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Books in Translation

Summer 2008 | Number 54
Full-Service Community Schools

Full-Service Community Schools

Full Article

Laura Varlas

In The Family: America's Smallest School, a recent report by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), factors beyond the purview of traditional school time and services—such as child care quality, parental involvement in schools, parent-to-pupil ratio, family finances, literacy development, student absences, and physical home environments—were shown to affect students' standardized test performance. This means, as the New York Times reported, that many kids are left behind even before school starts.

Richard Coley, coauthor of the ETS report, told the Times, "If we're really interested in raising overall levels of achievement and in closing the achievement gap, we need to pay as much attention to the starting line as we do to the finish line" (Winerip, 2007). The fact is that, for many students, there will be no finish line—30 percent of U.S. students, more than 1 million, drop out each year (Swanson, 2008).

If community characteristics such as poverty are strongly associated with student achievement, then efforts to improve student performance must focus on the community as a whole, not just on the school. Full-service community schools understand that raising student achievement in schools must involve more than academics. Full-service schools have the potential to end the cycle of poverty that consistently puts and keeps some students behind their peers even before the school bell rings.

Defining Full-Service Community Schools

Community schools are organized around two common goals: helping students learn and succeed and strengthening families and communities. Full-service community schools extend these guiding principles. They are centers of their communities, providing high-quality after-school opportunities, comprehensive early childhood education, real-world learning approaches, and physical and mental health services for adults and young people in the neighborhood. They provide services designed to remove barriers to learning, make community assets fully available to address the needs of learners, and build bridges between schools, families, and communities based on mutual investment in the comprehensive well-being of communities.

Full-service community schools embody the values set forth in the 2007 report of the Commission on the Whole Child, The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action. With the Whole Child Initiative, ASCD proposes a broader definition of achievement and accountability that promotes the development of children who are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Supporting the core requirements to truly educate the whole child, the Coalition for Community Schools identifies five areas for program and service development in community schools: quality educational services, youth development programs, family support services, family and community engagement, and community development (Coalition for Community Schools, 2007).

What Research Says

In a high-stakes education environment, can schools afford the time investment required to build community relationships? "Schools cannot afford not to build such relationships. Leaders of today's community schools movement understand that education reform is not an 'either/or proposition,'" says Marty Blank, director of the Coalition of Community Schools (Blank, 2004, p. 62).

Research has shown a strong correlation between areas with high levels of poverty, crime, and mobility and low student achievement. Despite these challenges, studies also show that supportive neighborhoods can mitigate the harmful effects of economic disadvantage on students and form the foundation for high achievement (Holloway, 2004). Education reforms will have a limited effect if they focus solely on the classroom. Policymakers need to consider what research has shown to be true—what happens in the community can and will affect the teaching and learning that happens in schools.

In Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools, the Coalition for Community Schools (Blank, Melaville, & Shah, 2003) summarized the major findings from community school initiatives. It reports,

  • Significant and widespread gains in academic achievement and nonacademic development.
  • Increased family stability and greater family involvement with schools.
  • Increased teacher satisfaction and more positive school environments.
  • Better use of school buildings and increased security and pride in neighborhoods.

In addition, in evaluations spanning from 1992, the Children's Aid Society (n.d.) finds that community schools

  • Improve student achievement;
  • Increase parental involvement;
  • Demonstrate higher student and teacher attendance;
  • Improve school climate;
  • Increase community engagement;
  • Decrease special education referrals; and
  • Improve mental and physical health for students.

A 2001 study by education consultant Joy Dryfoos (Wolfe, 2007) found that 36 of 49 community schools surveyed reported academic gains since converting to a community schools model. In addition, community schools report improvements correlated with supporting academic achievement: Dryfoos's study also found that 19 schools had improved attendance rates, 11 had fewer suspensions, and 12 reported higher rates of parent involvement.

Channeling Expertise Through Partnerships

Partnering with community organizations allows schools to build capacity beyond the instructional time allotted in a school year. Community–school partnerships usually involve an area nonprofit or agency working closely with the school principal as lead coordinator for the program. According to the Coalition for Community Schools (2003), these partnerships enable full-service community schools to

  • Garner additional resources and reduce noninstructional demands on school staff.
  • Provide learning opportunities that enhance young people's social, emotional, and physical development, as well as academic skills.
  • Build social capital by connecting young people and their families to an array of role models and life options.

