Community schools

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  

Community schools partner with a variety of community service organizations to provide academic instruction, youth development, family support, mental and physical health resources, and social services for students and families, as well as community development opportunities1. Services can include tutoring, mentoring, case management, mental health counseling, early childhood and adult education, extracurricular activities, family engagement, after-school care, medical and dental care, nutrition services, opportunities for physical activity, and access to social service programs and employment training and assistance2, 3. An example of place-based initiatives, community schools are developed through partnerships among educators, city planners, public health practitioners, and community members3. Community schools are frequently located in neighborhoods with residents with low incomes in rural or urban areas and are financed through a mix of public and private funds4. Community schools are open to students, their families, and the broader community every day, even when school is not in session. Services offered through community schools vary; each school is designed to address local needs and priorities1. Community schools are also known as full-service community schools, comprehensive community schools, or community learning centers.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Improved student attendance

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased high school completion

  • Improved youth behavior

  • Increased access to services

  • Increased social capital

  • Increased parent engagement

  • Increased community involvement

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that community schools increase academic achievement5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and improve student attendance more than traditional public schools5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14.

Key components of community schools, including family and community engagement, expanded learning time and opportunities, and integrated student supports, have been shown to increase academic achievement, improve student attendance and behavior15, and reduce risky behavior and the likelihood of dropping out16. Community schools that provide more services to students and families increase academic achievement and improve student attendance more than schools that provide fewer services7. Schools that have been operating for a longer time improve student outcomes more than newer schools15. Community schools with mental health services may improve health and behavioral outcomes and increase family engagement17.

Community schools have been shown to reduce dropout rates7 and increase high school completion rates among attendees7, 11. Community schools can increase attendance11, 18, particularly schools with more mental health services and programs11. However, as poverty increases, the effect on attendance decreases19. Community schools can also reduce behavioral incidents in elementary and middle schools11, decrease disciplinary referrals18, 20 and improve learning support systems18. Students at community schools appear to have increased access to necessary social services and preventive care, increased interaction with supportive adults, and more stable family and personal situations than non-attending peers4.

Community schools can improve perceptions of school climate11, 18, 21, but transitioning to a full-service community school model and adding additional resources does not necessarily result in immediate improvements to the experience of students and families of color22. If schools and their community partners do not engage with families, parents may continue to feel unwelcome in schools23.

Community schools may improve communication and trust between families, teachers, and students4, 15. Over time, community schools may also increase parents’ involvement, attendance at school activities, and engagement with school faculty, staff, and other parents21, 24, 25. Neighborhoods with community schools may have greater access to social services and higher levels of community involvement4.

Experts suggest that community schools go through three stages of development: emerging, maturing, and transforming26. Lack of sustained funding and efforts to maintain partnerships, coordinate services, and manage information sharing are often challenges for community school initiation and continued operation27, 28. To be successful community schools must build relationships with partners and stakeholders, align school and district agendas, and collaborate with the community to create and implement a shared vision29, 30, 31. Program sustainability appears to increase when community schools have stable school leadership, consistency in partners to maintain services, and a full-time coordinator who works directly with the student and family communities to ensure needs are being met30, 31.

Economic analyses of community school initiatives show a positive return on investment, ranging from $4 to $15 per dollar invested32. Cost benefit analysis also suggests up to $15 in social value and economic net benefits per dollar invested in community schools and school-based wraparound services15.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: suggested by expert opinion.

Community schools are a suggested strategy to increase equity and access to quality education for students and families from disadvantaged backgrounds11, 15, 39, 40. Available evidence suggests that comprehensive community school interventions can help meet the educational needs of low-achieving students in high poverty schools and help close opportunity and achievement gaps for students from families with low incomes, students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities15. Community schools may also increase social capital among students from disadvantaged backgrounds41.

For immigrant and refugee middle grade students, attending community schools featuring programs focused on newcomer populations may increase academic achievement8, 10, 12, 14, increase attendance10, 14, decrease behavior incidents14, and increase the likelihood of college enrollment12. However, improvements may not be large enough to impact disparities14. A New York State-based study of a community with residents that are largely low income and Hispanic suggests attending a full-service community school for elementary education may increase academic achievement in high school13.

