MDRC in the News

Chicago Eyes Dramatically Expanding Its Sustainable Community Schools Program



…..The robust summer program is one upshot of the elementary’s status as a Sustainable Community School, a joint initiative of the Chicago Teachers Union and the district, in which 20 high-poverty campuses receive up to $500,000 a year. In tandem with local nonprofits, the schools offer additional after-school and other programs, steer families to services in the community, and seek to engage students and parents in school decisions…..

…..A Chalkbeat analysis showed that through the turbulent past few years, this group of schools saw graduation tick up and attendance dip largely in lockstep with other high-poverty neighborhood schools, though the community schools started with lower baseline averages. So far, the overwhelming majority of those 20 campuses have not staved off steep districtwide enrollment losses, and many have been particularly hard hit — even as its proponents hope the model might help stabilize enrollment in the longer term…..

…..Local and national evaluations of community school initiatives offer a nuanced picture, suggesting that smart and careful implementation is paramount to see payoff for students.

On the eve of the pandemic, an analysis of almost 20 rigorous studies of the model found some showed learning and school culture gains, and others showed little effect. Evaluations of Communities In Schools, a national program that works with about 200 schools in Chicago, found it led to academic and other gains in Chicago and in Wichita, Kan., but not in two other cities.

William Corrin, the director of K-12 education at the think tank MDRC, says research so far has not pinpointed why some schools appear more successful in rolling out the model. The mixed evidence likely reflects the heavy lift of getting that model right — and the fact that it takes time to see results. 

“A school is a really complex system on its own, with many different players doing different work,” he said. “When you shift to a community school model, you are increasing the number of stakeholders working with students.”…..

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