Learning Policy Institute
Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement
This brief examines the research on community schools, with two primary emphases. First, it explores whether the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens the possibility of investing in well-designed community schools to meet the educational needs of low-achieving students in high-poverty schools. And second, it provides support to school, district, and state leaders as they consider, propose, or implement a community school intervention in schools targeted for comprehensive support.
Community schools represent a place-based school improvement strategy in which “schools partner with community agencies and local government to provide an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement.”(01) Many operate year-round, from morning to evening, and serve both children and adults. Although the approach is appropriate for students of all backgrounds, many community schools serve neighborhoods where poverty and racism erect barriers to learning, and where families have few resources to supplement what typical schools provide.
Community schools vary in the programs they offer and the way they operate, depending on their local context. However, four features—or pillars—appear in most community schools:
- Integrated student supports
- Expanded learning time and opportunities
- Family and community engagement
- Collaborative leadership and practices
Because ESSA requires that federally funded interventions be “evidence-based,” we reviewed both research on community schools as a comprehensive strategy and research on each of the four individual pillars of the strategy. We summarized the findings and evaluated the studies against ESSA’s criteria for “evidence-based” interventions, which define different tiers of evidence based on research methodology.
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