Monday, April 20, 2015

ESEA Bill Approved Out of Senate Committee, With Key Community Schools Wins

In a remarkable act of bipartisanship, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved its ESEA bill, the Every Child Achieves Act, out of committee on April 16. Through the stewardship of Chairman Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Murray (D-WA), the committee worked through over 50 amendments across three days and reached a consensus to move the bill forward.

Community school advocates can point to key wins in this bill, foremost among them that dedicated funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program was preserved. As the largest source of federal funding for after-school and summer learning and a major funding stream for community schools, this was an important victory. In addition, key community schools principles permeate the bill to drive us toward stronger partnerships between school and community, including:

A more comprehensive results framework: The bill requires states and districts in their Title I plans and reporting to describe how they will address issues of school discipline, including suspensions and expulsions, and school climate, including chronic absence. This is a huge step forward to look at factors beyond academic achievement for school and student success, and we believe these indicators will help drive important conversations at the local levels to address issues of equity. 

The bill goes a step further in Title IV to require LEAs receiving Title IV funds for programs geared toward Safe and Healthy Students to conduct a community-based needs assessment. This assessment must take into account indicators of school quality, climate and safety, discipline, and additional risk factors in the community in order to better target funding based on district-level needs. This important step will help communities determine their priorities for student health and wellness, more strongly engage community partners, and align funding streams toward their desired outcomes. 

School-Community Coordination: The bill allows Title I targeted assistance schools to use funds for “Comprehensive services” that include reference to compensation of a coordinator; family support and engagement services; and health care services and integrated student supports to address the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of children. All of these supports, particularly the role of the coordinator, encourages these schools to leverage community partners in order to provide enriching learning opportunities and tackle barriers to learning.

The bill also adds community partners as stakeholders to be consulted in planning and implementation of funds in many places, and references as an allowable use of Title II funds professional development for educators on coordinating services between school and community.  

Greater Emphasis on Family and Community Engagement: While a small step, the bill explicitly opens up Title II funds for professional development for teachers, principals and other school leaders on effectively engaging parents, families and community partners. District and school-level leaders may leverage these Title II funds to provide meaningful professional development around family and community engagement as one important component of the community schools strategy.

We thank once again our nearly 50 national partners who signed onto our letter of ESEA recommendations for their support of these and other key community school principles that drive us closer toward our vision of schools as centers of flourishing communities where all young people succeed.

So what happens next? Chairman Alexander hopes to get this bill to the Senate floor before the start of Memorial Day recess May 22, but a long legislative backlog of issues may prevent that. On the House side, Chairman Kline (R-MN) of the Education and Workforce Committee wants to bring his bill back to the floor after an unsuccessful attempt in February, but first he needs to decide which bill to consider: he could put the Senate’s bill up for a vote or stick with his partisan bill. Either way, the House and Senate’s views on a final bill are far enough apart that a lengthy debate is likely, with the looming threat of a veto from the White House if the bill walks back on the federal role too far.  
We at the Coalition are hopeful that the Senate’s commendable bipartisanship will inspire House leaders to make a strong effort on their bill, since everyone shares the urgency to move beyond No Child Left Behind. Let’s hope for continued momentum, and for a bill that maintains and builds on these community school principles to empower school and community leaders to help all young people succeed.

Mary Kingston Roche is the Public Policy Manager for the Coalition for Community Schools.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why My Brother's Keeper? Why Now? And Why in Community Schools?

By: Perpetual Baffour, National Policy Emerson Fellow

With the national tide of rising inequalities, heightened racial tensions, and the shrinking realization of the American Dream for many young people, the integral connection between the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and the Full-Service Community School strategy is no stretch of the imagination. Community schools have long demonstrated how they are an important vehicle for delivering the results communities need and for producing better outcomes for young people of color. As illuminated in the Coalition’s recent “My Brother’s Keeper and Community Schools” webinar, community schools are no stranger to President Obama’s big vision for change.

The initial announcement of My Brother’s Keeper re-directed national attention towards an age-old problem in our society: the systemic denial of upward mobility for people of color. However, community schools present a necessary approach to disrupting and eliminating the predictive power of race and other demographics on a student’s potential for success in school, in community, and in life.

The hope community schools offer was explicitly stated last April in the Coalition for Community Schools’ Equity Framework. Lisa Villareal, the Chair of the Coalition, echoed this sentiment throughout the webinar:

In our Equity Framework, we wanted to make it crystal clear that all opportunities, supports, and services in a community school are designed to address even the most egregious disparities. Deeply embedding equity in how we discuss community schools is not only a noble idea, but a moral imperative.