The effects of poverty are overwhelming; while schools can mediate its impact, they alone cannot undo the systemic problems that perpetuate poverty14, 23. Without dedicated efforts to reckon with and disrupt systematic racism and oppression, providing additional resources for students and families of color at a community school does not guarantee improvements in education and experiences for those families22.

Structural racism manifests in a myriad of ways within schools and school districts, such as what programs or schools are funded and which are forced to close, who is disciplined, and policing in schools. It excludes and marginalizes students of color and restricts their opportunities in school and beyond42. Experts suggest creating a culturally sustaining model for community schools, which would require ongoing collaboration with those most affected by injustices, including them in school design, and continued community engagement. Additionally, teachers and administrators should be empowered to act as change agents, providing students with opportunities both in and out of school43

What is the relevant historical background?

Disparities in educational opportunities in the U.S. are shaped by many factors, including a long history of racial segregation in schools and differences in family wealth and income levels. The public school system in the U.S. continues to be highly segregated, with lower rates of homeownership and lower valued homes among people of color44, 45, 46. Schools in different neighborhoods have vastly different resources available; schools in neighborhoods that are predominantly of color receive billions of dollars less than schools in neighborhoods that are predominantly white, since school financing largely depends on local property taxes47. Discriminatory housing, lending, and exclusionary zoning policies have entrenched racial residential segregation, reduced local property values, and concentrated poverty48, 49. Students of color, especially Black, Hispanic, and Native students, are much more likely to attend school districts with high poverty rates than white students50.

Interest in community schools has come in waves since the early 1900s, when rising urbanization, driven by industrialization and immigration, created areas of concentrated poverty and reformers looked to schools as central locations to meet the needs of the urban poor, establishing connections between schools and communities. Community schools again saw renewed interest during the Great Depression. Community schools are also rooted in the Jim Crow era, as Black communities fought for both local control and better schools, and segregated schools were often important for support and solidarity. Another resurgence came in the 1960s and 1970s as an antidote to the problems of urban schools, which were often underfunded and de facto segregated, to make the schools accountable to their communities. However, these efforts struggled due to insufficient support and funding15. In the 1980s, concerns over public schools again led to the desire for more integration between schools and communities. School-based health centers became popular but were unable to meet broader community service needs due to their overall focus on health. This led to the creation of the full-service community school model, based on community partnerships and local needs51, essentially creating a cradle to career system52.

Equity Considerations
  • How do your schools partner with students’ families and the broader communities? What services are needed in your community? How can you learn about them?
  • How can you integrate more services into your schools to meet your community’s needs?
  • Who is involved in making decisions about what services are provided at your community school? Are there groups with greater needs? Are they included in discussions and decision making?
  • Who has been excluded from decision making processes regarding public schools in the past? Are changes being made to actively include these previously excluded voices?
Implementation Examples

As of 2020, there are an estimated 8,000-10,000 community schools in the U.S.33, up from 5,000 in 2015, when they were already serving over 5 million students16, 34. The Coalition for Community Schools highlights many community schools and models; implementation varies1. Community schools can be found in large school districts such as Baltimore, Chicago, and New York City; medium-sized districts such as Cincinnati, Lincoln, NE; and Salt Lake City; and in smaller districts such as Allentown, PA; Evanston, IL; and Vallejo, CA34. The Partnership for Community Learning’s Community Schools Story Map features examples of other community schools across the country35.

The federal Full-Service Community Schools Program provides competitive grant funding to support the planning, implementation, and operation of full-service community schools, particularly for schools in areas with high levels of poverty2.

Many initiatives support not only the transformation of individual schools into community schools, but efforts to change all schools in an area into community schools34. In Oklahoma, the Tulsa Area Community School Initiative established many community schools in the Tulsa and Union School Districts since it began in 200736. New Hampshire’s Manchester Neighborhood Health Improvement Strategy supports community schools throughout the city37. Community schools in West Chicago Elementary School District 33 receive additional support from WeGo Together for Kids, a community partnership focused on assisting children and families38.

Community schools are well positioned to offer assistance in a disaster; for example, Metro Nashville Public Schools was able to quickly provide families in need with necessities during the COVID-19 pandemic29.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

PFL-CS playbook - Partnership for the Future of Learning (PFL), Public Leadership Institute, Coalition for Community Schools, Learning Policy Institute, National Education Policy Center (NEPC), Research for Action (RFA). Community Schools playbook: A practical guide to advancing community schools strategies.

