Letter to the US ED: Recommendations on Guidance for Community Schools

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.

Sincerely,

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

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