And My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) ensures that this imperative does not neglect the needs of young men and women of color. While not explicitly about the full-service community school approach, the MBK directive nonetheless embraces key community schools principles: an emphasis on policies that develop strong communities, encourage public-private collaboration, and address all dimensions of young people’s development. The My Brother’s Keeper Task Force specifically calls for policy gains in these areas:
·         Getting a healthy start and entering school ready to learn
·         Reading at grade level by third grade
·         Graduating from high school ready for college and career
·         Successfully entering the workforce, and
·         Keeping kids on track and giving them second chances

These objectives are consistent with the results community schools are attaining: increasing attendance rates; reducing suspensions; contributing to improved school climate, culture, and student satisfaction; and preparing young people to be college, career, and citizenship ready. By leveraging resources and partnerships across sectors, community schools have united local leaders to create the conditions for thriving students, families, and communities. And for young people of color, the case is no different.

AJ Watson, the Director of the Becoming a Man (B.A.M) program at Youth Guidance (a lead partner at multiple community schools in Chicago), offered a local example. B.A.M., along with its female counterpart W.O.W. (Working on Womanhood), places counselors in community schools to promote positive psychological development and build resiliency among at-risk students. B.A.M. currently serves over 1,900 young men in grades 7-12 with risk factors of truancy, suspension, drug and alcohol abuse, and gang violence. B.A.M.’s remarkable impact -- including a 50% reduction of violence rates and a 30% reduction of weapons crimes rates -- have earned the program national attention and recognition by President Obama. However, Watson believes these achievements should not outweigh the core purpose of enriching these young men’s lives:

When we started B.A.M., we weren’t necessarily aiming to reduce violent crime rates, or to reduce weapon crimes rates…we were working to help set these men on the right path to responsible adulthood and responsible manhood.

But B.A.M. alone is not the reason for these results. Rather, it is Youth Guidance’s integration of B.A.M. and W.O.W. with its other counseling, community, and afterschool programs that support the school and teaching staff to effect change. Together, the community school coordinator, counselors, parent engagement coordinators, teachers, and principal work to provide students with robust opportunities and supports necessary for student success.

In California, Oakland Unified School District, a district intentionally pledging to become a full-service community school district, has supported young men of color by becoming the first school district to designate an office for African American Male Achievement. As Oakland’s Restorative Justice Program Manager, David Yusem discussed how the district also utilizes a restorative justice approach to reach students who have been previously incarcerated or suspended. He emphasized how restorative justice becomes increasingly effective in a community school setting, because it similarly seeks to build community and provide individualized circles of support.

Restorative justice is an inclusive process, and that’s core to our community schools model. We seek to build community, and all the elements of a community school are working together to create the conditions so students are empowered to grow and thrive.

Community schools across the nation are responding to the White House’s powerful call to action: focus on the needs of young people, and ensure all youth -- regardless of who they are or where they come from -- have the opportunities and supports they need to grow and thrive. The link between My Brother’s Keeper and community schools reminds us that one program alone is not effective enough to meet all the needs of young people of color. Interconnected problems need interconnected solutions.

To view and listen to the entire “My Brother’s Keeper and Community Schools” webinar, click here.

This blog is written in coordination with the Coalition’s four-part Equity Webinar series, organized by Perpetual Baffour, National Policy Emerson Fellow. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Support Rings for Community Schools Approach at Senate Roundtable Discussion

By: Michael Augustine, Coalition for Community Schools Intern

Are schools today capable of adequately meeting the needs of all their students? On Tuesday February 3rd, the Senate Committee of Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) conducted a ‘roundtable discussion’ discussing the role that innovative practices play in better educating America’s youth.

The third and final hearing addressing the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) doubled-down on previous discussions regarding how education policy can address the diverse needs of young people. While predictable topics such as testing accountability and state versus federal decision making captured portions of the discussion, most of the invited witnesses strongly claimed that addressing the social and emotional needs of every K-12 student is paramount to unlocking student achievement and potential. These voices rang loudest and clearest on Tuesday, as policymakers listened and chimed in with support.

One of these voices belongs to local Community School Coordinator Henriette Taylor, who spoke powerfully on her role at The Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School in Baltimore, MD. With close to 100% of the school’s students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, Taylor plays an instrumental part as her school’s community coordinator identifying and addressing the immediate needs and wants of students and their families. The Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School is one of 43 of Baltimore City Public Schools Community Schools. Coordinated with the Family League of Baltimore, the Baltimore City Community School Initiative enables Coordinators like Taylor to to conduct a school-wide assets and needs assessment, and then recruit and maintain strategic community partnerships to give students and their families these specific supports and opportunities. Hers is a role  that teachers are too often burdened to take on in non-community schools, in addition to their teaching roles, which leads to teacher burnout particularly in high-need schools. Her testimony is available here.

