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'Full Service' Schools Broaden Definition of Education Reform

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President Clinton wants a non-partisan commitment to education as "one of the critical national security issues" of our future. But higher standards, more choice, and better teacher training may not be enough to ensure that our children will learn.

With every new survey, the conclusion becomes clearer: The school reform movement has not succeeded in meeting the needs of poor urban children - children who come to school hungry or sick, who live in violent neighborhoods, in overcrowded apartments, with over- stressed families.

Why, then, in all the "post-game analysis" of these reports, do we hear only more calls for raising standards, reforming curriculum, changing governance structures, developing new test instruments, training teachers differently, or holding schools more accountable - as if the problem is strictly within the school, and has nothing to do with children's lives outside it?

It doesn't take an expert to know that education doesn't exist in isolation from all of the other areas of a child's life. Yet we continue to treat it as a separate component. We see educational achievement as the route to greater socio-economic opportunity, yet fail to see how current socio-economic conditions hamper achievement in the first place. We view schools as a cure-all for our social ills but don't equip them to deal with the social ills they face daily.

Partisanship is not the problem; our view of education is. Until we take a more comprehensive view, even the best reforms will fail. We need to change our concept of what school reform entails - to create models that enhance academic performance by recognizing the realities that keep children from learning.

This is the strategy behind a "community schools" project that the Children's Aid Society implemented five years ago, in partnership with the New York City Board of Education, in four public schools in Washington Heights. These schools offer the full range of programs and services that children and families need, including on-site health care, counseling, tutoring, recreation, adult education, and cultural programs. Before- and after-school programs tie directly to the children's classroom experience. In the summer, the schools become camps for community children of all ages. Some of the schools offer Head Start programs, early childhood classes, and day care. All of the schools are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., six days a week, 12 months a year.

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