LPI-CSF - Learning Policy Institute (LPI). Community Schools Forward (CSF).

Community schools toolkit - Coalition for Community Schools. Start a community school.

US ED-FSCS - U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED), Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE). Full-Service Community Schools Program (FSCS).

White House-Community schools - The White House. White House toolkit: Federal resources to support community schools. 2023.

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

NCCS-Publications - National Center for Community Schools (NCCS). Publications: To guide and inspire.

AIC-CtoC systems - All-In Cities, an Initiative of PolicyLink. All-In Cities Policy Toolkit: Cradle-to-career systems.

Brookings-Jacobson 2022 - Jacobson R. Starting and sustaining community schools: 10 tips for district leaders. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution; 2022.

Footnotes

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

2 US ED-FSCS - U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED), Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE). Full-Service Community Schools Program (FSCS).

3 Cohen 2012a - Cohen AK, Schuchter JW. Revitalizing communities together: The shared values, goals, and work of education, urban planning, and public health. Journal of Urban Health. 2012;90(2):187-196.

4 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.

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

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

7 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.

8 Ammar 2021 - Ammar AA, Sondergeld TA, Provinzano K, Delaney B. Exploring the impact of a community school reform initiative on the literacy achievement of middle level English language learners. RMLE Online: Research in Middle Level Education. 2021;44(4):1-16.

9 Provinzano 2021 - Provinzano K, Koskey KLK, Sondergeld T, Flowers A. It's just the Wilson Way: Investigating the extended impact of an elementary full-service community school initiative on middle school STEM-related outcomes. Urban Education. 2021.

10 Provinzano 2020 - Provinzano K, Sondergeld TA, Ammar AA, Meloche A. A community school reform initiative for middle grades urban and newcomer students: Using mixed methods to examine student academic and nonacademic outcomes over time and compared to a matched sample. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. 2020;25(4):293-318.

11 RAND-Johnston 2020 - Johnston W, Engberg J, Opper I, Sontag-Padilla L, Xenakis L. Illustrating the promise of community schools: An assessment of the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2020.

12 Sondergeld 2020 - Sondergeld TA, Provinzano K, Johnson CC. Investigating the impact of an urban community school effort on middle school STEM-related student outcomes over time through propensity score matched methods. School Science and Mathematics. 2020;120(2):90-103.

13 Caldas 2020 - Caldas SJ, Gómez DW, Ferrara JA. Chapter 1: A comparative analysis of the impact of a full-service community school on student achievement. In: Sanders MG, Galindo C, eds. Reviewing the Success of Full-Service Community Schools in the US. New York: Routledge; 2020:7-31.

14 Meloche 2020 - Meloche A, Provinzano K, Sondergeld T, Moy M. Examining academic, non-academic, and college readiness outcomes of urban immigrant and refugee youth (IRY) in full-service community schools. Children and Youth Services Review. 2020;119:105489.

15 Maier 2017a - Maier A, Daniel J, Oakes J, Lam L. Community schools as an effective school improvement strategy: A review of the evidence. Learning Policy Institute. 2017:1-159.

16 Heers 2016 - Heers M, Klaveren CV, Groot W, van den Brink HM. Community schools: What we know and what we need to know. Review of Educational Research. 2016;86(4):1016-1051.

17 Olubiyi 2019 - Olubiyi O, Futterer A, Kang-Yi CD. Mental health care provided through community school models. Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice. 2019;14(5):297-314.

18 Anderson-Butcher 2018 - Anderson-Butcher D, Paluta L, Sterling K, Anderson C. Ensuring healthy youth development through community schools: A case study. Children and Schools. 2018;40(1):7-16.

19 Durham 2019 - Durham RE, Shiller J, Connolly F. Student attendance: A persistent challenge and leading indicator for Baltimore’s community school strategy. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. 2019;24(3):218-243.

20 Britt 2022 - Britt N, Bates S, Anderson-Butcher D, et al. University-assisted community schools as partners in neighborhood revitalization efforts. Children & Schools. 2022;45(1):35-45.

21 Anderson 2017 - Anderson JA, Chen M-E, Min M, Watkins LL. Successes, challenges, and future directions for an urban full service community schools initiative. Education and Urban Society. 2017.

22 Baxley 2022 - Baxley G. Community schooling for whom? Black families, anti-blackness and resources in community schools. Race Ethnicity and Education. 2022.

