WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) joined Prime Minister Tony Blair and Secretary Arne Duncan today to discuss the need for community schools at the Center for American Progress's event entitled, “Community Schools: Connecting Schools and Communities to Improve Student Outcomes.” Leader Hoyer and Sen. Ben Nelson recently introduced legislation to increase federal funding for full-service community schools. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I am proud to join Prime Minister Blair and Secretary Duncan on this important day for the community schools movement. I am using the word ‘movement’ deliberately, because what we are engaged in is nothing less than a project to re-imagine what a school can be. And I have confidence in our success, because we are working in the long tradition of great educators and civic leaders who re-imagined schools for their own times.
“There was a time when school buildings weren’t expected to contain much beyond classrooms, chalkboards, and chairs. But, more than a century ago, faced with the demands of urbanization, immigration, and universal education, the first community schools reformers came to realize that schools can be—and often must be—more than just places for instruction. They can be the center of their communities. As the educator John Dewey put it, in 1902, ‘the conception of the school as a social center is born of our entire democratic movement.’ That spirit gave us so many of the features of the educational landscape we take for granted today: schools with auditoriums; schools with playing fields; schools where neighbors come together to cheer at games, to participate in civic clubs, and even to vote.
“Our work is a revival of that tradition. And it is not a movement simply because its ambitions are large, but because it is being driven from the ground up, by teachers, by innovative administrators, and by partners in the private sector. I’m proud to say that one of those reformers was my late wife, Judy, a teacher who worked hard to combine education and social services at the Early Childhood and Family Learning Center in Adelphi, Maryland. Teachers like Judy see the need for change first-hand, every day. Every day, they work hard to reach students whose struggles begin before they set foot in the classroom. They are students missing out on three square meals a day, or regular doctor visits, or even safety on the way back home from school. And while our teachers understand that there can be no excuses in education, they also know that even the most sheltering schools, the most dedicated instructors, and the most motivated students can’t erase the effects of those challenges without help. They understand that students who start behind often fall further and further behind with each new year—and that success in school depends on more than the classroom.
“So community schools are designed to remove roadblocks to academic success. They work with local organizations and the private sector to coordinate a wide range of services for students and families—services that help prepare children to learn and help prepare families to support learning. At a full-service community school, you might find health clinics or dental care, mental health counseling, English lessons for parents, adult courses, nutrition education, career advice, or childcare before and after school. Many of these services already exist in high-need communities—but there are few places more welcoming to house them than in a neighborhood school, and few places where they can be accessed and run more efficiently. Schools like these stay open long after school hours and on weekends, too. They are places for neighbors to learn together, work together, and—crucially—places for parents to participate in their children’s education. Schools like these quickly become the hearts of their communities.
“And the reason that community schools now have such strong political support is that these results don’t just happen in theory. They have happened again and again when parents, teachers, administrators, communities, and the private sector have worked to put the community schools model in place.
“In Arlington, Virginia, Carlin Springs Elementary serves many low-income and immigrant families; as a community school, it’s begun working closely with 29 partner organizations and more than 80 parent and neighborhood volunteers. In one innovative program, second- through fifth-grade students run a school-based branch of a local credit union, learning about budgets, saving, and basic economics. Parents can take advantage of workshops, summer family programs, family library nights, and much more. Largely as a result, attendance and parental involvement have increased. Not surprisingly, math and reading scores are up, as well.
“In New York City, the Mirabal Sisters Campus is a group of public schools serving sixth- through eighth-graders. It offers a full-service school-based health center with medical and mental health clinics; after-school and summer programs that include athletics, performing and visual arts, technology, design, and leadership training; and English language, computer, GED, and vocational classes for parents and the community. There, too, parents’ involvement in their children’s education is on the rise, and so is student achievement.
“And in Maryland, ‘Judy Centers’ have provided full-day, full-year wraparound services to at-risk children and their families for almost a decade. I’m proud that community schools have shown growing strength in my state, with the city of Baltimore working to turn every school into a community school.
“Community schools have succeeded across America and, as Prime Minister Blair pointed out, across the Atlantic, as well. A decade of research on full-service community schools has consistently shown that they promote higher student achievement and literacy, stronger discipline, better attendance and parental participation, a reduction in dropouts, and increased access to preventive health care. I’d point out that that last factor is especially important in light of a possible flu epidemic.
“Politicians cannot claim to have started the community schools movement. But we have paid attention to the results, and many of us are thoroughly convinced. That’s why President Obama and Secretary Duncan are strong supporters of community schools; that’s why every public school in England will provide extended services by 2010. And it’s why I introduced legislation that will make a strong commitment to community schools here in the United States. That legislation would mean grants for states and school districts to work with community organizations and businesses to create the kind of programs that have had success at Carlin Springs, Mirabal Sisters, and the Judy Centers. It would greatly expand the number of full-service community schools in America. It’s a bill I believe in both as a Congressman committed to education, and as one committed to fiscal responsibility. Stronger services in schools are clearly an investment up-front; but if they keep a child from delinquency, or help a child get vaccinated, they can save us the much higher cost of a jail cell or an emergency room visit down the road.
“For me, this movement is both an obligation and an opportunity. It is an obligation because the inequality that still cripples our schools and our students’ futures is an affront to the promise of public education. And it is an opportunity because, just like John Dewey’s generation of reformers, we can create new ways of thinking about schools that the parents and students to come may one day take for granted.”