Community schools

Evidence Rating  
Some Evidence
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  

Community schools partner with a variety of community service organizations to provide academics, youth development, family support, mental and physical health resources, and social services for students and families, as well as community development opportunities through partnerships1. Services can include tutoring, mentoring, case management, counseling, early childhood and adult education, extracurricular activities, after-school care, medical care and dental services, and welfare 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 members2. Community schools are frequently located in low income rural or urban areas and are financed through a mix of public and private funds3. Community schools, also called full-service community schools, comprehensive community schools, or community learning centers, 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 priorities4.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Improved student attendance

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased high school completion

  • 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 more than traditional public schools3, 5, 6, 7, 8. Components of community schools such as family and community engagement, expanded learning time and opportunities, and integrated student supports have been shown to increase academic achievement, improve student attendance and behavior9, and reduce risky behavior and likelihood of dropping out4. Community schools that provide more services to students and families increase academic achievement and improve student attendance more than schools that provide fewer services6. Schools that have been operating for a longer time improve student outcomes more than newer schools9. Additional evidence examining community schools as a whole is needed to confirm effects4, 9.

Community schools have been shown to reduce dropout rates and increase high school completion rates among attendees6. Community schools can decrease rates of absenteeism and office discipline referrals and improve learning support systems and perceptions of school climate10. Students at community schools 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 than non-attending peers3.

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 disabilities9. Community schools may also increase social capital among students from disadvantaged backgrounds11.

Community schools may improve communication and trust between families, teachers, and students3, 9. Over time, community schools may also increase parents’ involvement, attendance at school activities, and engagement with school faculty, staff, and other parents12, 13. An assessment of a community school in Providence, RI associates community school implementation with increased family engagement and improved school climate14. Neighborhoods with community schools may have greater access to social services and increased levels of community involvement3.

Lack of sustained funding and managing partner cooperation, service coordination, and information sharing are often challenges for community school initiation and operation15, 16.

Economic analyses of community school initiatives show a positive return on investment, ranging from $4 to $15 per dollar invested5. 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 services9.

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

As of 2015, there are approximately 5,000 community schools in 150 communities in 44 states and Washington, DC, serving over 5 million US students4, 17. The Coalition for Community Schools highlights many community schools and models; implementation varies by school and model1. 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, Pennsylvania17.

Many initiatives support not only individual school transformations into community schools, but efforts to change all schools in the area into community schools17. The Tulsa Area Community School Initiative (TACSI) in Oklahoma has implemented many community schools in the Tulsa and Union school districts since it began in 200718. New Hampshire’s Manchester Neighborhood Health Improvement Strategy supports community schools throughout the city19.

Implementation Resources

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.

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

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


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

2 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.

3 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.

4 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.

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

6 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.

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

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

9 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.

10 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.

11 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.

12 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.

13 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.

14 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.

15 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.

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

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

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

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

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