Programs that Work
Communities In Schools
Children Succeeding in School
Students graduating from high school
Age of Child
Early Childhood (0-8)
Middle Childhood (9-12)
Type of Setting
Community-Based Service Provider
Health Care Provider
Type of Service
Type of Outcome Addressed
Cognitive Development / School Performance
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
Communities In Schools, Inc. (CIS) was founded in 1977 to help adolescents stay in school and graduate from high school. The CIS model assumes that young people in jeopardy of dropping out of school generally have both academic and non-academic problems that need to be addressed. The CIS model is also based on the premise that existing social services are delivered in a fragmented and uncoordinated manner. CIS addresses this problem by operating at school sites and coordinating with various agencies and businesses to deliver needed services to youths and their families. Rather than outlining specific program requirements, the CIS model offers an overall approach for working with youths to help fulfill five basic needs:
- A personal one-on-one relationship with a caring adult.
- A safe place to learn and grow.
- A healthy start and a healthy future.
- A marketable skill to use upon graduation.
- A chance to give back to peers and the community.
Originally, CIS was known as Cities In Schools, and its programs focused on high school students who had already demonstrated behavior problems and who were at high risk of dropping out of school. Over time, this focus has broadened to include prevention efforts aimed at helping young people from elementary through high school stay in school and avoid other related problems. Each local program determines the specific levels and types of services provided. Services may include life skills education, study skills, remedial and grade-level academic education, and field trips. In addition, programs may assess and monitor individual student and family needs, and help put in place individual and group counseling, anger management counseling, health care services, employment counseling, and other related services offered through various community agencies and organizations. Most programs also have individual tutoring and/or mentoring components. While most CIS programs are delivered within traditional schools, CIS programs may also be organized as alternative schools – or “schools within schools” – with separate facilities for CIS students.
CIS serves youths at risk for dropping out of school; programs involve youths in elementary, middle, and high schools. CIS also may direct services to the families of youths in the CIS program. During the 1999 to 2000 school year, CIS programs operated in 2,300 schools and alternative sites in 32 states, providing direct services to 650,000 youths and their families.
A national study conducted by the Urban Institute (Rossman and Morley, 1995) examined 30 CIS school programs in 17 communities across the country from 1991 to 1994. The researchers evaluated student outcomes for 659 youths who participated in CIS during the 1989 to 1990 or 1990 to 1991 academic years. There was no comparison group involved in this study; instead, the authors informally compared CIS results with national dropout rates for at-risk youth. The schools in the study were predominantly middle and high schools, but a few elementary schools also were included. Four of the schools were “alternative” schools. The schools were selected to be broadly representative based on geography, urban/rural location, program size, services offered, and types of partner organizations. The students in the study were considered at risk of dropping out of school (based on prior academic performance, family income, single-parent household status, and other variables known to be related to dropout risk). They came from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds: 57 percent were African-American, 25 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Caucasian, and 3 percent from other groups. The students had an average age of 14.6 years, 50 percent were male, and 48 percent lived in single-parent households. Prior to entering the CIS program, 59 percent of the students had been retained in grade at least once.
The analysis of school outcomes focused on school attendance, academic performance, promotion or retention in grade, high school graduation, and whether the student had dropped out of school. Specifically, researchers examined how students’ absenteeism and grade point averages changed over a one-year period by comparing data in the year prior to enrolling in CIS with data in the CIS entry year. The study calculated cumulative dropout rates over a period of years, up until the 1992 to 1993 school year. The dropout analysis was based on a sample of 488 students. Other outcomes were analyzed using student self-report data (that is, from interviews and self-administered surveys), including information on students’ behavior, their plans for the future, and their self-esteem.
Key Evaluation Findings
The research study (Rossman and Morley, 1995) found the following:
- Among students who were enrolled in CIS during the 1989 to 1990 and 1990 to 1991 school years, 77 percent either were still in school or had graduated during the 1992 to 1993 school year, while 21 percent had dropped out of school. Among CIS enrollees who were expected to be eligible to graduate by 1992 to 1993, 69 percent had graduated and 31 percent had dropped out of school. (These rates appear to compare favorably with cumulative dropout rates for at-risk youth nationally; however, see “Issues to Consider” for more on this topic.)
- Improvement in school attendance was greatest for CIS students who had moderate or severe attendance problems prior to beginning the program. Overall, 50 percent of CIS enrollees (for whom records were available) improved or maintained their school attendance during their first year in CIS, compared with the year before they entered the program. Of the students who entered CIS programs with ten or more days of school absence in the previous year, 68 percent improved their attendance during their first year in CIS. For students with the most-serious attendance problems (at least 21 days of absence in the previous year), 70 percent improved their attendance during their first year in CIS, averaging 6.6 days of increased attendance.
- Improved academic performance was also greatest for CIS students who had moderate or serious problems with their grades prior to beginning the program. Overall, 49 percent of CIS enrollees (for whom records were available) improved their grade point averages (GPAs) by the end of their first year in CIS, compared with the year before they entered the program. Of the students who entered CIS programs with GPAs of 1.99 or lower, 60% percent improved their GPAs by the end of their first year in CIS. For students with the most-serious academic problems (GPAs of 1.0 or lower), 79 percent improved their grades by the end of their first year in CIS, averaging a 1.0 grade point increase in their GPAs.
