One in four public schools in America is a high-poverty school — one where more than 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Many of these students face serious challenges such as housing instability and hunger, and the high levels of stress in their daily lives can affect their school attendance and performance. While high school graduation rates have increased nationwide, students from poor families still lag far behind other students.
Communities In Schools (CIS) works to integrate a variety of support services for students to keep them on a path to graduation. CIS takes a tiered approach to service provision: some services are broadly available to all students at a school and others are directed at those most at risk of dropping out. CIS places site coordinators in schools who then establish systems that provide services to both the whole school and individual students. Site coordinators deliver some services directly and find outside partners to deliver others.
CIS provides services to students in 10 areas, delivered with varying intensity and duration based on students’ levels of need: academics, behavior, social skills and life skills, resources to meet basic needs, college and career preparation, enrichment and motivation, family outreach and engagement, health and physical wellness, community service, and mental health.
MDRC has conducted two separate studies of Communities In Schools: a quasi-experimental study of the effect of the whole model and a randomized controlled trial of one component of the model — case management for students at higher risk.
In addition to assessing the effects of CIS services overall, both evaluations analyzed the model’s effects on different subgroups of students. The studies also collected information from students, CIS staff members, and staff members from participating schools to understand the factors that affect the model’s implementation. All of this information helped CIS make decisions about its program, so that evaluation was a constructive process rather than simply a thumbs-up or thumbs-down endeavor.
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