George Washington Community School in Indianapolis, Ind., where 83 percent of graduates go on to some form of postsecondary education despite the fact that only 5 percent of adults in the surrounding community have a college education, is an example of how these partnerships can work. At the school, a full-time partnership coordinator (funded by grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation) determines not only the integration and on-site delivery of outside services like health clinics within the school community but also who can best operate existing school-based services. For example, the school's swimming pool is managed by the city's parks department, which manages all city swimming facilities.

"The question shouldn't be, 'Who's in charge?' The question is, 'Who has the expertise?'" says Marty Blank (Hardy, 2007, p. 40). Partnerships, from running the pool to establishing health clinics, must be carefully designed to support the core academic mission of the school or district, adds Blank. George Washington Community School is an example of how these partnerships can help increase student achievement; the school has the highest graduation rate in the Indianapolis Public Schools district (Read, 2008).

Assessing Needs

By aligning closely with needs identified by community members, full-service community schools have the potential to reform not only education but also the way human services are delivered. For example, initial efforts to broaden the scope of community schools in New Orleans Recovery School District have had to consider that New Orleans has more extreme levels of poverty affecting more students than a city like Chicago, meaning its strategy for community delivery must be different. Superintendent Paul Vallas estimates that nearly half the children in New Orleans need school-centered social services, compared to about a third of Chicago students (Nossiter, 2007).

In Grand Forks, N.Dak., the Schools as the Center of the Community project is at work in an area that is not urban and where the majority of residents do not consider themselves poor. Grand Forks's decision to more broadly pursue full-service schooling came in response to a massive flood and fire in April 1997 that destroyed or severely damaged a majority of area homes and businesses, catapulting the town's residents into economic crisis. Though Grand Forks differs demographically from many full-service school districts, the effects of rampant behavioral referrals, truancy, and inconsistent parental support, combined with the devastating disasters, fueled the need to explore a community-centered learning environment. By expanding and integrating social services provided to students and families, the full-service community school initiative in Grand Forks has decreased the amount of instructional time lost to behavior referrals and illness and improved the overall school readiness of students (Harris & Hoover, 2003).

Thomas Edison Elementary School, located in the city of Port Chester, N.Y., also is not in an urban area but still has many of the challenges associated with an urban context, including poverty (despite the affluence of surrounding Westchester County), high mobility, and a large population of nonnative language speakers. These factors often negatively impact Edison students' school readiness. By reviewing school data on student absences, illness, behavior referrals, and mobility, Edison administrators saw the need for a full-service approach to schooling in the community. Since they implemented this approach, test results have improved. In 2006, 93 percent of Edison's 4th graders passed the New York State Assessment in Language Arts, and 89 percent passed the corresponding math assessment.

Systemic Goals: Boston Public Schools

While many school systems have isolated, or "boutique," full-service community schools, the general consensus is that, to make a lasting difference in the education landscape, commitment to full-service community schools must be systemic.

Public school leaders in Boston working to expand the city's full-service program found that a "one-school-at-a-time approach was leaving too many children and communities behind" (Bundy, 2005, p. 74). Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Tom Payzant charged leaders to find "a way to make full-service schools systemic" (p. 75). BPS is working to align education and human services across entire communities and build public support of full-service community schools.

Stable public and private funding is a major concern for the full-service movement. In Boston, organizers struggled with public funding that was divided into inflexible categories, as well as finite and contested private funding. Full-service advocates in Boston also found that it was hard to build a systemic movement without the involvement of organizations primarily committed to full-service community schools.

School systems in Multnomah County, Ore.; San Francisco, Calif.; Chicago, Ill.; and New York City provide examples of publicly funded, sustainable full-service school initiatives in which public will has responded to the needs of communities. While learning from these multiple models, BPS offers its own lessons—calling on labor unions, parent-led groups, faith-based organizations, elected officials, and others to engage in full-service schools. BPS also outlined the importance of a strategic mission over any one model of full-service schools, accountability for not only demonstrated academic improvement but also social welfare, and the need to become political, suggesting building working alliances with constituency-driven organizations that share the full-service vision and can mobilize legislative and political action (Bundy, 2005).

Funding Full-Service Schools

Dryfoos estimates that it would cost about $2.2 billion to initiate community schools programs in the more than 20,000 U.S. schools with disadvantaged populations and another $5.5 billion per year to sustain them (Wolfe, 2007). So where would the funding come from? Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), community schools can currently seek grant money from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers provision. Legislation pending in the U.S. Congress, including funding for before- and after-school initiatives, would also help defray some of the cost of community school ventures.