- Students enrolled in the CIS alternative school programs showed greater improvements than did students in traditional CIS school sites.
CIS programs are implemented as partnerships among schools, community health and service organizations, governmental agencies, businesses, and faith-based organizations.
Each local CIS program is responsible for developing the resources to support its own operation and that of its affiliated school sites. Such resources are acquired through fund-raising, by creating public-private partnerships, by relocating existing service agency personnel to work at school sites, and by recruiting volunteers. The national CIS organization provides training and technical assistance for those interested in creating new CIS programs, and occasionally provides pass-through funding for special projects.
The national CIS network is composed of a national headquarters and numerous state and local CIS programs. State CIS affiliates help replicate the CIS program throughout their state and secure state-level resources for individual communities. Local CIS programs initiate, implement, and manage the program, adapting CIS principles and methods to the needs and resources within their communities. Local programs also develop partnerships with school districts, service agencies, and local businesses, integrating existing community resources with the needs of students and families.
The CIS approach is based on three principal levels of service:
- Level One: All Students and Families. Resources are provided to the entire school and community.
- Level Two: Selected Students and Families (Short Term. When students and families experience a sudden crisis, CIS processes referrals to appropriate service providers for short-term intervention.
- Level Three: A Specific Caseload of Students and Families (Long Term). In some cases, services are directed toward an identified group of students and families on a regular, sustained, case-managed basis.
CIS does not have a prescribed or set curriculum. While some schools with CIS programs offer a “CIS class” as an elective, such a class is not required by the national CIS organization. When offered, “CIS classes” generally focus on teaching basic life skills and encouraging pro-social behavior.
Staffing teams for local CIS organizations typically include an executive director, an agency coordinator/resource coordinator, an administrative assistant, and the project director for the first school site. The CIS staffing teams at the school sites include the project director, and some mix of the following: repositioned local service agency staff (for example, social workers/case managers or health care providers), teachers or other school personnel, and local volunteers, who typically provide tutoring or mentoring.
Training is provided at the CIS Training Institute held nationally in the spring and fall. Training courses span several days and address different needs, including starting a CIS program in a new community and managing a CIS project at the school level. Although centralized training (provided by the national CIS organization) is emphasized, state CIS offices also offer training and provide technical assistance.
Issues to Consider
This program received a “promising” rating. Although a multi-site study was conducted to assess outcomes for CIS participants, there were methodological weaknesses in the research design. Most important, there was no comparison group (that is, similar students who did not participate in the CIS program), which makes it difficult to attribute improvements in CIS student outcomes to program participation. In addition, as the authors of the study acknowledge, there were difficulties obtaining outcome data on many of the students who were in the study. For example, researchers were able to obtain absenteeism data on only 34 percent of the 659 students in the study and grade point average data on only 44 percent of the students. For this reason, the study’s results regarding absenteeism and grade point averages must be interpreted with caution.
The lack of a comparison group makes it particularly difficult to interpret the student outcomes regarding staying in school (or graduating) versus dropping out. The study found that over a two- to three-year period, 77 percent of CIS students either stayed in school or graduated, while 21 percent had dropped out. This dropout rate appears to be at the low end of cumulative dropout rates for at-risk youth nationally; however, this claim is supported only by anecdotal evidence, and not by comparative evidence produced within the study itself.
The study also found that CIS participants with the most severe problems with school attendance and academic performance showed the largest gains after completing the CIS program. Specifically, 68 percent of students with moderate attendance problems and 70 percent with severe attendance problems improved their school attendance after one year in the CIS program; similarly, 60 percent of students with low GPAs and 79 percent with very low GPAs improved their grades after one year in CIS. Overall, however, only about one-half of students participating in CIS improved their school attendance or grades. This pattern suggests that, at least for these intermediate measures of success in school, CIS is most effective for those with the greatest need. Whether this means that the program should be more narrowly targeted to those most at risk, or whether less-at-risk students are benefiting in more subtle ways, are questions that remain unanswered.
All the findings cited here are from one multi-site study; more research is clearly needed to better assess the effectiveness of the CIS program. Staff at CIS national headquarters indicate that another national research study is underway, with results expected in 2005. If this study uses a more rigorous research design, it may be able to address some of the ambiguities that remain regarding the program’s effectiveness in helping at-risk youth remain in school and graduate.
Communities In Schools programs operate in more than 3,400 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia, serving nearly 1.3 million young people and their families every year.
Communities In Schools, Inc. (National Office)
277 S. Washington Street, Suite 210
Alexandria, VA 22314
phone: (703) 519-8999
Toll free: 1-800-CIS-4KIDS
Fax: (703) 519-7213
CIS offers training and technical assistance to CIS network members. General information about CIS is found on the CIS web site www.cisnet.org
Rossman, S. B. and E. Morley
The National Evaluation of Cities in Schools: Executive Summay
Washington DC: The Urban Institute, 1995.
Rossman, S.B. and E. Morley Helping At Risk Youth: Lessons from Community-Based Initiatives Washington DC: The Urban Institute, 1997.