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), a fellow advocate for Maryland public education, recognized the importance of Ms. Taylor’s work and the role that community schools play in empowering students. The Senator simply asked: “Do you need a school social worker?” And in reply, Ms. Taylor said: “Desperately.” Senator Mikulski repeated the question two more times, asking if high-need schools also need nurses and community school coordinators in order to support student success. Twice more Ms. Taylor adamantly replied: “Desperately.”

When students’ needs are not met outside of school, teachers and school leaders are indirectly tasked with trying their best to provide support to their students in school. However, it is an integral part of the Community Schools strategy to establish partnerships and social support to students to allow teachers to spend more time and effort on providing instruction and academic support. For example, Taylor’s position as coordinator leverages community partnerships in order to support her students’ needs. When students are supported by a trio of schools, community partners, and school coordinators, teachers can focus on teaching, knowing then that their students’ other needs have been met.

Senators Mikulski, Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and others all spoke in support of the education and development of the ‘whole child’ during the roundtable debate. Whether calling for ‘full service community schools’ or ‘wrap around services,’ the ‘whole child” approach advocates that students must receive critical supports for their physical, social, emotional, cognitive and civic development. This approach gained a lot of momentum at Tuesday’s hearing, which is hopeful progress.

But the question stands: how will a reauthorized ESEA encapsulate the values of the Community School strategy or expand on President Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods? As Chairman Lamar Alexander (D-TN) noted in his opening remarks, federal policy must give flexibility to states to decide how to best support students. Instead of rushing to implement federal programs, Alexander advocated for more state flexibility for funding the innovations and programs that fit their localities.
Going in a different direction, ranking member Senator Patty Murray insisted that the nation’s next education policy has the opportunity to set “innovation in education [as] a national priority.” Other witnesses added to this, indicating that it’s important to address local needs, but there are certainly goals such as increasing attendance, graduation and college participation rates, and the job pool for Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics (STEM) positions that apply to every state. Federal support and vision-setting for these goals is crucial moving forward.

The Coalition for Community Schools recently wrote to Senators Alexander and Murray with key recommendations for ESEA. The letter holds the support of 44 of the Coalition’s partners, including the American Federation of Teachers, Harlem Children’s Zone, National Education Association, United Way Worldwide, and 21st Century School Fund. The letter recommends that ESEA:
  • Incentivizes school-community partnerships at the school, district and state levels that coordinate resources between schools and community partners (public and private) to address the comprehensive needs of students and provide enriching learning and development opportunities during and outside of school hours.
  • Authorizes the bipartisan Full-Service Community Schools Act, and reference full-service community schools as an allowable school turnaround model in Title I and an allowable strategy for Safe and Healthy students in Title IV.
  • Requires SEAs and LEAs in Title I to identify and report results beyond academic achievement to include indicators for health and wellness, discipline, attendance, and family engagement

The next ESEA must address the needs of today’s youth, and the history of educational inequity that NCLB aimed to address over a decade ago. Senators Alexander and Murray have claimed so far that their work has been bipartisan. While partisanship has flashed during these hearings, there is definitely something to agree on: Community Schools.

It is crucial to discuss how the reauthorization of ESEA will in fact support states, districts, and schools in extending greater opportunities to all youth and communities. Legislation supporting the principles of the Community School strategy is not only possible for this 114th Congress, but also crucial to empower all students across the country to succeed and reach their fullest potential.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Senate Education Committee Discusses the Unmet Needs of Struggling Students

By: Michael Augustine, Coalition for Community Schools Intern

More resources and local efforts are crucial for the advancement of America’s underserved students. This sentiment reigned during the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing Tuesday morning, January 27th. Meeting before a panel of witnesses representing teachers, school and state leaders, and educational researchers, the 114th Congress HELP committee engaged in its second formal discussion on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that hasn’t been reauthorized since No Child Left Behind in 2002.

Chaired by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the hearing explored how teachers and school leaders can better serve the unique and pressing needs of students across the country. Testimonies from a teacher, principal, and superintendent examined out of school factors, such as health and emotional supports.

Educator Rachelle Moore, an alumna of the Seattle Teacher Residency program, strongly advocated for policies representing the needs of “the whole child.” Moore described her role as a 2nd grade teacher at Madrona K-8, a high-need school, as that of both a social worker and educator. Her testimony reflected shared values held at the Coalition for Community Schools: schools that address the needs of students and communities provide students the greatest opportunity to succeed. Providing essential supports like health, mental health and nutrition for students from low economic and marginalized backgrounds is an integral step to ensuring their success.

