Community Schools movement in developing national community schools implementation standards. Implementation standards can help new sites more effectively develop their community school strategy, assist existing schools to strengthen their practice and document outcomes, and help provide a consistent language and framework for advocacy, technical assistance, research, funding and policy engineering.
Recognizing that there is already significant learning from community school practitioners as well as program experts, this project is designed to support an iterative and inclusive standards development process, that relies on the relationships and expertise represented in various state-based networks. After three local practitioner convenings over the past 8 months, including robust discussion as part of the National Coalition for Community Schools Forum in Albuquerque, NM, we are thrilled to be nearing consensus on a set of draft implementation standards.
To this end, and to advance the Department's non-regulatory guidance, we are pleased to submit these draft community school implementation standards as initial information and guidance to the Department as you continue working towards advancing a comprehensive approach to student success.
Specific Levers in ESSA: We encourage the Department to consider these implementation standards, particularly as you develop and refine your guidelines for successful grant applications, including the Full-Service Community Schools grant, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Promise Neighborhoods, as well as other opportunities that call for integrated and collaborative partnerships between schools, community organizations, and public agencies.
Specifically, successful applications should demonstrate deep commitment and understanding to the following Community Schools Guiding Principles that undergird community school partnerships:
- Commitment to EQUITY
- WHOLE-CHILD APPROACH to teaching and learning
- STUDENT-CENTERED conditions for learning
- INTENTIONALITY of resources, time and partnerships
- INTERDEPENDENCE and shared responsibility and accountability for student success
- RELATIONAL TRUST to create and sustain a safe, respectful and trusting climate
- LEARNING ORGANIZATION focused on using data to drive continuous improvement
In addition, successful grantees should explicitly identify infrastructure investments in collaborative leadership, planning, coordinating, data systems, and continuous improvement and sustainability, as organized by the Community Schools Implementation Standards within six domains:
- Collaborative Leadership: nurtures shared ownership and shared accountability.
- Planning: school improvement plan incorporates the assets and needs of school, family, and community.
- Coordinating Infrastructure: facilitates coordination of school and community resources.
- Student-Centered Data: data guide assistance to individual students.
- Continuous Improvement: deepens the impact of the community school.
- Sustainability: ensures ongoing operations of the community school.
We anticipate a final version of the community school implementation standards within the next several months, followed by a similar discussion and consensus-building process around systems infrastructures (e.g. district, county, state, federal level) to support development, implementation and sustainability of at-scale community school strategies.
We look forward to future opportunities to engage with the Department as we pilot and finalize the standards so that they may influence and strengthen research and evaluation, local and state policy engineering, and technical assistance efforts.
Thank you for your attention to this.
Christopher Edley, Jr.
Chair, Partners for Each and Every Child
Co-Founder, The Opportunity Institute
Dr. Kent McGuire
Advisor, Partners for Each and Every Child
President, Southern Education Foundation
Martin J. Blank
Director, National Coalition for Community Schools
President, Institute for Educational Leadership
Community School Implementation Standards – DRAFT FOR DISCUSSION
Revised May 23, 2016
The overall purpose of this project is to engage and support the local and national Community Schools movement as a standards-driven, evidence-based strategy to promote equity and educational excellence for each and every child.
Implementation standards can help new sites more effectively develop their community school strategy, assist existing schools to strengthen their practice and document outcomes, and help provide a consistent language and framework for advocacy, technical assistance, research, funding and policy engineering.
Background to Community Schools and Guiding Principles
The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that replaces No Child Left Behind contains several key provisions that advance the vision of community schools 1 (Title IV, Part F, Subpart 2—Community Support for School Success2).
The legislation recognizes that achieving excellence in American education depends on providing access to opportunity for all children, and that increasing inequality within external social, economic and community factors – traditionally viewed as outside of the domain of schools -- have a significant influence on academic outcomes and a persistent achievement gap.
A community school strategy makes explicit that in order to significantly improve the academic and developmental outcomes of children, schools must work with partners – e.g. families, community organizations, institutes of higher learning, public agencies – to ensure that all students have equitable opportunity to succeed in school.
While the rationale behind a comprehensive approach to student learning is simple, actual implementation requires a transformational shift in the way that public schools (and all of the adults within and around them) function.
The following seven principles guide a community schools approach to school transformation, and provide a framework that undergirds each of the community school implementation standards.
