Research Begins to Detail Success in Community Schools

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Teachers know firsthand that wraparound services like healthcare and family counseling really help when it comes to getting students ready to learn. But education experts are only beginning to gather actual data that show us how.

"Positive Student Outcomes in Community Schools" begins to fill that gap. The report, produced by the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities and presented at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C, on Feb. 22, is based on data from the Redwood City School District in California.

Community schools pool resources like family enrichment programs and mental health services so that students get what they need to stay healthy and engaged, right at school. The new report tracks which services work best for which students.

Noting that community school programs should be tailored to meet the unique needs of individual schools, the Gardner Center nonetheless hopes its findings will inform other community school efforts. Among its conclusions:

  • More than 70 percent of the population was reached by supplemental programs in Redwood City, generally among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged students. In other words: If these services are offered, people will use them.
  • English language learners who consistently used supplemental services showed higher gains in language development scores. These were tied to family engagement during elementary grades, and to extended learning (after-school) programs in middle school. "A combination of services is what made the difference," explained Amy Gerstein, executive director at Gardner.
  • Community school programs were linked to more positive feelings about school, which led to higher participation and better academic achievement.

The report release included a panel discussion with Gerstein; Daniel Cardinali, president of Communities in Schools; and Lauren Fogarty, director of extended learning time at the Gardner Pilot Academy, an unrelated community school in Boston.

While Cardinali noted that "there is an emerging set of strategic practices" for community schools, panelists agreed that more research is needed. "Education development by anecdote is no longer a way to move forward," said Cynthia Brown, CAP vice president for education policy, who moderated the discussion. "This research is a huge step," said Fogarty. [Virginia Myers]

February 22, 2012