Community schools

Community schools, also called full-service community schools or community learning centers, combine academics, physical health, mental health, and social service resources for students and families through partnerships with a variety of community service organizations (CCS-FAQs). Services vary, but can include tutoring, mentoring, case management, counseling, early childhood and adult education, and employment assistance. An example of place-based initiatives, community schools may be developed through partnerships among educators, city planners, public health practitioners, and community members (). Community schools are frequently located in low income rural or urban areas and are financed through a mix of public and private funds (Blank 2003). Community schools are open to students, their families, and the broader community every day, even when school is not in session. 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Improved student attendance

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased high school graduation

  • Improved youth behavior

  • Increased access to services

  • Increased social capital

  • Increased parent engagement

  • Increased community involvement

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that community schools increase academic achievement and improve student attendance compared to traditional public schools (Moore 2014, Blank 2003, CIS 2008, CIS 2010a, CIS 2010b). Community schools that provide more services to students and families increase academic achievement and improve student attendance more than schools that provide fewer services (Adams 2010, CIS 2008).

Community schools have been shown to reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates among attendees (CIS 2008). Over time, students who attend community schools appear to improve their behavior. Students also appear to have increased access to needed social services and preventive care, increased interaction with supportive adults, and more stable family and personal situations (Blank 2003).

Communities in Schools, a frequently implemented model of a community school, has been shown to increase academic achievement and improve student attendance in rural, urban, and suburban schools, as well as among black, white, and Hispanic students (CIS 2008). The Communities in Schools model provides services to address school-wide needs, as well as individualized services for students with the greatest needs.

Community schools may improve communication between families, teachers, and students (Blank 2003). Over time, community schools may also increase parents’ involvement, attendance at school activities, and engagement with school faculty, staff, and other parents (, ). Neighborhoods with community schools may have greater access to social services and increased levels of community involvement (Blank 2003).

Economic analyses of community school initiatives show a positive return on investment, ranging from $4 - $15 per dollar invested (Moore 2014). 

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

As of 2015, there are approximately 5,000 community schools in 150 communities across the US (Blank 2015). The Coalition for Community Schools highlights many community schools and models; implementation varies by school and model (CCS-FAQs). Community schools can be found in large school districts such as New York City, Chicago, and Baltimore; medium districts such as Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, and Lincoln, Nebraska; and in smaller districts such as Evanston, Illinois; Vallejo, California; and Allentown, Pennsylvania (Blank 2015).

Many initiatives support not only individual school transformations into community schools, but efforts to change all schools in the area into community schools (Blank 2015). For example, the Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative (TACSI) is a network of partnerships between Tulsa Public Schools, Union Public Schools, and community leaders; TACSI supports 27 community schools and is working to further support such schools via its Center for Community School Strategies (TACSI-Community schools). In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative uses community schools with a community resource advocate in 30 of the most vulnerable schools in the county (CC-Simington 2015, PGC-TNI). New Hampshire’s Manchester Neighborhood Health Improvement Strategy supports community schools throughout the city (MHD-MNHIS 2014).

Implementation Resources

Community schools toolkit - Coalition for Community Schools. How to start a community school.

NCCS-Action guide 2011 - National Center for Community Schools (NCCS). Building community schools: A guide for action. 2011.

Citations - Evidence

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Adams 2010 - Adams CM. The community school effect: Evidence from an evaluation of the Tulsa Area Community School Initiative. Tulsa: University of Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Center for Educational Policy; 2010.

Blank 2003 - Blank M, Melaville A, Shah B. Making the difference: Research and practice in community schools. Coalition for Community Schools. Washington DC: Coalition for Community Schools; 2003.

CIS 2008 - Communities In Schools (CIS). Communities In Schools national evaluation volume 1: School-level report results from the quasi-experimental study, natural variation study, and typology study. Fairfax: ICF International; 2008.

CIS 2010a - Communities In Schools (CIS). Communities In Schools national evaluation volume 5: Randomized controlled trial study-Austin, Texas. Fairfax: ICF International; 2010.

CIS 2010b - Communities In Schools (CIS). Communities In Schools national evaluation volume 6: Randomized controlled trial study-Wichita, Kansas. Fairfax: ICF International; 2010.

Moore 2014 - Moore K, Emig C. Integrated student supports: A summary of the evidence base for policymakers. Child Trends. 2014:1-8.

Sanders 2015* - Sanders M. Leadership, partnerships, and organizational development: Exploring components of effectiveness in three full-service community schools. School Effectiveness and School Improvement: An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice. 2015.

Chen 2016a* - Chen ME, Anderson JA, Watkins L. Parent perceptions of connectedness in a full service community school project. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2016:1-11.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CCS-FAQs - Coalition for Community Schools (CCS). Frequently asked questions about community schools.

TACSI-Community schools - Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative (TACSI), Center for Community School Strategies. The TACSI Resource Center's Center for Community School Strategies: Bringing the community school strategy to many Tulsa public schools.

Blank 2015 - Blank MJ, Villarreal L. Where it all comes together: How partnerships connect communities and schools. American Educator. 2015:4-11.

MHD-MNHIS 2014 - Manchester Health Department (MHD), City of Manchester. Manchester neighborhood health improvement strategy (MNHIS). 2014.

CC-Simington 2015 - Simington J. Make schools the center of the community. Community Commons (CC); 2015.

PGC-TNI - Prince George's County (PGC), Maryland. Transforming neighborhoods initiative (TNI).

Date Last Updated

May 5, 2016