In 1966, James Coleman's groundbreaking report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, presented evidence that student background and socioeconomic status strongly influence academic achievement. Despite a long history of understanding the relationship between poverty and school success, current education reform strategies often ignore the very real needs of children for secure housing, regular health care, supportive out-of-school environments, and educational assistance. This is reflected in low achievement, drop-out rates, and a growing school-to-prison pipeline.
Community Schools and Wraparound Services. Full-service community schools are one tested approach to addressing the achievement gap. Key elements of such schools include attention to the whole child, provision of wraparound services through strong collaborations among community partners, a systems approach, and a healthy environment.25
It is important to recognize that a community school is both a place and a set of partnerships. It's a way of doing business—a collaborative approach to supporting student success. In a community school, the school staff and their partners (local government, community agencies) work together to identify and address the various needs of children and their families. This team, often led by a school-site coordinator, connects children and families to academic, health, social service and other resources that help remove barriers to learning and support academic success. When a school has a way of helping children get what they need so that they can come to school ready to learn, then teachers can be free to teach, families can be better engaged, and school outcomes improve.
A community school sometimes has support services at the school site—such as before and after school programs, health clinics, social service counselors, and adult education—and other times it has people and a system in place to make sure children and families have easy access to all these services, whether they are available on campus or in the community.
A number of schools and districts in California and around the country have demonstrated achievement gains through community school models that take a comprehensive approach to meeting student needs. California's 20-year history of community school development began with the Healthy Start program, which provided seed funding for the coordination and alignment of resources and programs that support and strengthen families at the local level. Healthy Start awarded over 1,400 planning and operational grants to local education agencies and their collaborative partners, reaching more than 3,100 schools and over one million students.
Although Healthy Start was never brought to scale as a school-reform strategy, over 80 percent of Healthy Start sites sustained their services after the end of their state grant funding. Successful Healthy Start grantees—those that have sustained and expanded their collaborative work and integrated services—almost unanimously credit the technical assistance they received from CDE as key to their success. In the current fiscal situation, this sort of alignment of resources is even more critical to create more efficient and effective supports for children and families.
Expanded Learning. It is widely agreed that many students need more time for learning, and that additional time for learning needs to happen in engaging and relevant ways. High quality after school and summer programs can be particularly effective in engaging students who have not succeeded in school, because these programs offer them a different learning environment that caters to their interests, are staffed by people who can pay close attention to relationships, can focus on project-based activities, and can often work more closely with families. After school and summer learning opportunities play an important and unique role by providing learning opportunities that are active, collaborative and meaningful, that support mastery, and that expand young people's horizons. Research from California after school programs has shown positive impacts on school day attendance, reduced high-school dropout rates, reduced juvenile crime, and increased academic success.26
California has led the nation in its investment in after school programs due to Proposition 49, which guarantees $550 million annually. This is more than all other states combined. California also administers $130 million in federal after school program dollars. However, California could get much more impact from these resources if programs were of more uniformly high quality. More can be done to disseminate information about and support successful program models across the state.
Another critical area for attention is summer schools. A substantial body of research shows that many children lose ground academically over the summer if they are not engaged in academic enrichment activities. This phenomenon of "summer learning loss" disproportionately affects the lowest-income children and is cumulative, so each summer children suffer these learning losses, the further and further they fall behind.27 Dr. Karl Alexander, a leading researcher at Johns Hopkins University, attributes two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap to summer learning loss.28
Figure 3: Summer Learning Loss Increases the Achievement Gap
Federal policy governing federal after school dollars is likely to shift this year, creating the opportunity for investments in extended school year models, and California will want to plan ahead for how to best implement this change based on effective practices across the state.
Parent Involvement. Research conducted for the last 30 years clearly indicates that parent involvement in their children's education has a significant impact on student achievement, as well as social and emotional growth. Challenges that can impede parent involvement include circumstantial barriers, such as foreign language, special needs, transiency, work responsibilities, and domestic issues in the home, among others. Additionally, schools vary in how welcome they make parents feel on their campuses, how readily they make information accessible to parents, how frequently they engage parents in regular communication about their children's progress, and how much they encourage parent involvement on campus by offering leadership and volunteer opportunities.
CDE should prioritize the promotion of increased parental engagement with local schools, particularly in our most challenged schools where getting parents involved can be difficult for personal, economic, and institutional reasons. Teaching character and promoting trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship, is important. Including parents in this process from the start will give California's children a strong foundation for success.
Education Supports Key Recommendations
In order to ensure that students are in school and ready to learn, we must explicitly remove the many barriers to learning that children, particularly those living in poverty, can face. To support these goals, CDE should:
- Encourage schools to adopt a community school approach in which students have access to all the supports they need to be successful, and provide both funding and technical assistance in this effort through existing CDE staff and structures.
- Create a Children's Cabinet, an Interagency Children's Task Force charged with promoting and implementing information sharing, collaboration, increased efficiency and improved service delivery among and within the state's child-serving agencies.
- Provide leadership to significantly improve the quality of expanded learning (after school and summer) programs by being strategic in the use of Proposition 49 and 21st Century Learning Community funds for training, technical assistance, and evaluation. CDE can draw on and disseminate best practices from leading program providers in California and other states.
- Provide leadership to increase access to high-quality summer learning programs by raising awareness about the importance of summer learning; maximizing the use of existing resources (ASES, 21st CCLC, Title 1, SES, etc.); and adopting a "new vision" for summer school that builds on research showing the effectiveness of full-day programs that blend academic support with enrichment and recreation.
- Support flexible use of federal after school program funds for various kinds of expanded learning models (before and after school programs, summer learning, and extended school day or school redesign efforts), with a mandate for strong community partnerships and enrichment in every model.
- Create a Parent Involvement Master Plan, disseminate information about best practices in parent engagement and parent education through a statewide clearinghouse, and include data for assessing active parent/family engagement in school accountability measures.
25. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (2010). Learning Teaching and Leading in Healthy School Communities. Reston, VA: ACSD. Healthy School Communities [http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/siteASCD/products/healthyschools/ltl_may2010.pdf] (PDF).
26. Huang, Denise; Kim, Kyung Sung; Marshall, Anne; Perez, Patricia, Keeping kids in school: An LA's BEST example: A study examining the long-term impact of LA's BEST on students' dropout rates, University of California, Los Angeles. Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (2005); Huang, Denise & Pete Goldschmid, The Long-Term Effects of After-School Programming on Educational Adjustment and Juvenile Crime: A Study of the LA's BEST After-School Program, University of California, Los Angeles. Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (2007).
27. White, W., Reviews Before and After Vacation, American Education (1906), pp. 185-188; Heyns, Barbara, Summer Learning and the Effects of Schooling, Academic Press. (1978); Cooper, Harris, et al., The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review, Review of Educational Research, Vol. 66, No. 3 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 227-268; Downey, Douglas B., et al., "Are Schools the Great Equalizer? Cognitive Inequality during the Summer Months and the School Year, American Sociological Review," Vol. 69, No. 5 (Oct., 2004), pp. 613-635; Alexander, K. L. & Entwisle D. R., "Summer Setback: Race, Poverty, School Composition, and Mathematics Achievement in the First Two Years of School, American Sociological Review," Vol. 57, No. 1 (Feb.,1992), pp. 72-84.
28. Alexander, K. L., Entwisle D. R., & Olson L. S. (2007a). "Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap." American Sociological Review, 72, 167-180. Alexander, K. L., Entwisle D. R., & Olson L. S. (2007b). "Summer learning and its implications: Insights from the Beginning School Study. New Directions for Youth Development," 114, 11-32.