Richard Buery Reacts to Brookings Institution Report

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On July 20, 2010, the Brookings Institution posted a study by Grover J. Whitehurst and Michelle Croft, “The Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.”

Richard R. Buery, Jr., The Children’s Aid Society’s President and CEO, offers this reaction to the report.

Thanks to researchers at the Brookings Institution for reminding us that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will provide a new battleground for a long-standing debate; do students benefit academically from supports and services designed to expand opportunities for, and remove barriers to, their learning and healthy development? The Children’s Aid Society, one of New York City’s oldest and largest youth organizations, has partnered with many New York City public schools for nearly two decades, combining our human and financial resources with those of our education colleagues through a strategy known as community schools. In the process, we have carefully reviewed both the theoretical and empirical research about what it takes to move all children toward productive adulthood. We were therefore quite surprised to read, in the recent Whitehurst and Croft study linking the Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods and the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, the statement that “There is no compelling evidence that investments in parenting classes, health services, nutritional programs, and community improvement in general have appreciable effects on student achievement in school in the U.S.”

In fact, there is compelling evidence generated over the past two decades that the very supports the Broader, Bolder consortium calls for—high quality early childhood, health services, and out-of-school time (after-school and summer) enrichment programs—all contribute to student success, especially for the most disadvantaged young people. These studies, when added to the research about the importance of parental engagement in children’s education, form the underlying research base for the community schools strategy.

Community schools integrate all of these supports with the core instructional program through well designed, long-term partnerships between schools and community resources. Third-party evaluations of our work in New York City and of community schools in other districts around the country have demonstrated that this comprehensive and integrated approach to education produces just the kinds of results suggested by the underlying research and hoped for by policymakers, parents and the public: improvements in academic achievement, student and teacher attendance, student behavior, family engagement in children’s education, school climate and connectedness.

Effective school leadership and excellent teaching are, of course, central to any effective strategy to close the achievement gap. For too long, many in the education establishment have used poverty as an excuse for their failure to create excellent schools. The time for excuses has passed. Yet those who rightly demand accountability from principals and teachers risk trivializing a host of documented reasons why poor children struggle in school—from poor vision to homelessness. When schools partner with community resources to address these very real barriers, they are enabling students to learn and teachers to teach. New research by Anthony Bryk and his colleagues at the Consortium on Chicago School Research, based on a rigorous seven-year analysis of elementary schools in Chicago, clearly indicates that successful schools, even those in the most disadvantaged communities, offer a set of essential ingredients that include a solid core instruction program, authentic parent and community engagement, and a student-centered school climate. There is no conflict between holding educators accountable for ensuring that all children learn, and a strategy that recognizes the critical role that community resources can play in helping educators achieve that goal.

One enlightened superintendent has described community schools as “a strategy to organize the resources of the community around student success.” America’s students—especially those growing up with the least access to opportunity—deserve every chance to achieve this success. Let’s stop the false debate about whether or not the community has anything of value to contribute to this most important enterprise.

Richard R. Buery, Jr.

President and CEO
The Children’s Aid Society
New York City