Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Congress Gets Closer to Replacing No Child Left Behind

This summer, both the House and Senate passed their own bills to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current federal education law that has been in place since 2002.  Education stakeholders are hopeful Congress can get a final bill across the finish line this year to replace what most agree is a broken law.

Though the two bills differ in many areas, they both would significantly roll back the federal role in education. Both bills still require annual testing, but no longer require certain benchmark scores for students to achieve (known in No Child Left Behind as Adequate Yearly Progress.) Further, both bills leave the discretion to states as to when and how to intervene in low-performing schools. This is a marked change from NCLB’s system of increasing sanctions if schools did not make Adequate Yearly Progress.

The Coalition for Community Schools can point to key wins for the community schools movement that were incorporated into the Senate bill. These include:
  1. An amendment to establish a Full-Service Community Schools grant program
  2. An amendment to make it an allowable use of Title IV funds to designate or hire a coordinator
  3. Inclusion of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program
  4. Requirement for districts receiving Title IV funds for safe and healthy students to conduct a community-based needs assessment
  5. Requirement for states and districts receiving Title I funds to describe how they will address school climate (including attendance) and school discipline (including suspensions and expulsions) in their Title I plans and implementation
"This victory demonstrates the growing bipartisan support for the community school strategy," states Martin J. Blank, President of the Institute for Educational Leadership and Director of the Coalition. "More and more Senators are hearing from their constituents about the growth and impact of community schools in their states, and the strong return on investment that community schools yield for young people, families and their communities."

By October, the Chairpersons and Ranking Members of the House and Senate education committees will announce a conference committee of members who will tackle the challenge of combining both bills into one bill that both sides can support and that the President will be willing to sign. A number of tensions exist in this negotiation process, including:
  1. Accountability: Many Democrats want to beef up accountability to trigger interventions when schools fall below certain graduation rates and demonstrate significant subgroup achievement gaps, and this is an important issue for the White House as well.
  2. Choice: The House bill allows Title I portability, or the option for parents to use Title I money to send their children to any school of their choice, which would dissipate the concentration of Title I funds for high-poverty schools. Several Democrats and the White House strongly oppose this, and this could be a deal-breaker.
  3. Programs: The House bill eliminates virtually all federal programs like 21st Century Community Learning Centers, School Counseling, and others, while the Senate bill eliminates many. There will be robust debates about whether to preserve programs or streamline funding into block grants that states and districts can choose how to spend.
The Coalition is grateful to its more than 200 national, state and local partners who helped to push for provisions in the Senate bill that support the community school strategy. We will be rallying these partners again, as well as community school stakeholders across the country, to continue to push for these provisions in a final ESEA bill.

For updates, refer to our federal policy webpage and follow Director of Public Policy Mary Kingston Roche on Twitter at @kingston_m.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Community Schools and Equity: Changing Systems

To create fairness of opportunity and to advance ideas that allow all students, families, and communities to thrive, it is our civic and moral responsibility to own up to the problems in our society and invest in equity-driven strategies. We must address poverty, social justice, and education together. We need a comprehensive approach to our most complex problems. Honest conversations about the relevance of poverty and race in our nation’s educational challenges are vital. 

“You can’t focus on one [problem] without the other,” says Dr. Monica Medina, Interim Director of the Center for Urban and Multicultural Education at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) School of Education. “In order for us to be effective, we must look at the complexity of these issues from multiple perspectives.”

This was the core message of the Coalition’s recent webinar, “Community Schools and Equity: Changing Systems,” and speakers touched on the intersection of race, poverty, income, class, family circumstance, and culture in educational inequities. “I think that’s what makes the community school strategy so powerful,” says Ena Li, Education Director of the United Way of the Bay Area. “It acknowledges and merges all of these critical factors.”

The Coalition’s Equity Framework also frames this important message by underscoring the principles and approaches that enable community schools to address the most egregious disparities. Community schools require a collaborative, intentional, and honest effort of leaders across sectors to become partners in identifying the local needs of schools and communities.

Although racial inequity is most pronounced, children of all demographic backgrounds face a lack of opportunity, and these inequities are symptomatic of greater structural barriers. It affects children in urban, suburban, and rural areas who are cut off from ladders of opportunity and unable to access college and career pathways. It affects youth with disabilities who lack accessible spaces and tools to assist in their learning.

The webinar speakers represented just a few of the many community schools leaders who are addressing this issue directly -- tackling systems and beliefs that constrain the mobility of many young people.

Diana Hall, Program Supervisor of the SUN Service System and Community Schools in Multnomah County, Oregon, emphasized this point by articulating SUN’s Theory of Change, which voiced their intent to make a clear statement about their commitment to equity with a focus on racial justice:

We wanted to make visible the issue of racism in our systems. We have very significant racial disparities and institutionalized issues to address in our community. We had to convene all of our leaders and partners in the community and decided that we were going to have honest conversations with each other about equity.
SUN Service Team then convened a Leadership Council and Equity Lens team in the spring of 2013 that included representatives of the city’s Equity Office, school districts, nonprofit organizations, and coalitions of communities of color. They soon created an Equity Index to identify high-need schools that they would transform into high-quality, full-service community schools. Accounting for demographic factors such as race and income level, the Equity Index is enabling SUN to re-allocate school funding in a culturally responsive way.  

