Nine leaders from Tulsa, OK, including superintendents from the area’s four largest school districts and investors committed to supporting Tulsa youth, traveled to Chicago last March to learn more about collective impact. This team represented ImpactTulsa, one of 43 exploring communities from 19 different states who came together at the 2014 StriveTogether Exploring Communities Convening.
At the Exploring Communities Convening, ImpactTulsa and other teams just starting to bring their communities together to improve education outcomes for kids listened and learned from advanced partnerships on a similar path. Throughout the two days, they learned from StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members, discussed action steps with StriveTogether staff and explored the Theory of Action, StriveTogether’s nationally recognized collective impact approach.
This proved to be a critical milestone in ImpactTulsa’s journey, accelerating their pace through the Theory of Action and propelling them towards implementing key steps for sustainable cradle to career civic infrastructure.
“Had it not been for the Exploring Communities Convening, there is no way our partnership would have progressed the way it has,” ImpactTulsa COO Monroe Nichols told me.
After attending the Exploring Communities Convening, the delegation went back to Tulsa with a deeper understanding of what it takes to implement collective impact with rigor. Armed with new knowledge and shared direction, the partnership thoughtfully crafted foundational components for their work, including a community vision of success for every child and indicators to measure progress. ImpactTulsa also actively engaged the community and wrestled with the topic of equity.
These accomplishments enabled ImpactTulsa to become the 52nd community partnership to join the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network in October 2014. Shortly after joining, ImpactTulsa reached another key milestone with the release of its first annual community report card, showing the deep commitment to and shared accountability for improved results for children in their community.
The amount of progress the partnership has made in only one year is impressive and inspiring. But what’s even more astounding is how ImpactTulsa has intentionally implemented the Theory of Action within their local context.
This month, representatives from ImpactTulsa will return to our annual Exploring Communities Convening in a completely different role than in 2014. They will share lessons learned from their work in Tulsa with other communities interested in pursuing quality collective impact.
“I am extremely excited to share our Tulsa experience in coaching sessions this year,” said Nichols. “We learned so much in 2014 and our students are better for it. It is humbling and thrilling to share that experience with others as we all work to uplift excellence in education and student outcomes across the country.”
We look forward to connecting with more emerging partnerships March 24-25 in Indianapolis and witnessing more communities take steps toward building a community-wide vision for supporting every child, cradle to career.
The “collective” in collective impact is critically important. No doubt. All of us – across sectors and every corner of the community – need to work together to achieve population level results. But we are finding something interesting to be true: Each individual and organization is equally important to achieving the impact we all desire. Individual and organizational action is in many ways the key to collective impact.
We find that people often come to tables convened in the name of collective impact with the wrong mental model. They may think they are coming to an advisory board where they can weigh in and provide some guidance. Or a nonprofit board where they provide guidance to an executive director. Or maybe even a taskforce where they will make recommendations and help implement some solutions. None of these will work for us to move the dial at scale. This work can’t be deputized to an individual. And it can’t even depend on us working in perfect concert around a powerful set of actions.
Sustainable impact depends on the willingness of each and every individual and each and every organization to think differently about what they do every day. And most importantly, each must be open to changing what they do to make sure they are aligned with agreed upon outcomes, using data on what works for kids to guide their actions.
This is a completely different mental model. It means partners are coming to the table to weigh the collective interests of the community equally with their individual and organizational interests when making decisions.
That is partnership. That means an investor will align with the collective outcomes and make decisions that align with peers focused on a similar outcome. A practitioner working with children will share programmatic data with the confidence peers will do the same so everyone can improve together. An elected official will remove barriers to aligning precious public resources behind what works. A faith leader will mobilize her congregation to advance practices that get results for kids. And an educational leader will share accountability for results while working with partners to build on what works and improve what does not .
Coming to the table to achieve collective impact means doing the hard work collectively, but even harder work individually and organizationally. Isn’t it ironic?Read more about individual, collaborative and shared community measures in our new data sharing playbook, Data Drives School Community Collaboration.
I’m writing this post from Phoenix, Arizona, the site of StriveTogether’s Expert Convening: Understanding the Role of Policy to Impact Outcomes. Last year we inaugurated our Expert Convening series with an amazing gathering of cradle to career partnerships to discuss driving impact with data. This year we’re building on that success by bringing together an equally impressive group of partnerships to discuss the important role of policy and advocacy in cradle to career collective impact work.
