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Education center says 'community schools' could help close achievement gap

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A state education advocacy group is touting successes in Brooklyn Center and Duluth as reasons to encourage more "community school" programs.

Community schools work to connect students with community groups, services and professionals. According to The Educator Policy Innovation Center – created by the Education Minnesota teachers union – that means the schools bring in more health services, mentor programs and extracurricular activities.

In addition to supporting students, community schools provide extra resource to parents. Star Tribune reports Brooklyn Center Community Schools give parents access to computers, classes, food, clothing, housing and healthcare.

With these resources, "The school becomes the hub for all things that the community needs," Education Minnesota President Denise Specht told the paper.

Brooklyn Center graduation rates

At Brooklyn Center Community Schools, graduation and college enrollment rates are on the rise for low-income and minority students, according to a report from the Educator Policy Innovation Center (EPIC) released this week..

Brooklyn Center's school website says it became the state's first full-service community school district in 2009.

Its student body is primarily minority students – only 16 percent are white – and now has more than 100 programs and community partnerships. It says 80 percent of their middle and high school students are involved in at least one extracurricular activity, like theater, sports and video production.

According to the EPIC report, graduation rates there have risen from 74 percent in 2010 to 87 percent in 2014. And in four years, there was a 17 percent increase in students enrolling in college.

Duluth schools increase involvement

The EPIC report says Duluth's Myers-Wilkins Community School Collaborative is also seeing results with their community hub model.

Even though the school has the highest concentration of low-income students in the district, they've never been cited for low Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores, EPIC says.

Myers-Wilkins also has some of the highest parent and student satisfaction rates, according to EPIC's report.

EPIC says we need more

EPIC argues against the traditional standardized tests and curriculum, saying it hasn't produced widespread academic improvement. They say the community school approach empowers people closest to students and helps shrink racial and economic opportunity gaps.

The gap can be seen in 2015's ACT scores, for example. The results show white students scored an average of 23.7, Hispanic and black students averaged 19.8 and 17.6 respectively.

In addition to achievement gaps in test scores, EPIC's report says Minnesota sees gaps in school readiness, attendance, discipline rates and graduation rates. They say schools need the the community's help to close the gaps and provide more opportunities to students.

The Minnesota Legislature appropriated $500,000 over two years for community schools pilot programs in 2015, according to Education Minnesota. But EPIC says they need more to advance community school programs, the Star Tribune reports

"There are a lot of schools and districts that are interested in this approach," Specht told the Pioneer Press. 

Education Minnesota says they'll push for $2 million next year, according to the Pioneer Press.

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