Equity strategies require leaders to build effective collaborative leadership structures, intentionally look at the conditions of the community, and create a shared vision that will translate into action and results. Community schools initiatives, like SUN’s effort in Oregon, create policies to ensure community schools have the support of leadership in school districts, community-based organizations, businesses, health and human services, colleges and universities, and residents and families to create the political and public will to address inequities in their communities.

But race is not the only relevant factor, and poverty and family circumstances are relevant issues that must not be ignored. Ena Li, Education Director of the United Way of the Bay Area, touched on how community schools meet the basic needs of families and offer programs and services that support family economic success by utilizing their two-generation strategy, SparkPoint Community Schools, as an example. In 2010, the United Way of the Bay Area Board declared a bold goal to cut Bay Area poverty in half by the year 2020. To help families create pathways out of poverty, they decided to align their anti-poverty efforts in SparkPoint -- financial education centers focused on helping struggling families achieve financial prosperity -- with their community schools efforts. There are now ten, and soon to be eleven, SparkPoint centers located in the Bay Area’s community schools, offering services for families to build assets, grow income, manage debt, and maintain financial stability. SparkPoint Community Schools presents a unique yet illustrative example of community schools addressing the barriers families face, so the child can focus on learning.

But the quality of teacher-student relationships also affects how a child learns, and it is important to recognize how community schools may assist in meeting the needs of teachers and supporting their roles as educators. Dr. Monica Medina leads courses at the IUPUI School of Education to address this very issue; through her courses, pre-service teachers are placed in community schools in Indianapolis, Indiana and participate in classes such as Community Schools 101 and Poverty and Teacher Expectations to learn about community schools through a critical social justice lens.

The idea is to help these teachers become culturally responsive to the needs of students, parents, and community members involved in the school. The overall goal is to help teachers develop a counter-narrative that promotes social equality, democracy, social responsibility, and civic engagement. Academic achievement is important, but teachers need to also recognize that they must support the community school model through an Equity Pedagogy that creates the conditions for students to be effective learners. – Monica Medina, Interim Director of the Center for Urban and Multicultural Education
When teachers learn about multicultural competence in the classroom, they can use this knowledge as tools and assets for reaching students and families of differing cultural backgrounds. Dr. Medina’s work supports the community schools principle to embrace diversity and to build equitable and trusting relationships among youth, teachers, schools, families, and communities.

The intersection of social, economic, and cultural factors in our nation’s educational disparities calls for comprehensive solutions that intentionally address these issues with a focus on equity. Community schools present one hopeful strategy, for we need a system of opportunity and support that ensures children and families do not fall through the cracks. The problems our young people face are not individual problems. They are systemic problems. And while they may seem too complex or overwhelming to acknowledge, they must be addressed, and they must be discussed with a spirit of togetherness, hope, change, and opportunity.

To view and listen to the entire “Community Schools and Equity: Changing Systems” webinar, click here.

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

Thursday, May 7, 2015

ESEA Reauthorization Is a Tough Sell in This Congress

Many agree that our current federal education law No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is broken, but Congress is having trouble agreeing on how to fix it. (NCLB is the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, our primary federal education bill passed in 1965). These next few months are seen as the crucial window for updating this troubled law during President Obama’s tenure, as Presidential campaigns will take over after that.

Signed into law in 2002 by President George W. Bush, NCLB held schools accountable for student sub-group performance and declared a lofty, and now widely seen as unrealistic goal: that all students would be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The bill also extended the federal role in an unprecedented way: it outlined sanctions that schools would face if they did not meet certain school-wide proficiency targets known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). These targets have led to a hyper-focus on high-stakes testing that drive these school scores.

Both Democrats and Republicans see the folly in many of the components of NCLB.  Scores of teachers, principals and parents have weighed in that this approach is unfair to students and teachers, particularly in high-need schools that need more support. What Congress cannot agree on, despite their common ire for the bill, is the right way to replace NCLB, and the proper role-and size-of the federal government.

One can point to a set of key tensions that are confounding Congress:
  • Accountability:  who holds schools accountable – federal government or states – and what should be the consequences for schools be that do not measure up?
  • Testing: whether to keep annual testing or adopt grade-span testing to reduce the frequency
  • Standards and proficiency: how much say the federal government has in state standards, and whether to set achievement targets for student performance as NCLB did
  • Funding: how much federal funding, and whether to give this to states through specific programs, as it currently exists, or bundle them into a single block grant to allow states and districts to determine how to spend it
  • Required vs. allowable language: what elements should be required in ESEA vs. understood as allowable for states to choose to take on, such as reporting of indicators beyond test scores like attendance and discipline
  • The importance of supports for student achievement, including family and community engagement: how much funding for these factors and what are states’ and districts’ responsibilities to address them
The Coalition for Community Schools at IEL is working to ensure that a set of key principles are embedded in ESEA reauthorization. The principles that we are advocating for include:
  • Incentives for results-driven public-private partnerships;
  • Broadened indicators for states and districts to report on beyond achievement, including attendance, family engagement, student discipline, and health and wellness;
  • Stronger definitions of family and community engagement and clarity about how they can contribute to student achievement and well-being; and
  • Consultation by states and districts with a broader array of stakeholders including community partners.