Because achieving system change requires policy change, StriveTogether’s Theory of Action includes benchmarks around policy and advocacy work. This can be a particularly challenging area for cradle to career partnerships since it involves navigating intricate political systems, bureaucracies, and conflicting agendas. That’s why we wanted to spend time focusing on both the successes and pitfalls in this arena within our network, and harvest learning that will help accelerate change for all communities.
The goals of this convening are 1) to generate knowledge on how partners are addressing policy change at the institutional, local, and state level and 2) to provide opportunities for partnerships learn from each other about the policy and advocacy arena.
Five partnerships were invited to participate and share their experiences around influencing and shaping policies that create better outcomes for students: Commit! Partnership in Dallas, Texas; City Heights Partnership for Children in San Diego, California; StrivePartnership in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Northern Kentucky; Learn to Earn in Dayton, Ohio; and Promise Partnerships of Salt Lake County, Utah. In addition to partnership staff, participants include state and local officials and policymakers who work closely with the partnerships—so we have a wealth and diversity of valuable perspectives to capture knowledge in this important area.
To develop a deeper understanding of how partnerships are approaching policy change, each community created a process map unpacking the different stages of creating a specific policy change. Dayton’s Learn to Earn partnership mapped its goal of getting a state policy change to incentivize quality preschool programs, emphasizing the importance of focusing on policy from the beginning and getting the right people at the table to leverage change.
One of Learn to Earn’s key strategies has been to hire a lobbyist, chosen after a rigorous selection process with a search committee that included a former governor and other political insiders. Also key to Dayton’s success in the policy arena is its strong relationship with county government—including Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman—a participant in this convening.
Some of the other insights I heard today included the importance of data in making the case for policy change, and the influence of relationships on removing barriers to improving education outcomes.
Jesse Moyer, KnowledgeWorks Director of State Advocacy and Research, was also on hand today to reflect on the discussions and provide a national context. He said cradle to career partnerships are uniquely positioned to influence policy. “You are in a perfect spot to effect change, by first getting the data together around what works, and then convening people across sectors.” Jesse also advised participants to truly pay attention to the priorities of different stakeholders and then see where the alignment lies. “Policy isn’t this mythical thing,” he said. “Ultimately it’s a reflection of society’s priorities.”
After the first day of this convening, I’m confident that we’ve already begun to demystify this process by learning how communities are approaching policy and advocacy work. This powerful learning exchange will be a big shot in the arm as we build resources to support our whole network to accelerate toward system-level change.
“When goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” Taj Atkinson, a teenager from Newark, NJ, referenced this Confucius saying during opening remarks at last week’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Community Challenge National Convening at the White House. Taj’s rousing remarks lifted audience members to their feet and kicked off an exhilarating day with over 200 municipal leaders from across the country.
I had the privilege of representing StriveTogether at the event, joining MBK leaders as they converged on Washington to discuss how to mobilize local leaders around cradle to career strategies to improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color – and, ultimately, for all young people.
Welcomes from Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder were followed by compelling remarks about equity from Angela Glover Blackwell, the founder of PolicyLink. Blackwell shared an illustrative example of how focusing on equity helps everyone: When advocates for people with disabilities worked to install ramped curbs on sidewalks across America, the beneficiaries were not just people with disabilities – weary parents pushing strollers, hasty travelers with rolling luggage and many others also benefited. Blackwell said, “When you solve problems for the most vulnerable, you solve problems for everyone.”
Addressing equity is a critical component of collective impact efforts happening across the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network as well as among communities who have accepted the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge.
I moderated a panel on operationalizing collective impact for MBK leaders, elevating the practical implementation challenges associated with building the civic infrastructure needed to sustain cradle to career partnerships. I was joined by representatives from Mission: Graduate in Albuquerque, NM; a Promise Neighborhood in Chula Vista, CA; and an Innovation Delivery Team in New Orleans, LA. Each highlighted common themes on the importance of shared outcomes, a focus on using data for continuous improvement, the need for clear accountability structures, and the obligation to change the behavior of adults to improve the systems supporting every child.
Even before the panel on collective impact, it was remarkable to hear speakers throughout the day call out local StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network member partnerships as examples of promising efforts making an impact – I heard shout-outs to The Commit! Partnership, Mission: Graduate, Portland ConnectED, Raise DC, and Thrive Chicago.