- EQUITY -- Educational excellence and equity are inseparable. Community schools work purposefully to disrupt deep histories of structural inequity that keep students of different backgrounds and races from achieving equitable outcomes. This means paying explicit attention to policies, practices, and cultures that reinforce patterns of educational inequity.
- WHOLE-CHILD APPROACH to teaching and learning -- meaningful teaching and learning extends beyond mastery of core subjects, and includes social-emotional learning, critical thinking, and problem solving.
- STUDENT-CENTERED conditions for learning -- Prioritizes creating the optimal conditions for each student, and a safe and positive school climate inside and outside of the classroom, for teaching and learning so that students are motivated and engaged in academic and youth development.
- INTENTIONALITY -- A community school organizes its resources, time, and partnerships so that they are guided by and responsive to reliable information, and are designed to achieve specific results.
- INTERDEPENDENCE -- No single entity can create all of these conditions, so community schools build partnerships that share responsibility and accountability for progress. Student success relies on recognizing and strengthening mutual interdependencies across traditional program areas and disciplines, and requires explicit investment in collaborative planning and process.
- RELATIONAL TRUST – Such interdependencies are built over time, and become infused within the day-to-day social exchanges within a school community. Research from Bryk and Schneider (2011) find that social trust among teachers, parents, and school leaders improves much of the routine work of schools. This is a key resource for transformation by supporting a safe, respectful and trusting climate where caring adults rely on each other as part of a shared approach to student success.
- LEARNING ORGANIZATION -- improved student learning depends on a school community that has a commitment to, and opportunities for working together, in ways that require individual and collective investment, builds adult and teacher capacity to be responsive to student needs, and prioritizes continuous improvement and learning.
In combination, and when guided by a coherent and rigorous vision of student and school success, these principles provide a strong foundation for the pursuit of community school strategies — a comprehensive partnership approach to meet students’ conditions for learning.
Programmatically, a community school is often characterized by a wide array of supports and services to enhance conditions for high-quality teaching and learning, so that all children can learn. Such programs often include1:
- Expanded learning opportunities, such as afterschool and summer programs, to engage students as independent learners;
- Health and social services and supports to assess and address the basic physical, mental, behavioral and emotional health needs of students and their families;
- Family engagement to mobilizes family assets and work together as partners in their children’s learning;
- Community engagement to align and leverage community and neighborhoods resources to enhance student success;
- Programs that support seamless transitions from early education through college and career.
Many of these program areas benefit from respective field-specific implementation standards to ensure high quality service delivery. And while program elements are important hallmarks of a community school strategy, piecemeal programmatic investments do not result in a cohesive, sustainable, and transformational community school strategy.
1. See Appendix A for references to these program standards, as well as a description of how these program elements operate within a community school strategy.
he development of Community Schools Implementation Standards serves as a first step in identifying the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that school and community partners need in order to plan and implement successful and impactful community school partnership strategies.
The Standards are organized into six domains and for each domain, we describe high-level implementation practices. Detailed indicators are forthcoming, that will describe specific ways that community school practitioners and partners might meet each standard as part of a comprehensive and coherent community school strategy.
- Collaborative Leadership: nurtures shared ownership and shared accountability.
1.1 Multi-disciplinary, cross-sector community partners share responsibility and accountability for student and school success.
1. 2 A representative site leadership team, including the principal, other school personnel, families and community partners guides collaborative planning, implementation, and oversight.
1.3 The principal works actively to integrate families and community partners into the life and work of the school.
- Planning: school improvement plan incorporates the assets and needs of school, family, and community.
2.1 A shared vision drives educators, families, and community partners in their planning.
2.2 Data on school and community indicators, disaggregated by race, gender, disability, income, and other relevant factors, informs the school improvement plan.
2.3 A needs and assets assessment of the school, student, families, and community is conducted regularly to inform the school improvement plan.
2.4 The school improvement plan explicitly outlines the role of families and community partners in helping to achieve specific results.
2.5 The academic and non-academic results and related indicators that the community school seeks to attain are specified in the school improvement plan.
2.6 School improvement plan identifies evidence-based programs and practices.
2.7 The school site leadership team plays a decision-making role in the development of the school improvement plan.
2.8 A mechanism for measuring progress toward desired results and indicators is defined in the plan.
Coordinating Infrastructure: facilitates coordination of school and community resources.
3.1 A dedicated full time coordinator facilitates alignment of people, programs and practices.
3.2 School personnel and community partners are organized into working teams focused on specific issues, e.g., mental health, after school, mentoring.
