Here is how the Coalition of Community Schools defines their concept of community schools.
A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Community schools offer a personalized curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem-solving. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends.
Personalized learning has come to mean learning through digital devices.
Community schools sounds enticing. Everyone is supposed to be involved with helping children succeed. What could be wrong with neighborhoods demonstrating compassion for their children? We all should have a vested interest in America’s future.
But is that what’s really going on, or are today’s community schools another way to transform public education to school choice? Will community schools privatize public education, end the teaching profession, and hand education over to technology? Will community schools be the final blow to public education? Before signing on to the community schools concept, it is important to ask some serious questions.
The six concerns involve partnerships, the diminishing teacher’s role, the lack of clarity, replacing brick-and-mortar schools with more data and tech, social impact bonds, and the destruction of school boards.
With community schools, we see a shift in responsibility for the school from parents and teachers to business stakeholders. While community involvement in schools is important, and it should be about bolstering the lives of children in the school system, it’s wrong for businesses to dictate how schools should run.
Consider the Luminary Learning Network involved with Denver Public Schools. This is a 501 (c) (3) that partners with The Gates Family Foundation. They claim it’s an Innovation School Zone run by the community schools partners and with Empower Schools—a strange pro-privatization group out of Massachusetts that claims to inform and shape policies and share learnings to help advance the Third Way.
The four Denver Luminary schools are apparently still traditional public schools, but you would never know it. They are run like separate charter or private schools, free of rules and collective bargaining. Instead of bolstering programs within the school, children and their families rely on outside organizations and businesses for instruction, like the arts.
Denver has been tied to all kinds of insidious reforms in recent years, including the Relay Graduate School of Education which is a faux Teach for America-like group designed to destroy the teaching profession.
All of this breaks up the structure of the school and it looks as if it will pave the way for personalized learning—students who learn anywhere, anytime on the computer.
The Diminishing Teacher’s Role
In a recent Phi Delta Kappan article called “Moving from Survival to Fulfillment: A Planning Framework for Community Schools,” there are worrisome signs that the new community schools movement is hostile to teachers and public schools.
The article speaks well concerning the need for wrap-around services, but they also say: community school staff must be willing to relinquish some control and play a supportive role for students, parents, and community members as they [community members] become leaders, strengthen their voices, and perhaps even disagree with and demand changes in the school and other service providers. Teachers, staff, and site coordinators may find it difficult to take a back seat in this way.
This article goes on to say that the community must be motivated and empowered to stand up, criticize the status quo, define the changes they want, and act. They still talk about closing public schools.
This is anti-teacher school reform talk that sounds suspiciously like Parent Trigger, laws that permit parents to convert their public schools to charter schools. The law was written by a group called Parent Revolution. Parent Trigger was funded by billionaires, including the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
The Lack of Clarity
Business has been behind many of the insidious high-stakes testing reforms that have gripped our public schools in the past. They’ve been behind the closure of many public schools, and the destruction of the teaching profession. These same groups now support community schools through partnerships that will run with little consistency, or with few rules.
What’s described often sounds like school choice. For example, wealthy parents might start an art school in a wealthy area of town, while poor students in the inner city may have a no excuses charter school run online. Without rules, anything goes.
The PBS documentary “The Uncomfortable Reality of Community Schools” questioned the role of such schools when it comes to segregation.
The Chamber of Commerce is on board for community schools. Ask when the Chamber of Commerce has been a friend to teachers and public education. They have always supported Teach for America.
Replacing Brick-and-Mortar Schools with More Data and Tech
In the same PDK issue mentioned above, here is a passage found in another article called “It Takes a Community.”
Moreover, with the recent passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states cities, and towns have an important new opportunity to rethink how they want schools to function. In particular, do they want them to continue to be stand-alone institutions that meet only a portion of students’ needs? Or are they ready to build more dynamic and supportive partnerships among schools, families, and other local stakeholders.
Digital Promise calls them the League of Innovative Schools. Here’s a list of schools that have signed on. Their agenda is to end public schooling and place students online where they are measured nonstop without professional teachers. These groups are all about collecting data on children.
There are signs to indicate what is meant by “redefining” schools. We hear about improvements like afterschool programs, mobile libraries, tutoring, business internships, social-emotional learning, summer programs, and outside art and music experiences.
There’s little emphasis on increasing funding to schools, improving curriculum offerings, lowering class sizes, or improving special education services.
Social Impact Bonds
Will community schools cash in on social impact bonds or Pay for Success schemes? These are contracts where businesses finance public social programs, getting a return on their investment if the program succeeds. These financial arrangements shift reliance on funding from the taxpayer to business. Corporate influence on schools becomes paramount.
Destroying School Boards
I counted eight articles about community schools in the PDK issue. They culminate with articles about data collection and also an article that questions the role of the school board. They state it’s time to entertain some new and dramatically different ideas about how to structure the boards that control school systems.
The school board involves our representation, or ownership, of our schools. It’s what makes public schools democratic. Good community schools would not destroy the school board. They would celebrate it!
If you live in a school district which is talking about community schools and redesigning public education to reflect such an arrangement, ask the serious questions that need to be asked. Ask how much money is going to technology. Question how many charter schools will replace traditional public schools.
You may be signing off on the choice plans of Betsy DeVos. Community schools might not be about community but about choice.
Wendy E. Shaia and Nadine Finigan-Carr. Moving from Survival to Fulfillment: A Planning Framework for Community Schools. Phi Delta Kappan. 99 (5): 15-18.
Reuben Jacobson, Lisa Villarreal, José Muñoz, and Robert Mahaffey. “It Takes a Community.” Phi Delta Kappan. 99 (5): 8-14.
Joshua P. Starr. “Let’s Be Honest About Local School Governance.” Phi Delta Kappan. 99 (5):72-73.