The My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge Implementation Guide (available to communities who have accepted the MBK Community Challenge) highlights the key principles underpinning the StriveTogether Theory of Action and outlines the four gateways to building the civic infrastructure to achieve proof point. It’s heartening to know that our Network members are truly leading the way, providing a roadmap for how to drive systemic change with rigor and ultimately increase opportunity for every child from cradle to career.
I don’t know if you have ever been to Cincinnati in February, but imagine grey, dull and slushy and you’re pretty much there. Sometimes, staying in bed on these less than pleasant mornings sounds like a better alternative than trudging into the office. On days like this, I think of sunny San Diego, but probably not for the reason you might think.
Last October, StriveTogether held our National Cradle to Career Network Convening in San Diego, which gathered together over 50 partnerships from around the country to learn from each other and discuss action that is working in their communities. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a few sessions, but the one that sticks out the most for me was “WHY We Do It” led by the Big Goal Collaborative from Northeast Indiana. In this session, we were encouraged to think of why we come to work each day and the responses from the people in the room were moving:
While everyone’s answer differed, what came through loud and clear was the love everyone had for their community. But this love is not a slap-a-bumper-sticker-on-your-car type of love. This love is compelling these people to leave their home every day to work (sometimes thanklessly) toward improving educational outcomes for every kid in their community. It is not just love, it is passion. And this passion is leading them to take action.
These folks are pioneers and innovators. They are bringing together all sectors of their community to make the changes needed to support every child from cradle to career. They also realize that creating and sustaining a more equitable system requires playing the long game. Their passion is strong enough to sustain them to endure the relentless pursuit of progress.
And it is working.
Since the start of this month, several partnerships (including The Road Map Project in South Seattle and King County, Graduate Tacoma in Tacoma, WA & 90% by 2020 in Anchorage, AK) have released their reports to the community announcing progress. They also recognize that even if they have not made the progress they had hoped for, they have the data to help find the best practices to test and scale across the community. They are combining this passion with a logical and measured approach to rise to the challenges that have stymied so many well-intentioned people for so long. Passion plus analytics equals results.
So when all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, I find myself California dreaming. I think of the people of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network and am inspired to get out of bed. Your passion fires up my passion. Together we can and will change the system.
When I was a child we would spend hours in the car with my father as he looked for a destination we had never visited before. He was confident that since he knew the general area of where we wanted to go that he could find the right path. Unfortunately, without clear directions, this meant we would do some unexpected sightseeing. Perhaps not surprisingly, I followed a similar pattern for many years as I shuttled my four kids to events around the city. After having to apologize to too many coaches and hosts for being late, I finally invested in a GPS. Amazing how much time I saved to get the right destination.
It may be a difficult topic to approach, but data on student performance and – more importantly – programmatic data on the impact of services can have a similar influence on education. For years, we have known the destination we hope all kids to reach: we want them to thrive in education, career and life. But we only know the general direction to get there. In fact, we have a system that meets the needs of about half the student population, leaving far too many to fall off the path.
Effective use of data provides the information needed to personalize education so every child is on the most expeditious path to success. Imagine the power of this opportunity. If teachers, parents, grandparents, coaches, social service providers, non-profit organizations and all professionals working with youth are armed with information to help tailor the learning journey of every child, we are much more likely to arrive where we intend to go. More importantly, children are much more likely to achieve their dreams.
Fortunately, we have learned a great deal about how to effectively use the power of data. In partnership with the Data Quality Campaign, we have established 7 principles for the effective sharing of student data. These principles are based on lessons from members of the Cradle to Career Network who are working to use data more effectively every day. StriveTogether has also developed a set of best practices for protecting student privacy when sharing data. These get to some of the very real issues President Obama raised recently related to privacy and respect for personal information. And those working on the ground are finding ways to do just that: make sure we are respecting the rights of individuals while also giving them the best possible opportunity to succeed through access to the most relevant and useful resources.
I resisted buying a GPS for some time. Now I could not be happier that I did because I can get to where I’m going so much more efficiently. We should challenge ourselves to use education and programmatic data as similar tools for our kids. Children and our society as a whole will benefit from making sure we do everything possible to help them succeed.
Communities across the country have adopted collective impact as a framework to improve outcomes for students from cradle to career. These communities have established cross-sector partnerships, brought leaders to the table around a common vision, used evidence-based strategies and data to drive outcomes, and advocated for each student’s equal opportunity to succeed.
