As US educators struggle with how to achieve equity for all students, full-service community schools continue to rise to the top of solutions that demonstrate evidence of breaking the barrier to achievement. The Coalition for Community Schools estimated in 2018 that there are more than 5,000 community schools. The impetus to grow the number of community schools in cities and states stems from increasing evidence that the concept works and the acknowledgment of its positive impact on student achievement and community well-being.
“All children deserve a safe place to live, support and opportunity to learn, and encouragement to lead ethically.”
Federal grants to Full-Service Community Schools were first established in the 1978 Community Schools and Comprehensive Community Education Act. The Act defined community schools as programs “operated by a local educational agency providing educational, recreational, health care, cultural, and other related services for the community.”
While the Act was passed in the 20th century, researchers credit the community schools concept to the settlement house model created in the 19th century by Canon Samuel Barnett in the UK and Jane Addams and Ellen Starr in the US. This model presumed that the solution to upward mobility requires local solutions that address the issues created by poverty, lack of access, immigration, and disconnection from mainstream society.
Ellen Starr in 1914, at approximately age 55.
“The old settlements taught adult education and Americanization classes, provided schooling for the children of immigrants, organized job clubs, offered after-school recreation, and initiated public health services. They offered trade and vocational training, as well as classes in music, art, and theater. They combatted juvenile delinquency and gave recreational opportunities to kids and the elderly.”
—The New Social Worker, 1998
Federal and state funding
The most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) defines community schools as a community-based effort
“to coordinate and integrate educational, family, health, and other comprehensive services through community-based organizations and public and private partnerships”
to “ provide access to such services in school to students, families, and the community, such as access during the school year (including before- and after-school hours and weekends), as well as during the summer”
“Community schools can be supported with CRRSAA and ARPA funds, as they are an allowable use under Titles I, II, and IV of ESEA. ARPA underscores this by specifically identifying “full-service community schools” as an allowable use of funds to support student mental health. Additionally, the 20% of LEA funds set aside for learning recovery under ARPA, as well as state set-aside funds, can be used to support community schools, including by providing expanded and enriched learning time.”
—Learning Policy Institute (2021)
The ESSA legislation regards full-service community schools as evidence-based interventions. Schools can use CRRSA and ARPA funds as well as LEA set-aside ARPA learning recovery. They are also eligible for
Title I school improvement and direct student services set-asides
Title II professional development support for educators
Title IV Full-Service Community School grants and Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants
21st Century Community Learning Center grants
Medicaid for mental health services and school-based health centers
State funding can also support community schools.
competitive grant programs using federal relief funds ( or existing state funds
Technical assistance funding through regional technical assistance centers
Standards for Community Schools
The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) published updated Community School Standards in 2017 (IEL, 2017). Divided into two parts, Part 1 describes required knowledge and skills for schools and their community partners.
The high-level core standards for Part 1 are as follows:
Collaborative Leadership nurtures shared ownership and shared accountability
Planning incorporates the assets and needs of school, family, and community in the school improvement plan
Coordinating infrastructure facilitates coordination of school and community resources
Student-centered data guides opportunities and support to individual students
Continuous improvement deepens the impact of the community school
Sustainability ensures ongoing operations of the community school
For Part 2, the high-level core standards are as follows:
Powerful learning engages students as independent learners
Integrated health and social supports address barriers to learning
Authentic family engagement embraces families and mobilizes family assets
Authentic community engagement gathers and galvanizes community and neighborhood resources
The standards document includes a self-assessment for community schools to ensure that they are effectively implementing progress to their goals and taking steps to continuously improve.
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Research cites the following pillars or features as common to full-service community schools that are evidence-based, demonstrating improvement to student outcomes and teacher effectiveness (US Department of Education, 2021).
Pillar 1: Integrated Supports such as social and emotional learning, access to health and nutrition services
Pillar 2: Expanded and enriched learning time such as summer school and afterschool academic programs
Pillar 3: Active family and community engagement
Pillar 4: Collaborative leadership and practices to support high-quality teaching
Rand Corporation recently completed a 3-year study of the impact of Community Schools in New York. On a whole, the schools demonstrated evidence of improvement in school attendance, on-time progress from grade-to-grade, graduation rates, and math scores for both elementary and middle school math scores (Ruge, 2020).
How to Start a Community School
If a community is interested in starting a community school, the Coalition for Community Schools and the IEL provide online guidance and resources, including sections on Getting Started, Community School Site Standards, Community Schools Playbook, Financing Community Schools, and Resources (Coalition for Community Schools at the Institution of Educational Leadership, 2020).
US Department of Education. (2021). “Frequently Asked Questions: Using American Rescue Plan Funding to Support Full-Service Community Schools & Related Strategies.” Washington, DC, 2021. https://oese.ed.gov/files/2021/07/21-0138-ARP-Community-Schools-OMB-and-OS-Approved-071421-1.pdf
Margy Hillman is an experienced educator and writer who develops learning experiences and products that engage the brain and trigger creative and critical thinking. As part of the Let’s Go Learn team, she studies the education environment and learning research, trends, and strategies, documenting the role of Let’s Go Learn products in transforming learning loss into learning gain. She has a BA in English and an MA in American Studies and K-12 and adult teaching credentials. In addition to her work with K-12 teachers and learners, she is an adjunct professor at National University in Strategic Communications.