By inviting several witnesses who work directly with schools and students, the committee heard voices not typically involved in shaping federal education policy. Accordingly, nearly every witness called for policy makers to support work from the ground up to address educational inequities. Both senators and witnesses spoke on the importance of reauthorizing a bill that provides teachers and school leaders the tools to improve academic achievement.  

Ranking Member Senator Murray (D-WA) emphasized the need to put more resources into preparing and supporting teachers, who face greater challenges when working in struggling districts. Murray concluded that teachers are too often unequipped to match the needs of students from low-income and/or English as a second language backgrounds. Only by recognizing and preparing for the specific needs of students can teachers adequately serve students.

Similarly, here at the Coalition for Community Schools we believe that identifying and addressing the multitude of challenges facing students is an integral part of raising student achievement. One policy we are advocating for in the reauthorization of ESEA is requiring schools receiving Title I funding to go beyond the measurement of only academic indicators. Incorporating non-academic indicators (i.e. health and wellness, attendance, family engagement, and discipline) into Title I would empower schools to know and better address these pressing issues that impact achievement. This sentiment aligns with the call to action that many speakers raised at Tuesday’s hearing regarding just how important student wellbeing and engagement are towards general achievement. When considering how to best raise our country’s educational performance and close achievement gaps, legislators should recognize that it is crucial to provide students both enriching learning opportunities and access to a myriad of necessary supports.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What Community Schools Taught Me

More than a year before I even applied to intern here at the Coalition for Community Schools, I had done some research about the community school model at a prior internship.  While scouring the Coalition’s website in 2013, I remember thinking: how could this model ever achieve success?  Now, on my last day of this incredible internship, I could speak for hours about the countless ways in which a community school leads to successful students, families and communities.  Over the course of this semester I have grown more passionate about community schools every day I come into this office; completely transformed from the skeptic I once was.  This internship has helped me to improve my written and oral communication skills, I have learned more about educational organizations, and I can now collaborate with others more effectively. Although those skills will be useful for me professionally, what I have truly gained cannot be condensed to fit on a resume.  I will walk out of the Coalition’s office today with a renewed attitude not only on education, but on the communities in which we all live, and how to make them better. 

On my very first day at the Coalition, we hit the ground running and I was on the phone with a California Community School Director by lunchtime, and at a Capitol Hill meeting that afternoon.  Even in that first day, I began to realize the depth of the impact this model has on the lives of those it serves.  By the end of my first week, I was not only convinced that community schools were a fantastic idea, but I had become intensely passionate about advocating for the cause.  By the end of my second week, I found myself compulsively talking about community schools to anyone who would listen.  Needless to say, I was hooked.  

Since then, I have been immersed in seemingly anything and everything community schools: from research about collaboration and quality to framing success of a community school in convincing ways.  I often find myself shocked that there was a time I doubted the effectiveness of a community school. How did I not realize that a child cannot achieve academic success if he or she is hungry, or struggling with problems at home?  How did I not realize that a school should be a hub for community activity, collaboration and learning?  How did I not realize that communities across the country, like the one I am from, can be absolutely transformed by community schools?  With this epiphany came a plan to focus my passion into action, while continuing to work on community schools once I leave Washington, D.C.

In January, when I return to St. Lawrence University to finish my junior year, I will be conducting an independent study about community school implementation and measures of success in two locations that could stand to benefit immensely from the model.  I chose two starkly contrasting places for this study, both of which are special to me: Schenectady, New York, my hometown, and Canton, New York, where St. Lawrence is located.  Schenectady is a much more metropolitan area that struggles with high poverty rates, while Canton is a rural small town in the poorest county in New York State.  The extreme difference in these two locations showcases how extraordinarily versatile the community schools model is.  No matter the location, demographic or population of a community, the holistic approach to learning that is community schools can be transformative for not only students, but their families and the places that they call home.  

These few short months I have spent at the Coalition for Community Schools have not only facilitated my shift from a skeptic to an advocate, but I now view change in a different light.  Creating change in one’s community obviously requires deliberate and diligent effort, but it is often overlooked as being too difficult to produce.  The Community Schools movement showcases exactly how possible creation of change can be.  Just as students work together to build towers of blocks or complete group projects, we as adults must first work together to ignite change in our communities and schools. In the years since building towers with classmates, I had forgotten the value of teamwork; that wooden block skyscraper would not have been as tall or wide without help from my friends.  Re-learning this vital lesson is directly linked to my work here at the Coalition, and for that: thank you community schools. 