Now it’s time to encourage federal policymakers to support these efforts.
This week, KnowledgeWorks, StriveTogether’s parent organization, released complete recommendations for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization.
Federal policymakers have a unique opportunity to uphold a commitment to equity while empowering states, districts and local communities to innovate so every student has access to high-quality education.
This includes collective impact.
KnowledgeWorks’ recommendations include three solely focused on collective impact. These are based on experiences from StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members:
- Remove barriers to effective implementation of collective impact
- Maximize impact and sustainability of school improvement efforts
- Launch an Education Pay-For-Success Initiative to support strategies that improve education outcomes for children and youth.
The House and Senate are moving quickly to pass ESEA Reauthorization bills this spring and hope to begin conference negotiations soon after to find common ground between the two proposals.
Engage in this process by contacting your representatives and senators. Share these recommendations with your partners and stakeholders. Voice your opinions on social media.
The next few months are a critical time for K-12 education reform and healthy dialogue is needed to determine the future of the education system.
Cradle to Career partnerships are not a single organization, but a mosaic of actors who come together to collectively advance a cradle to career agenda in their community. In our previous blog Capacity for Impact we explored how each partner and community member’s contributions to the partnership help create and sustain the capacity of the partnership to impact outcomes for kids. For this reason, the capacity provided for by all partners should be reflected in the partnership’s budget.
A partnership budget should reflect and quantify both the fiscal support (financial contributions) and in-kind support (loaned or donated staff, time, goods or services) from all of the contributing partners. This budget is different from the budget of the anchor entity supporting the partnership (fiscal agent), which traditionally only reflects the investments and expenses that are funneled through the anchor. It may not fully capture the fiscal and in-kind donations of every organization supporting the Cradle to Career partnership.
Building a budget that is inclusive of all partners and contributors can help the partnership effectively engage investors for additional or sustained support, as well as help to keep partners who provide in-kind support at the table.
A partnership budget can be used as a method to strategically engage investors and explain the value of the partnership to stakeholders. Partnership budgets that demonstrate the support and investments from all sectors of the community can help build the confidence of investors in the sustainability of the work by. Along this line, recognizing in-kind and other supports can help illustrate how the partnership aligns initiatives rather than duplicating programs. This can also provide clarity to investors who may be unfamiliar with collective impact work.
Often, only the fiscal support provided to the partnership gets quantified into the budget. However there is huge value and investment inherent in in-kind contributions. Here are some benefits communities in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network have realized through recognizing in-kind contributions:
- Partners feel more connected to and engaged in the partnership by having their contributions recognized. Partners of Milwaukee Succeeds have noted that it makes them feel like they have ‘skin in the game’ and keeps them engaged in the work of the partnership.
- Partnerships can leverage in-kind support to garner additional support from existing or new partners. ROC the Future in Rochester, NY leveraged contributions from partners that had already invested in the partnership using their clout to engage additional partners.
- Partnerships can show the community that it is a broad based effort involving multiple community partners. All Hands Raised in Portland and Multnomah County, OR, has published two “chapters” in the story of their shared work, which are excellent examples of reflecting the contributions of their partners to the work of the partnership.
- Provides a true reflection of the capacity needed to implement Cradle to Career work. Thrive Chicago has created a budget that quantifies support from the anchor entity and in-kind support from partners to showing how much of an impact in-kind support can have monetarily.
- Helps the partnership build trust with sections of the community that they may not have a direct connection to. The Commit! Partnership in Dallas County, TX, produces an annual Giving Profile to capture the education-related investments made by its regional philanthropic community.
Budgets are moral documents that reflect the priorities of their creators. Capturing and recognizing partner and community contributions to the partnership show the value they place in the partnership and likewise, the value the partnership places on them. This reciprocal trust and significance is what builds the path for new and sustained investments of time, talent and treasure.
Changing an entrenched system is hard work. Any person engaged in cradle to career partnership work could tell you that they are not only focused on changing the education system. They are also working to change several other systems, such as policy and philanthropic giving, to make them work more equitably and effectively for every child. Sustainable systemic change requires community-wide support, focused on building the partnership’s ability to make that change. More simply put, systemic change requires partnership capacity. Capacity is what gets stuff done.
