Opportunities for Community Schools in ESSA
Recently, the Coalition for Community Schools hosted their biannual partners meeting, with special guest speaker, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD)- a longtime advocate of Community Schools. The main focus of the meeting was on how the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) law, formerly No Child Left Behind (NCLB), is ripe with opportunity for Community Schools and the time to harness this opportunity is NOW.
The new law sends back more power over schools to the states, while encouraging states to think about how to better asses their students outside of the typical standardized tests that plagued NCLB. Requiring schools to have at least one non-academic indicator, opens the door for investment in student and parental engagement and school climate and safety. Looking at success through this type of lens allows schools to put the focus on the whole-child. States are actively defining what these non-academic indicators will be, so the time is now for advocates to step in and offer ideas and data that support meaningful indicators.
State and local school district report cards also must address a broader range of indicators including chronic absence, school climate, and safety; rates of suspensions, expulsions, and school-related arrests; and bullying. Schools simply do not have all the assets or expertise to respond to the challenges of these non-academic indicators without the intensive support of their community partners, so ESSA inherently encourages the Community School approach by suggesting they identify partners.
Outside of the Full-Service Community School program being included in ESSA, there are other opportunities in ESSA to fund the work of community schools or schools wishing to incorporate more of this model into their strategy. The availability of flexible funding in ESSA, through the Academic Enrichment Grant, could be used to build deeper relationships with their community partners to more effectively use existing assets and expertise.
ESSA creates opportunities for schools to build authentic family engagement strategies, a pillar of the Community Schools model. This creates a chance to educate funders of the importance of parental engagement, while highlighting the need states will have to incorporate this aspect. This fact, along with many of the other opportunities in ESSA, serve to give advocates a powerful lever to create demand for community schools.
In addition to non-academic indicators needing to be defined, socio-emotional learning indicators will play a big role in the new law. This too, can be seen as an important opportunity for community school advocates to draw on their experiences with wrap-around services and utilize the terminology and data from health-related partners, such as toxic stress and trauma-informed care models.
Lastly, with solid advocacy, Community Schools can position themselves to serve as the answer to fears that school inequality will rise, with the return of power to the states. As Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, stated, “This (inclusion of the Full-Service Community Schools program in ESSA) is a big win for students, families and educators because the wraparound services that are part and parcel of community schools help level the playing field for disadvantaged students and their families. In addition to providing a strong academic program, community schools provide social, emotional and health services needed to educate the whole child and mitigate the impact of poverty. This is particularly important today since more than half of all public school students are poor.”
The opportunities for Community Schools are great and the time to begin developing messaging and to start organizing with your state-level peers is now.
Stay tuned for more analysis of opportunities for educators in ESSA.