By: Maya Williams
2014 Fall Intern

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Different Kind of Field Trip

Housed in Washington D.C., a classic tourist town, IEL doesn’t compete with the double-decker tour buses. Rather, we organize something different: field trips to see schools and communities working together.  One recent trip transported 25 Capitol Hill, executive branch and association staffers to Baltimore to learn about that city’s community school strategy and how it is driving outcomes for young people, families, and communities.  Baltimore now boasts 46 community schools, with another 22 being renovated as community hubs through the first phase of a $1 billion state school construction bond.

The study tour highlighted the Family League of Baltimore, Baltimore City Public Schools, and Elev8 Baltimore. The Mayor of Baltimore  has invested in community schools across the city. The Family League of Baltimore has melded its after school funding with the community school strategy. And, the school district is investing the state bond money to build new schools as community hubs.
Capitol Hill and national executive branch staff were inspired by the school-community coordination and strong results-based partnerships. They saw that community schools:
  • require strong cross-sector relationships, innovative leaders, and intensive coordination between school and community leaders;
  • address the challenges and barriers to learning that significantly impact student achievement (e.g. hunger, trauma, medical issues) in a strategic, intentional way; and,
  • benefit from federal policy that incentivizes and supports this work and replicates the evidence-based practices in community schools that are changing outcomes for students and their families.
These takeaways align with the Coalition’s policy agenda and the key principles that we advocate for at the federal level.

Noelle Ellerson (IEL EPFP 2009-10 alum), Associate Executive Director of Policy and Advocacy for the School Superintendents Association (AASA), said about the tour, “Day to day, we are entrenched in the policy and negotiations and numbers, and it was a welcome change of pace to see the policy in action and—most importantly—see how it works and how it is transforming not just students but full communities. Days and experiences like that affirm the need of solid, proven policy and the work of organizations like ours and IEL.”

As they say in leadership-speak, it’s all about getting the right people on the bus-and in this case, on a bus to Baltimore.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tutor Centers Reveal Importance of Community in Education

Student engagement -- a buzzword heard in almost every facet of education today, a term few would argue against. The discord however, surrounds the solutions created to foster student engagement. Shifting curriculum, school choice, and smaller class size are some of the national solutions that have been proposed. At the more local level, a recent initiative, 826 National, has been established to take this buzzword from the conversation and into action. .

826 National has created eight tutoring centers in different urban areas. Recognizing the stigmas associated with students who use these tutor centers in low income areas, 826 National has used unique retail storefronts to act as a curtain for the centers. Such storefronts as the Pirate Supply Store, Bigfoot Research Institute, Museum of Unnatural History, and a superhero equipment store house the tutor centers.  The centers emphasize creative writing, offering students writing workshops, one on one homework help, and bookmaking and storytelling field trips. In a more recent attempt to incorporate STEM learning, students perform science experiments or learn different science concepts to use as inspiration for a new story.

While the long term effects are contested, 826 National’s short term success is represented simply in its expansion. What started as a small tutoring center in San Francisco has grown to an organization that serves well over 30,000 under-resourced students across the country. However, in today’s data driven society, test scores also speak to the organization’s success. Students who have attended the tutoring centers programs showed improvement standardized tests scores -- 13% in story composition skills and 8% in contextual convention. Additionally, these students are more likely to report feeling enjoyment from writing and take pride in their work. However, 826 National is not the first organization to do what it does, give one on one attention and engage students who would otherwise not.

What sets apart the tutoring centers created by 826 National from organizations that also provide tutoring and one on one services to students is the emphasis on local assets and needs. An understanding of the importance of local support allows for flexibility in the programming.  For example, a center in New York City developed a film workshop in response to the large population of filmmakers willing to volunteer in the area. In Washington, DC, a vibrant poetry scene led to a Saturday poetry reading program. This emphasis on community assets follows directly in suit with the model for community schools. Fully understanding just what a community does in fact have and capitalizing on those resources allows for a more positive system than one that only highlights the shortcomings of a community. This system of thinking, however, does understand that a community has needs. For instance, An 826 Michigan community that was lacking in public transportation invested resources in a van that would drive students to the tutor center.

Through this asset based approach to community learning, students begin to see their community as one that does have something to offer, yet many of the resources that their communities possess do not fit into the conventional mold of a school. This positive and localized emphasis on not only needs but also assets of a community is one that sits as the forefront of community schools. It is this type of conversation and system of thinking however, that must be considered in educational policy reform. Policies enacted should assist communities in enabling their students to thrive and not just survive.

By Brooke Troutman, Intern for the Coalition for Community Schools