23 Shiller 2020 - Shiller JT, Teacher’s Democracy Project. Clients or partners: The challenge to engage families in Baltimore’s community schools. Urban Education. 2020.

24 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.

25 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.

26 Brookings-Campo 2023 - Campo S, Kimner H, Maysonet L. Stages of development in transforming schools into community schools. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution; 2023.

27 Brookings-Horn 2015 - Horn MB, Freeland J, Butler SM. Schools as community hubs?: Integrating support services to drive educational outcomes. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2015;3:1-7.

28 Brookings-Jacobson 2016 - Jacobson R. Community schools: A place-based approach to education and neighborhood change. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2016;6:1-12.

29 Brookings-Jacobson 2022 - Jacobson R. Starting and sustaining community schools: 10 tips for district leaders. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution; 2022.

30 Mayger 2021 - Mayger LK, Hochbein CD. Growing connected: Relational trust and social capital in community schools. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. 2021;26(3):210-235.

31 Medina 2019 - Medina MA, Cosby G, Grim J. Community engagement through partnerships: Lessons learned from a decade of full-service community school implementation. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. 2019;24(3):272-287.

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

33 Quinn 2020 - Quinn J, Blank MJ. Twenty years, ten lessons: Community schools as an equitable school improvement strategy. Voices in Urban Education. 2020;49(2).

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

35 NEA-CS - National Education Association (NEA). Meeting the needs of students with community schools.

36 TACSI-Community schools - Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative (TACSI). Community schools: A bold vision requiring a new way of thinking and doing business.

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

38 Frankovich 2019 - Frankovich J, Lewe-Brady M. Achieving collective impact: Community school strategies for a suburban environment. Children & Schools. 2019;41(2):123-128.

39 Brookings-CUE 2021 - Task Force on Next Generation Schools. Addressing education inequality with a next generation of community schools: A blueprint for mayors, states, and the federal government. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, Center for Universal Education; 2021.

40 Bronstein 2016 - Bronstein LR, Mason SE. School-linked services: Promoting equity for children, families, and communities. New York: Columbia University Press; 2016.

41 Galindo 2017 - Galindo C, Sanders M, Abel Y. Transforming educational experiences in low-income communities: A qualitative case study of social capital in a full-service community school. American Educational Research Journal. 2017;54(1_suppl):140S-163S.

42 Kohli 2017 - Kohli R, Pizarro M, Nevárez A. The “new racism” of K–12 schools: Centering critical research on racism. Review of Research in Education. 2017;41(1):182-202.

43 Daniel 2020 - Daniel J, Malone HLS, Kirkland DE. A step closer to racial equity: Towards a culturally sustaining model for community schools. Urban Education. 2020.

44 PRRAC-Haberle 2021 - Haberle M, House S, eds. Racial justice in housing finance: A series on new directions. Washington, DC: Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC); 2021.

45 Urban-McCargo 2020 - McCargo A, Choi JH. Closing the gaps: Building black wealth through homeownership. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2020.

46 Kaplan 2007 - Kaplan J, Valls A. Housing discrimination as a basis for Black reparations. Public Affairs Quarterly. 2007;21(3):255-273.

47 Brookings-Ray 2021 - Ray R, Perry AM, Harshbarger D, Elizondo S, Gibbons A. Homeownership, racial segregation, and policy solutions to racial wealth equity. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2021.

48 Braveman 2022 - Braveman PA, Arkin E, Proctor D, Kauh T, Holm N. Systemic and structural racism: Definitions, examples, health damages, and approaches to dismantling. Health Affairs. 2022;41(2):171-178.

49 EPI-Rothstein 2014 - Rothstein R. Brown v. Board at 60: Why have we been so disappointed? What have we learned? Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute (EPI); 2014.

50 Knight 2022 - Knight DS, Hassairi N, Candelaria CA, Sun M, Plecki ML. Prioritizing school finance equity during an economic downturn: Recommendations for state policy makers. Education Finance and Policy. 2022;17(1):188-199.

51 Anderson 2019 - Anderson JA, Chen M, Min M, Watkins LL. Successes, challenges, and future directions for an urban full service community schools initiative. Education and Urban Society. 2019;51(7):894-921.

52 AIC-CtoC systems - All-In Cities, an Initiative of PolicyLink. All-In Cities Policy Toolkit: Cradle-to-career systems.

Date last updated