Full-Service Community Schools Act

Introduced in May 2007 by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), this act (H.R. 2323 and S. 1391) would allocate as much as $200 million in federal funds per year toward grants for assisting community schools in coordinating educational, developmental, family, health, and other comprehensive services.

Keeping PACE Act

Introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the Keeping Parents and Communities Engaged Act, or Keeping PACE Act (S. 1302), awards grants to states for Title I schools to hire and maintain parent and community outreach coordinators responsible for improving family and community involvement. The proposed legislation requires state grantees to award competitive matching subgrants to consortiums composed of a school, a local education agency, a mayor, and at least one other community partner for redesigning schools as centers of the community by encouraging family and community participation in student learning and providing community education.


Introduced by Representative David Loebsack (D-IA), the Working to Encourage Community Action and Responsibility in Education Act, or WE CARE Act (H.R. 3762), amends Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require states and local educational agencies to assess the nonacademic factors affecting student academic performance and work with other public, private, nonprofit, and community-based entities to address those factors.

WE CARE requires the annual report cards issued by states and local education agencies to include additional performance data, including information on their efforts to increase community and parent involvement in students' education.

21st Century Community Learning Centers

A federal grant program of NCLB, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative is the only federal funding source dedicated exclusively to before- and after-school programs. This program supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities for children during nonschool hours, particularly for students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, offers students a broad array of enrichment activities to complement their regular academic programs, and provides literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.

A Growing Movement

In 1989 the Children's Aid Society in New York formed a partnership with the New York City Board of Education to convert the city's most struggling schools into community schools. Three years later, they opened the first full-service community school at Intermediate School 218. There are now 21 community schools in operation in New York City.

Children's Aid Society full-service community schools feature an extended-day program that offers educational enrichment before school, after school, on weekends, and during the summer; medical, dental, mental health, and social services; a comprehensive parent involvement program; early childhood and adult education; and community-wide events. This model is also being used successfully in Newark, N.J.; Boston, Mass.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Long Beach, Calif.

A recent report from ICMA Press, Local Governments and Schools: A Community-Oriented Approach, presents eight case studies illustrating how communities across the United States have already succeeded in collaborating to create more community-oriented schools. The full-service idea has spread from its New York City beginnings, and initiatives are becoming well-established around the world.

For example, the city of Portland, Ore., and surrounding Multnomah County have 55 community schools, approximately one-third of the 150 schools in the county's eight districts (Coalition for Community Schools, 2007). At Portland's James John Elementary School, students have met adequate yearly progress goals for four years running. In the Tukwila (Wash.) School District, 2,640 students attend community schools. Comprehensive community school movements are also taking hold in Lincoln, Neb., Tulsa, Okla., Baltimore, Md., and several other U.S. cities (Coalition for Community Schools, 2007).

International initiatives to broaden school services beyond education abound and vary in terminology. England has "extended" schools, Saskatchewan (Can.) has "School Plus," Sweden has "open" schools, Northern Ireland has several emerging community school programs, and some of Sri Lanka's schools being rebuilt in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami will be structured as community schools. Afghanistan's Community Organized Primary Education (COPE) schools began in 1998, specifically reducing the impact of distance as a barrier to school attendance and targeting increased gender equity in school enrollment. From 1998 to 2003, female enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment in COPE schools increased from 34 to 55 percent (Balwanz, 2007).

The Future of Community Schools

Full-service community schools reach beyond the traditional boundaries of public education and mobilize all available community resources to reduce the negative impact of poverty on student achievement and truly educate the whole child. Formerly struggling schools like Edison Elementary are testaments to the academic benefits of full-service schools (Santiago, Ferrara, & Blank, 2008). Schools like Edison have more time and energy to focus on learning and teaching and give families direct access to life-improving resources.

Around the world, educators are finding ways to make full-service community schools a reality, but our communities need policymakers to take a bolder, broader approach to community schooling. "Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools—schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need?" American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten asked in a recent speech (Dillon, 2008). Through increased advocacy and funding, we'll no longer have to imagine how full-service schools will improve education for all—our communities, like those in this report, will tell the whole story.

Chicago's Community Schools Initiative

Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) Federation for Community Schools leads the largest community schools initiative in the nation, with over 115 community schools in operation and an average of 15,000 students and families served each year.

