Community schools

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 partnerships (CCS-FAQs). 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 members (Cohen 2012a*). 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, 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 priorities (Heers 2016*).

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 more than traditional public schools (Moore 2014, Blank 2003, CIS 2008, CIS 2010a, CIS 2010b). 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 behavior (Maier 2017a), and reduce risky behavior and likelihood of dropping out (Heers 2016*). Community schools that provide more services to students and families increase academic achievement and improve student attendance more than schools that provide fewer services (CIS 2008). Schools that have been operating for a longer time improve student outcomes more than newer schools (Maier 2017a). Additional evidence examining community schools as a whole is needed to confirm effects (Maier 2017a, Heers 2016*).

Community schools have been shown to reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates among attendees (CIS 2008). Community schools can decrease rates of absenteeism and office discipline referrals and improve learning support systems and perceptions of school climate (Anderson-Butcher 2018*). 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 peers (Blank 2003).

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 low income families, students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities (Maier 2017a). Community schools may also increase social capital among disadvantaged students (Galindo 2017*).

Community schools may improve communication and trust between families, teachers, and students (Maier 2017a, Blank 2003). Over time, community schools may also increase parents’ involvement, attendance at school activities, and engagement with school faculty, staff, and other parents (Chen 2016a*, Sanders 2015*). An assessment of a community school in Providence, RI associates community school implementation with increased family engagement and improved school climate (Anderson 2017*). Neighborhoods with community schools may have greater access to social services and increased levels of community involvement (Blank 2003).

Lack of sustained funding and managing partner cooperation, service coordination, and information sharing are often challenges for community school initiation and operation (Brookings-Horn 2015, Brookings-Jacobson 2016*).

Economic analyses of community school initiatives show a positive return on investment, ranging from $4 to $15 per dollar invested (Moore 2014). 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 services (Maier 2017a).

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 students (Blank 2015, Heers 2016*). 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). New Hampshire’s Manchester Neighborhood Health Improvement Strategy supports community schools throughout the city (MHD-MNHIS 2014).

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

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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

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.

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.

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

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