We submitted to Congress our recommendations signed by 47 national organizations that span education, health, youth development and civil rights. These recommendations were echoed by witnesses at a Senate ESEA hearing, including  Henriette Taylor, a community school coordinator from Baltimore, MD;  Superintendent Jim McIntyre of Knoxville, TN; and principal Dr. Susan Kessler from Nashville, TN.

On April 16, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously passed its bipartisan ESEA bill, the Every Child Achieves Act, out of committee. The bill contains many “wins” for community schools that we summarize here.

So where does reauthorization stand now? Chairman Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Murray (D-WA) of the Senate HELP Committee are trying to get their bill to the Senate floor before the Memorial Day recess that begins May 22, but there is a legislative backlog of items that are competing for floor time. The House sped through a partisan committee markup in February but the bill received significant backlash on the floor, so House leaders are working to get the bill on the floor for reconsideration. Politico has great coverage of the key events and tensions in the House that led to this embarrassing backlash against the bill.

The clock is ticking for a reauthorization this year before attention turns to the 2016 elections; we’ll see if Congress can prioritize education as it deserves to be, and send a new bill to the President to sign.

Mary Kingston Roche, Public Policy Manger, Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute for Educational Leadership (Twitter: @kingston_m)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Growing Momentum for Community Schools at the State Level

The recent rise of community schools legislation in various states is a clear sign that the movement is growing. Just in 2015 alone, legislative champions in eight states across the country have introduced more than ten bills promoting community schools, the most state legislation ever introduced in one year. Even more promising, these states span the political spectrum and demonstrate that elected leaders, regardless of their political affiliation, view community schools as an effective bipartisan strategy for closing the opportunity gap and helping our young people succeed.  

You can find summaries of the community schools legislation recently introduced in California, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin here.

A significant win in these bills is the collective embrace of full-service community schools language and principles. Many of the bills repeatedly reference "Community Schools" or "Full-Service Community Schools" throughout their legislation. Some also require a community assets and needs assessment and the hiring of a community school coordinator. Georgia, for example, requires new community schools to establish a school-community partnership team and to regularly convene community school stakeholders throughout the planning process.

Further, many of these bills carry some funding, making an intentional pledge to grow the number of community schools in their states. For example, the Texas bill establishes a competitive grant program that would award two-year grants in the amount of $85,000 per school. Other bills similarly require state educational agencies to establish a grant program for eligible schools and districts to apply to (e.g., California, Missouri, Georgia, and Wisconsin).  

Many of these bills were also introduced with the intention of closing opportunity and achievement gaps, reflecting the Coalition’s stance of community schools as an essential equity strategy. Some authorize community schools as an intervention model for high-need, high-poverty, and low-performing schools. The Minnesota bill, for example, requires new community schools to collect and analyze data on suspension/expulsion rates, among other indicators, which will encourage school leaders to pay closer attention to these issues. California’s Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund was specifically designed to fund truancy prevention and other programs that break the school-to-prison pipeline. Community schools is referenced as an effective strategy for tackling these issues.

Even more encouraging, these bills are being introduced in both Republican and Democrat-majority states, with some receiving favorable bipartisan support. For example, the Ohio House passed Rep. Denise Driehaus’s bipartisan bill, which expands Cincinnati’s Community Learning Centers model statewide, with an overwhelming majority vote of 85 to 3. Additionally, the Texas bill was filed by a Democrat of Austin, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, but with both Republican and Democrat cosponsors. These bipartisan alliances demonstrate the viability of community schools as neither a ‘red’ nor ‘blue’ political strategy, but rather a ‘purple’ strategy.

The Coalition supports state legislators as needed to advance their community schools legislation. In Maine, Coalition staff helped organize two statewide community school forums that drew over 200 people to build support for legislation. In California, Senator Carol Liu has long championed community schools including through a statewide community schools bus tour in 2013, an essay she co-wrote with Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), two community schools bills she introduced this year, and her creation of a California Senate Subcommittee on community schools. The Coalition looks forward to providing ongoing support to these states and more through its state policy network and state networks, which had its first convening last fall. The State Networks meeting engaged community school leaders across several states and sectors to discuss strategies for growing community schools in their areas.  

This state momentum also occurs at a time the Coalition is building support for community schools at the federal level, particularly through ESEA reauthorization and the recent approval of the Senate’s ESEA bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (which contains key community schools wins as seen here). Overall, the state bills illustrate the importance of community schools as a universal strategy for communities regardless of their political leaning or populations served. The Coalition looks forward to supporting the passage of these bills, connecting important partners to this work, and continuing to inform policy that creates meaningful impact on students, families, and communities across the nation.

By: Perpetual Baffour, National Policy Emerson Fellow

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.