While new, Promise Neighborhoods shares a lot in common with the concept of the community school, which has been around for a long time.
What are community schools? How are they similar? How are they different? What does the future hold for these two ideas? What are some learning resources that might be valuable to Promise Neighborhoods planners?
We asked Martin Blank, Director of the Coalition for Community Schools (also President of the Institute for Educational Leadership).
Building Neighborhoods: Many of our readers, especially those from the social services side, may not be familiar with the community school model. Can you tell us a little about it and its history?
Martin Blank: The Coalition for Community Schools defines community schools as centers of community where schools and community partners (organizations in youth development, health and social services, family support and engagement, community development and other fields) work together to help young people succeed and to develop stronger families and healthier communities. The idea dates back to John Dewey’s vision of the schools as social center and Jane Addams work to bring settlement house into the school. It also is built on the Mott Foundation’s community education strategy started in the 1940s in Michigan.
Today’s community schools often are run as partnerships between school and lead community partners whose job it is to mobilize community resources to support a common agenda. A full-time site coordinator works to integrate the assets of partners into the life of the school.
There are large community school initiatives in many places today including Chicago, Multnomah Country (Portland) OR; New York, Tulsa, Lincoln, Cincinnati, and many others. And the movement is growing. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are among the ardent supporters of community schools.
The Coalition for Community Schools is the national policy, research and advocacy arm of the community schools movement. We are an alliance of national, state and local organizations in education K-16, youth development, community planning and development, family support, health and human services, government and philanthropy as well as national, state and local community school networks. Our partners are our most important resource. They spread the word about community schools and help to move our policy agenda. Education partners include the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association as well as an array of student support groups among others including the Public Education Network. United Way World-Wide, the YMCA of the USA, the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care and the Harlem Children’s Zone are among our partners.
Building Neighborhoods: How are community schools like Promise Neighborhoods and the Harlem Children's Zone model?
Martin Blank: Schools are at the center of the Promise Neighborhoods strategy and guidelines. So from a community school perspective every school in a Promise Neighborhood will be a community school. And in fact Geoff Canada said as much at a briefing at the Center for American Progress.
So the question is: Do I believe in community schools where kids get all they need? Good health care, good social services, great after school, great culture…yes. I believe in that, and I've fought for that my entire life. And I will fight for that my entire life. And I think that it's critical.
Promise Neighborhoods and community schools represent a paradigm shift from previous policies that relied solely on accountability to get results. They recognize that community issues are school issues. They represent a recognition that we’re all in this together and respond to the President’s call for everyone to act; not only educators, but also parents, students, and the community. Like Promise Neighborhoods, community schools focus on both the quality of the academic program and of family and community support. We know that family and community supports alone will not get our young people college and career ready. We must have a strong academic program with high qualified teachers and a robust curriculum that engages students. What distinguishes community schools on the academic side is an effort to develop a community-based curriculum that involves young people in the real world and in fact, as resources and problem solvers in their own communities.
Promise Neighborhoods, HCZ and community schools are also built on a very common set of principles; here are the community school principles.
- Foster strong partnerships -- Partners share their resources and expertise and work together to design community schools and make them work.
- Share accountability for results -- Clear, mutually agreed-upon results drive the work of community schools. Data helps partners’ measure progress toward results. Agreements enable them to hold each other accountable and move beyond "turf battles."
- Set high expectations for all -- Community schools are organized to support learning. Children, youth and adults are expected to learn at high standards and be contributing members of their community.
- Build on the community's strengths -- Community schools marshal the assets of the entire community -- including the people who live and work there, local organizations, and the school.
- Embrace diversity -- Community schools know their communities. They work to develop respect and a strong, positive identity for people of diverse backgrounds and are committed to the welfare of the whole community.
Building Neighborhoods: How are community schools different from Promise Neighborhoods?
Martin Blank: At the Coalition our strategy has been to move people toward a common vision and the application of common principles. We know that community schools will look different depending on the community context. That is why we do not ‘certify’ community schools nor do we have required menu of services. So seeking common ground is our strategy, not making sharp distinctions, but let me try.
From my perspective community schools start with a focus on the school, engage partners in joint efforts to improve student achievement and development and in the process work to strengthen family and community. Promise Neighborhood start with the entire neighborhood in mind and focus on the school from that starting point. Community schools and Promise Neighborhoods are two similar approaches to what is a very complex set of challenges.
Building Neighborhoods: As you know, we are entering a tough budgetary climate. We at UNCA are working to support funding for Promise Neighborhoods and President Obama's broader neighborhoods agenda. But that is going to be a tough road looking forward. I assume the same is true for community schools. What does the future look like for these programs?
Martin Blank: The budget environment for children and families has never been tougher in my professional career.
First, from a macro perspective I am waiting for all the organizations committed to our issues to work together to expand the share of the budget going to children and families. If we keep focused only on our own programs we will not get the investment in children, families, and communities that we need to make community schools and Promise Neighborhoods a reality.
Second we want to see a larger investment in programs that include key elements of community schools: e.g., 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Title I, family engagement, school based health centers, the FSCS Act, and Promise Neighborhoods.
Finally, we want federal policy to provide incentives for programs and agencies to work together. We know that neither community schools nor Promise Neighborhoods will ever reach scale unless we find ways to braid together the array of federal, state and local, public and private funding streams. That means 1) building common results frameworks to drive the work of schools, neighborhoods communities and states; 2) letting communities decide who will be the fiscal agent for particular programs based on their own knowledge of who has the right expertise; and 3) funding the intermediary work required to build and sustain partnerships at the community level and for coordination of school and community resources at the school level.
Building Neighborhoods: Where are we likely to see some of that happen in the short term? ESEA reauthorization? Something else?
Martin Blank: Given President Obama’s focus on having all students’ college and career ready by 2020, and the placement of Promise in the Department of Education, we see ESEA as a primary vehicle for achieving our policy goals. Based on current conversations with the administration and Congress, we are cautiously optimistic that we will attain our first and third goals; more money is of course a different story.
There is another arena that all of should pay attention to and that is the implementation of health care reform. The problem with health care is not that we do not have money but that funds do not flow in a way that contribute to good health outcomes for the children and families in the neighborhoods we care most about. We must ensure real access to services, and for us that means an expansion of school-based health centers as well education programs that empower young people to take responsibility for their own health and the health fo their communities.
We look forward to having organizations committed to Promise Neighborhoods work with us on a common policy agenda. I firmly believe, as I wrote in a report in the 1990s that only “Together We Can” make the changes we need to get better results. To that end, we recommend that people reading your work also consider applying for the federal Full Service Community School (FSCS) grant. The application is due July 23rd. We encourage your readers to also join us for our webinar on the FSCS grant on Thursday, June 24th at 2 PM EST.
Building Neighborhoods: What other resources about community schools should people look at?
Martin Blank: Here are some links to publications that I think will help people understand community schools better: