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Community Schools Show Promise as School Improvement Strategy

Washington, DC (June 5, 2017) - Community schools can be a successful strategy for improving schools under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), according to a report released today by the National Education Policy Center and the Learning Policy Institute. The report, Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement, reveals that community schools, an increasingly popular school improvement strategy, are strongly supported by research evidence, as required by ESSA. The report was released at an event organized by the Coalition for Community Schools.

Community schools are schools that partner with community agencies and local government to provide an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, and youth and community development. They provide expanded learning time and opportunities, engage families actively, and emphasize collaborative practices. Lead author Jeannie Oakes noted that, “Although the approach is appropriate for students of all backgrounds, many community schools serve neighborhoods where poverty and racism erect barriers to learning, and where families have few resources to supplement what typical schools provide.”

Authors Oakes, Anna Maier, and Julia Daniel examined 125 peer-reviewed studies, program evaluations, and published research reviews investigating the impact of community schools or their component parts on a range of outcomes. The authors evaluated the studies against the criteria set forth in ESSA for determining which interventions may be considered “evidence-based” and found that there is sufficient evidence to support the broad use of community schools as an “evidence-based” reform strategy. The report stresses that community schools can be a particularly important strategy for transforming high-poverty schools.

Community Schools details how implementing the community schools strategy affects multiple domains—achievement, attendance, behavior, adult and peer relationships, and attitudes—but cautions that those effects will likely take time to be fully realized. Accordingly, the report provides research-based lessons that describe the evidence-based characteristics of well-implemented successful programs.

These lessons stress the importance of:

  • taking a comprehensive approach;
  • adapting the strategy to local contexts;
  • providing sufficient planning time to build trusting relationships between the school and partners;
  • involving young people, parents, and community members as part of the needs assessment, design, planning and implementation processes;
  • using evaluation strategies that provide useful information about implementation and exposure to services, as well as progress toward hoped-for outcomes; and
  • using data for continuous program refinement, while allowing sufficient time for the strategy to fully mature.

The report also recommends support for further rigorous studies of community schools in order to develop a better understanding of the conditions under which the various elements of the community schools strategy are most effective.

Jeannie Oakes summed up the report’s significance: “The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires that federally funded interventions be ‘evidence-based.’ Our review makes clear that policymakers, educators, and communities can make community schools part of their evidence-based ESSA state plans.”

Find Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement, by Jeannie Oakes, Anna Maier, and Julia Daniel, at:

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI) conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the Institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the Institute connects policymakers and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels with the evidence, ideas, and actions needed to strengthen the education system from preschool through college and career readiness. Visit LPI at:

The research underlying this brief was supported in part by grants to LPI from the Ford Foundation and the Sandler Foundation.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. The Center’s publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our goal is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. Visit NEPC at:

This policy brief was made possible in part by support provided to NEPC by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: