- The New York City Department of Education’s community schools initiative — the largest of its kind in the country — is leading to improved student attendance, reduced discipline problems, and higher rates of on-time grade progression and graduation, according to a study released Tuesday by the RAND Corp.
The research, however, shows the pattern of fewer behavior problems is only significant at the elementary and middle school levels, not in high school. Researchers, who compared community schools to New York City schools with similar demographics and baseline outcomes, did not find significant positive effects on reading achievement and found positive impacts on math scores at the elementary and middle school levels only in the third year of the study.
Results related to school culture and family engagement were mixed. The researchers attribute positive results to the program maturing over time, not necessarily how long students attend a community school. While the program is large — now 267 schools — the study says its “alignment with prior research regarding the hallmark components of the community schools strategy make the initiative a relevant template for others to follow.”
Community schools vary in the types of services they provide and partnerships they form with community-based providers and agencies. Some emphasize health care, social services and after-school programs.
From the beginning, the initiative in New York City, launched not long after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014 and building on existing efforts in the city, has focused largely on reducing chronic absenteeism. And it shows in the results of the study.
The researchers found significant declines in chronic absenteeism at all levels across the three-year study. “These findings provide new evidence of the promise of the community schools strategy for improving student attendance, as prior studies into similar comprehensive programs have only found marginal improvements in student attendance,” the authors write.
But they also found schools with more mental health programs saw even stronger attendance outcomes, suggesting types of partnerships and services in place at community schools can influence their impact. Schools with more mental health services as well as “collaborative practices” were also more likely to see a positive impact in students’ level of connectedness to peers and adults.
RAND’s evaluation is a follow up to its earlier report showing most NYC community schools were lengthening the school day to provide more learning opportunities and implementing key aspects of the community schools model. Some were struggling, however, with staff turnover in schools as well as partner organizations.
Jose Muñoz, director of the Coalition for Community Schools, said the study provides further evidence of the model’s effectiveness and noted the leadership of partner organizations working with the schools has been part of the model's success.
"Community schools build trust and partnership by attending to relationships among all school staff, students, families and community partners,” he said. “Students do better academically and socially when families and educators are working in partnership to improve learning opportunities and relationships at the schools.”