Achieving Equity in Education Through Community Schools

By Andrea Barnes

In the Manhood Program, implemented in 14 schools in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), middle and high school boys learn the necessary life and social skills to become powerful adults. They explore their identity, learn to regulate their emotions and resolve conflict constructively, and build confidence to express their true selves.

Furthermore, the Manhood Program provides participants with the information and preparation to attain postsecondary credentials and careers. Part of the African American Male Achievement initiative, the Manhood Program works with Oakland’s full service community schools to engage community members, families, and school-based health centers to provide a comprehensive array of services and supports for young black males. The AAMA initiative connects with school-based health centers to prioritize outreach for boys, engages families to encourage academic success at home, and partners with community members and organizations to serve as mentors and instructors.

This past April, the Coalition for Community Schools developed a framework to elevate community schools as a strategy to make our education system more equitable. A community school serves as both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. The 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.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has revealed stark inequities in the education system. On a wide range of academic measures, low-income youth of color fare worse than their white counterparts. The barriers faced by low-income youth of color are complex and vast. Therefore, the responsibility cannot rest on the school system alone, which lacks the resources and expertise to ensure all these youths’ needs are met. Partnerships are key to solving this problem, which is what makes community schools different. A community school is an organizing force for many important resources, creating a sense of shared responsibility for supporting children and families.

The Coalition’s framework calls for three leadership structures:

  • Community-wide leadership groups comprised of school districts, government agencies, United Way chapters, businesses, community- and faith-based organizations are responsible for overall vision, policy, and resource alignment.
  • School-site leadership teams comprised of parents, residents, principals, teachers, community partners, and young people are responsible for planning, implementation, and continuous improvement.
  • An intermediary entity provides planning, coordination, and management.

Effective community schools reduce grade retention and dropout rates while increasing attendance, math achievement, grade point average, and engagement in learning.  This modest investment prepares students to succeed in education and work—improving their long-term outcomes and strengthening our economy. To learn more about community schools and other strategies to achieve equity, policymakers can refer to the National Equity and Excellence Commission’s report For Each and Every Child.