With the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind into the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), there is a lot of talk about community schools.

For many, the term “community schools” conjures up the idea of schools as the hub of the town, with experienced principals and credentialed career teachers. We think of these schools as designed for the public good, with strong PTAs, afterschool programs, and health screenings which include a school nurse.

Most important, the community, we assume, owns these schools. They should be public in the truest sense of the word with plenty of electives including the arts and sports. With luck, community schools stay open into the evening with course offerings for adults and students! They are overseen by strong, involved school boards, we think.

Some of us might remember our own public schools as community schools when we were young. Others think their schools needed help. But all of us probably agree that community schools should be schools the community gets behind and is proud of—a source of support for families and the town or city.

The elephant in the room with community schools is…you guessed it…racial diversity. Unless the surrounding neighborhood is multicultural, community schools run the risk of being segregated.

Also, many parents might be scratching their heads. They have not forgotten the closure of what they believed used to be their community public schools. They might wonder if they will be getting their old schools back.

So, aside from the problem with integration, or the lack of it, upon hearing the term community schools, it is easy to get a warm fuzzy feeling that something good is happening in education. Maybe the tide is turning. Perhaps too, our neighborhoods are changing when it comes to ethnicity.

Alas, however, upon examining today’s term “community schools,” one realizes quickly, that they are usually charter schools.

Here is the Ohio definition of community schools.

Community schools, often called charter schools in other states, are public nonprofit, nonsectarian schools that operate independently of any school district but under a contract with an authorized sponsoring entity that is established by statute or approved by the State Board of Education. Community schools are public schools of choice and are state and federally funded.

If they aren’t charters, they are poor traditional public schools relying on some business in the community to keep the school afloat. Chances are it will only be time before they are turned into a charter. Some choice.

The mention of public-private ownership whenever community schools are mentioned, gives it away. Certainly private business has an interest in supporting local public schools. They should donate to them to help them thrive. But public schools should not be so poor that the community must rely on outsiders to keep the school open.

Public-private partnerships implies more than volunteerism. It involves ownership. We know ownership means business will run the schools—even possibly make a profit off them. They will also drive career teachers and reputable principals and superintendents out of the system. They will claim they are too costly.

In some places charter schools have turned into for-profit businesses with stocks trading on Wall Street. How does this make it a community school?

Certainly, there are charters that are run by sincere individuals doing good work. Those aren’t the charter schools I refer to. And if the ECAA passes with wraparound health services that would be a good thing. However, there is uncertainty with that part of the bill.

Also, many public schools used to offer wraparound services. They had school nurses and health screenings. Poor children usually had access to primary health and dental care. Who will monitor whether children get those services in their charter schools? Real public schools should still be able to offer those services.

The main lobbying group for community schools is the Coalition of Community Schools. It is troubling upon studying their website that anyone can start a community school. And they mention “personalized learning” which has become a euphemism for online instruction. Will the new community schools eventually be like the online Rocketship charter schools?

It is also interesting that they talk little about teachers on their website.

A traditional public school is a real community school. It is a school that rejects no one. It has legitimate career teachers and principals.

So hearing all the hype about community schools in the new Every Child Achieves Act is deceptive, because when most of us think of community schools we are dreaming of something different than charter schools. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like bologna.

bailey-489_0_0-300x199Nancy Bailey is an education activist and a former special education teacher.  Her book is titled Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students.  Her blog is http://nancyebailey.com. Catch up with her on twitter @NancyEBailley1


Citation Link:

Baron, Kathryn. “Senate Bill Keeps After-School and Community Schools in ESEA.” Education Week. July 17, 2015.

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