There were high hopes for Akron's I Promise School when it opened in 2018, writes Mike Antonucci on The 74. With lots of extra funding from basketball star LeBron James, the district-run “community school” offered small classes, an extended school day and a host of services including "free school uniforms, free bicycles and helmets . . . a food pantry, GED and job placement services for parents."
Yet, state test scores are low, he writes. Black students at I Promise test in the bottom five percent of all black students in Ohio. Students with disabilities also are in the lowest 5 percent.
The first year went well, writes Fordham's Jessica Poiner. But when the pandemic hit, all that extra spending didn't seem to help. As a community school, I Promise offers counseling, health checkups and tutoring. That should have mitigated learning loss. Instead, according to the Akron Beacon Journal, “comparing I Promise students to their peers who qualified for the school but attend elsewhere shows that I Promise students are doing worse in some cases, despite the extra staff and wraparound services.”
Turning schools into one-stop centers for medical and social services is very expensive, but unlikely to improve students' academic achievement, writes Bill Evers of the Independent Institute. It's a "Trojan horse" for teachers' unions and left-wing activists.
California has committed $4 billion to turning one in three public schools into a community school, he notes. The state education board's “Community Schools Framework” has endorsed "shared decision-making" in school governance. That means more power for teachers' unions and less for elected school boards.
In San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco, teachers' unions have negotiated seats on school councils that control community schools funding, Evers writes. Extra funding is going to "culturally responsive" groups, such as the "Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), an anti-Israel activist group that fights 'racial capitalism' on the side . . . In San Diego and Los Angeles we find the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium," which promoted a curriculum "so overtly steeped in critical-race and liberation theory that it was even too radical for Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state board of education."
There's little evidence to support claims that providing social services improves academic achievement, writes Evers. When Harvard researchers analyzed Harlem Children's Zone middle schools, they concluded that high-quality schools can "significantly increase academic achievement" for low-income students, but "community programs appear neither necessary nor sufficient."
A RAND study found "nearly zero improvement in English across three years and nearly zero gains in math during the first two years . . . but an uptick during the last year," he writes.