Do-it-all schools

The new head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten proposed a “new vision” in a speech at the union’s convention in Chicago: Schools would provide a full range of social and recreational services, in addition to education.

“Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools — schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need?” Ms. Weingarten asked in the speech.

“Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance,” she said. “And suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical and counseling clinics.”

No Child Left Behind is “too badly broken to be fixed,” she said.

I remember hearing about community schools 25 years ago. Many schools added after-school recreation and/or child-care programs; some hired community workers to help parents deal with problems that might affect their children’s schooling or offered evening classes for parents. All that has continued. A few provided space for social workers or health clinics. It proved difficult to coordinate multiple public agencies and the “community school” idea lost favor after awhile.

Update: Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio taught at a school that tried to provide a range of social services.

Too often in my South Bronx elementary school it felt as if education were an afterthought, and that we functioned as the social services agency of last resort. The resources required for all schools to function as community centers are daunting, to understate the case.

Indeed.

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Comments

  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    “Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance,” she said. “And suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical and counseling clinics.”

    Maybe Ms. Weingarten should first imagine a school where the children actually learned something before it took over the complete upbringing of the child. We have a dysfunctional school system that is incapable of teaching students and rather than attempt to solve that problem she wants the schools to also take over the job of caring for the child. If it did just as good a job caring for children as it does teaching them, half the children would be dead by the time they were supposed to have graduated from high school.

  2. Parent2 says:

    Orphanages, anyone?

    I also don’t think that No Child Left Behind is “too badly broken to be fixed.” I think the lack of political pressure on presidential candidates from citizens who are not teachers means that it is not controversial.

  3. Andy Freeman says:

    FWIW, Rumsfeld supposedly says that one way to deal with insoluble/hard problems is to make them bigger. For example, if a school is failing to educate kids, make it responsible for even more.

    The other school of thought is that if an institution can’t do something, one should ask less of it or get rid of it.

    Who’da thunk that the AFT was Rumsfeldian?

  4. Tracy W says:

    This speech was recently discussed on D-ed Reckoning, and the commentator “OldTimer” pointed out a school that was already doing this. The school’s academic results are still abysmal.

    http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2008/07/not-even-wrong.html?showComment=1216128420000#c6655660310697753734

  5. In general, if a person or an organization is failing at their assigned task, you don’t give them *additional* responsibilities.

    There are occasional cases where one might reasonably attempt to fix organiational problems by increasing an organization’s scope of responsibility–for example, if a sales organization is failing to meet its numbers and credibly argues that the main problem is inadequate product & lousy marketing, then you might consolidate sales, marketing, and product planning into a line-of-business organization under a single general manager. The individual you put in charge of this organization, though, should be one you have confidence in, and should certainly never be the kind of person who resists being held accountable for results.

  6. I like the idea of using school buildings for after-hours programs – my church currently tutors kids of all ages at a local high school. The principal hopes to eventually add ESL classes for the parents. The buildings are public, so adding more things to the sports that traditionally use school fields or gyms makes sense – why build a community center when the facilities already exist? That being said, I’m also fairly convinced that I don’t want the school running or administering these programs, other than maybe having somebody arrange the schedule at the start of each year.

  7. Margo/Mom says:

    First, we gotta ask–what are the barriers that prevent these things from happening now? In most urban areas there are public institutions responsible for public health, libraries, the arts, recreation, etc. Each has their own separate organizational structure, funding streams, buildings and building campaigns. They typically don’t even talk to one another, let alone any of the private/non-profits that exist within the community. Schools are typically resistent to even co-location of services (sharing of building space), citing all kinds of things like liability, custodial costs, security, etc.

    What I believe that Weingarten is asking for is greater funding for schools to take on the development of these already existing services within the school’s realm of control. It’s hard to know if this is a sincere, but naive request (ignoring the existence of these services already in existence), or a smoke screen to take attention away from the schools’ inability to deliver on education, or an impossible request aimed at getting acquiesence to some more affordable get (like decreased accountability) that she really wants.

  8. “Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools — schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need?”

    I don’t think Ms. W has any idea what those services are and what ‘need’ means. It would be hard to comprehend bringing 2 dysfunctional bureaucracies together in hopes that this would somehow resolve the problems of either one but I think that this is a good example where except in specific instances where services would intersect this is a profoundly bad idea.

  9. What about those of us who manage to provide our children with health insurance, adequate food and shelter, love and extracurricular activities? Would we be able to opt out of community schools and send our kids elsewhere? Community schools sound like a nightmare where kids who figure out the system control the other kids, humorless social worker types run the adults, and parents who complain first and loudest control the other parents.

  10. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Another shocking idea: how about having schools focus on education, and letting other organizations and programs do the rest? (Oh yeah, and those mysterious people called “parents”…where are they?)

    This was perhaps my biggest hangup with high school. Learning and education are clearly on the back burner there. High school as currently constituted is there to provide athletic programs, a GREAT social environment…and to pass the kids onto college where they can actually get the education that they should have been receiving in high school all along.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Wow- and then the Ed establishment wonders why the middle class is deserting public education by droves!