Chicago's initiative began in 1996, when the Polk Brothers Foundation provided funding for three Chicago public elementary schools to each partner with a nonprofit organization (or lead partner agency) of its choice to develop full-service schools. In 2002, the program was formalized at the district level as the Community Schools Initiative (CSI). As of 2007, community schools in Chicago receive funding from a diverse set of sources, totaling $16 million (Dryfoos, 2008). The CPS full-service initiative benefits from major funders and city leadership that is particularly dedicated to the community school mission.

In addition to this support, CPS actively works to grow and strengthen community school leadership from within. CPS principals receive added training on bringing auxiliary services into their schools and how to effectively communicate and coordinate with service providers and school staff, and instructional leadership and educator professional development remain core to CPS's mission of improved academic achievement.

According to a recent report from the University of Illinois at Chicago (Whalen, 2007), CPS community schools meet improved student learning objectives through implementation of strategies that include:

  • Extending the time in which the school building is open and in use, typically to include activities in the evening hours, with adequate security and physical building support.
  • Hiring a full-time resource coordinator, with primary responsibility for developing and managing programs during the after-school hours in partnership with key school and agency staff.
  • Engaging a lead partner agency to collaborate with school administrators in supervising the resource coordinator, connecting the school with other community resources, supporting planning activities, and providing some direct services.
  • Developing a mechanism for planning and oversight of community school activities that broadly represents community stakeholders, especially those who do or can contribute to improved student learning and the further development of the community school (e.g., teachers, parents, social service providers, community-based organizations, churches, and local businesspeople).
  • Deepening sources of information about the needs and desires of students, families, and other community school participants that can serve as the basis for the development of new strategies, resources, and programs.

Whalen (2007) found that as a cohort, CSI schools in Chicago compare favorably with non-CSI schools in their overall academic performance, especially in mathematics. However, as a cohort, they also face higher hurdles in terms of student poverty, neighborhood safety, and community risk factors such as unemployment and crime. Also, disciplinary referrals are less frequent in CSI schools than in similar non-CSI schools.

Despite these positive results, CPS does face challenges in its Community Schools Initiative. Whalen (2007) identified funding for increased parental involvement, better integration of social services, and strategic use of data on student participation in added services as areas in need of improvement.


Balwanz, D. (2007). Meeting EFA: Afghanistan community schools. Washington, DC: Educational Quality Improvement Program. Retrieved July 21, 2008, from

Blank, M. J. (2004, May). How community schools make a difference. Educational Leadership, 61(8), 62–65.

Blank, M. J., Melaville, A., & Shah, B. P. (2003, May). Making the difference: Research and practice in community schools. Washington, DC: Coalition for Community Schools. Retrieved July 21, 2008, from

Bundy, A. L. (2005, December). Aligning systems to create full-service schools: The Boston experience, so far. New Directions for Youth Development, 107, 73–80.

Children's Aid Society. (n.d.) Schools: The perfect place to address the needs of the whole child [Policy paper]. New York: The Children's Aid Society. Retrieved July 21, 2008, from

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Coalition for Community Schools. (2007). Community schools for all: A case statement and strategic plan, 2007–2014.

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Hardy, L. (2007). Children at risk: Graduation day. American School Board Journal, 194(9), 39–43.

Harris, M. M., & Hoover, J. H. (2003). Overcoming adversity through community schools. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 11(4), 206–210.

Holloway, J. H. (2004, May). Research link: How the community influences achievement. Educational Leadership, 61(8), 89–90.

Krysiak, B. (2001). Full-service community schools: Jane Addams meets John Dewey. School Business Affairs, 67(8), 4–8.

Nossiter, A. (2007, September 24). A tamer of troubled schools offers a plan for New Orleans. The New York Times, p. A1.

Read, T. (2008). Closing the achievement gap: School, community, family connections. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved July 21, 2008, from

Santiago, E., Ferrara, J., & Blank, M. (2008, April). A full-service school fulfills its promise. Educational Leadership, 65(7), 44–47.

Swanson, C. B. (2008, April 1). Cities in crisis: A special analytic report on high school graduation. Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

Winerip, M. (2007, December 9). In gaps at school, weighing family life [Electronic version]. The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2008, from

Wolfe, F. (2007, July 24). Legislation could increase community schools' push. Education Daily, 40(135), 1.


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