3.3 School personnel and community partners assess the effectiveness of their relationships on a regular basis.
3.4 Community School Coordinator is a member of the school leadership team. The Community School Coordinator facilitates close communication among the principal, teachers, other school staff, and community partners.
3.5 The Community School Coordinator facilitates school and partnership data collection, sharing, and analysis.
Student-Centered Data: data guide assistance to individual students.
4.1 Data systems and protocols are in place to assure that each child receives individualized support.
4.2 Policies and procedures are in place to safeguard student confidentiality.
4.3 Interdisciplinary teams use data to prepare individualized plans to make sure every student gets the opportunities and supports they need.
4.4 Agreements are in place to share student data and data on services being provided to individual students among school personnel, community school coordinators and community partners.
Continuous Improvement: deepens the impact of the community school.
5.1 Data and participant feedback are analyzed annually by the site leadership team to assess program quality and progress and develop strategies for improvement.
5.2 Issues requiring policy or procedural changes and resource needs are communicated to leaders and staff at the systems level.
5.3 Joint professional development enables educators, community partners and families to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities to work effectively together, share best practices and apply those practices in their work.
5.4 Community partners participate in relevant professional development sponsored by the school district.
Sustainability: ensures ongoing operations of the community school.
6.1 A strategy for continuously strengthening shared ownership for the community school among school personnel, families, and community partners is in place.
6.2 A plan to sustain funding for the community school, including both the position of the community school coordinator and specific programs is in place.
6.3 Principals prepare budgets with a view to helping sustain the community schools.
6.4 Community partners commit to a long-term relationship with the school, driven by student and school needs, and modify their organization and culture to support the community school partnership.
6.5 Community partners help generate funding for programs that will be operated under the umbrella of the community school.
6.6 Educators, community partners, and families publicly advocate for community schools within their organization and across their community.
Appendix A: Common Program Elements of a Community School
Expanded Learning: engages students as independent learners.
- Teachers work with community partners to provide a well-rounded and enriching core curriculum during the school day.
- Students have access to enriching after school programs that are aligned with the curriculum.
- Students have access to enriching summer learning experiences.
- Students have access to supportive environments as needed before school and during school breaks.
- Joint professional development opportunities are available to teachers and staff of community partners.
- Learning experiences incorporate a focus on real world issues and enable young people to be problem solvers in their own communities.
- Learning experiences in community schools meet quality standards defined by specific program fields (e.g., after school, summer learning, service learning, project-based learning, common core).
Health and Social Services and Supports: addresses basic needs.
- Students and their teachers and families are knowledgeable about the services and supports that are available at, or through, school, including physical, mental, behavioral and emotional health.
- Services and supports are culturally responsive.
- Health and social supports and services respond to the needs of students, teachers and families, and focus both on prevention and treatment.
- A student support team including specialized instructional support personnel, community partners, other school staff, and involving families where appropriate, develops and oversees a plan to respond to individual student needs.
Family Engagement: mobilizes family assets.
- Two-way communication between school and families is proactive and consistent.
- Families have a strong voice in the community school’s leadership and decision-making structures.
- Leadership development opportunities are regularly available to families and community residents.
- A safe, supportive and respectful climate welcomes students, staff, families and the community.
- Educators, families, and community partners demonstrate trusting relationships.
Community Engagement: gathers community and neighborhoods resources.
- The school is a venue for exploring and addressing problems affecting the school and the community.
- The school building is open and accessible beyond the school day, including evenings and weekends.
- Families and residents see the school as a hub of learning and community development. Programs that support the seamless transition from early education through college and career.
1 “(2) FULL-SERVICE COMMUNITY SCHOOL.—The term ‘full-service community school’ means a public elementary school or secondary school that— “(A) participates in a community-based effort to coordinate and integrate educational, developmental, family, health, and other comprehensive services through community-based organizations and public and private partnerships; and (B) provides access to such services in school to students, families, and the community, such as access during the school year (including before- and after-school hours and weekends), as well as during the summer.
2 Title IV, Part F, Subpart 2—Community Support for School Success Full Service Community Schools program
The bill also contains provisions that advance the community schools strategy, including the requirement for indicators beyond academics in state and district accountability systems; supportive programs including Promise Neighborhoods and 21st Century Community Learning Centers; and a new set of tools and resources to boost results-focused school-community partnerships for young people’s success, including integrated student supports, needs assessments, and professional development for educators to work more effectively with families and communities.