To build the required capacity, cradle to career partnerships have employed two strategies: (1) engage investors to secure fiscal donations to support the work; and (2) engage partners to secure in-kind donations that support the work by providing resources, services, staff, etc. Because supports come from different community coffers, it is important for partnerships to quantify and communicate all of the contributions from all partners in the budget, not just the monetary support that passes through the anchor entity.
After analyzing partnership budgets from across the StriveTogether Cradle to Career network, we found that capacity is not a static need, but grows as the partnership progresses in its work to build the infrastructure needed to change systems.
When partnerships quantify all of the contributions of the community, we expect the capacity needs of a cradle to career partnership to look like this:
- In the early stages of building a cradle to career partnership, the work is largely focused on relationship building and partnering; the infrastructure needed to support this new way of approaching education reform is just starting to come together. Various committees of cross-sector partners are being formed to carry-out specific work (like communications or strategic direction) and shared outcomes are being identified that the community will agree to hold itself responsible for improving. In StriveTogether’s Theory of Action, this work happens in the later stages of the Exploring Gateway, and early stages of the Emerging Gateway. In these stages, we see partnership budgets averaging between $300-500k. This generally includes the support of 1-2 staff members to bring together partners and build community awareness of why the systems are in need of change.
- As the partnership starts to collect and disaggregate data on their shared outcomes, the need for improvement, and action that spurs this improvement, becomes clear. Partnerships start to launch collaborative action networks, groups of practitioners and experts that come together to work collectively on improving one of those shared outcomes. This work often happens in the later stages of the Emerging Gateway of the Theory of Action. At this stage, partnerships’ budgets jump to around $600-800k and staffing is typically increased to 4-5 staff. This growth can be attributed to the capacity needs added by forming and launching 1-3 collaborative action networks in addition to the data work and relationship building that occurs in this stage.
- Once much of the structure of the partnership is created (committees, partners, collaborative action networks), the work starts to really focus on action and improving the shared outcomes. There is a deeper focus on data, especially programmatic and student-level data, and the collaborative action networks that were launched in the previous stage are starting to dig into improving the outcome which they are focused on. The collaborative action networks use a rigorous process of continuous improvement to constantly look at data to see what interventions have an impact and then make improvements on their services to students. Partnerships are also focused on starting to change systems in the community by changing behavior. This requires achieving policy changes, mobilizing the community, and constant communication. All of this advanced work happens in the Sustaining Gateway of the Theory of Action, where partnerships often have the capacity of 7+ full time employees and a budget of at least $1 Million.
Once again, it is essential to note that partnerships do not have to raise funds for all of this capacity. Investment doesn’t always have to be in the form of dollars. One of the most important assets a community has is its people and the ability to mobilize them to support practices that move outcomes. Whatever form capacity takes, fiscal or in-kind resources, what is most important is that the capacity is built, sustained and mobilized to have the most impact.
The capacity provided by all partners should be reflected in the partnership budget as it allows partnerships to adequately track investments and expenses for the work. Look for my next blog that explains how a true partnership budget is different from an anchor entity budget and why they are so important.
Guest post by Ryan Twiss, Director of The Big Goal Collaborative in Northeast Indiana
Starting in the mid-1990s, Northeast Indiana experienced a slow but steady decline in per capita personal income (PCPI) compared to the nation. We’ve stemmed the tide a bit recently, but as the chart below shows, the average Northeast Indiana resident currently earns roughly 80 cents for every dollar the average American earns. This is unacceptable.
Today, everything that we do in Northeast Indiana to support economic, talent, workforce and community development—including our cradle to career work—is tied to improving PCPI and what the region now calls “the chart.”
In 2012, we used “the chart” as a call to action to demonstrate that we needed to do something transformational to improve educational attainment, which is a top indicator of PCPI. The increase in attainment needed to overcome 20+ years of income decline required the region to improve multiple metrics across the education continuum – from early childhood to high school graduation and beyond. So we engaged StriveTogether to help us develop a cradle to career partnership for the region.
Now, even as we have focused our education attainment work on reaching the Big Goal of 60% credential and degree attainment by 2025, we continue to use PCPI as the driver. I start every presentation with “the chart” and the header, “begin with the end in mind.” A two percent increase in PCPI means more than $2 billion recirculated into our economy, but we can’t get there without making significant gains in educational attainment.
In a couple of cases, PCPI has moved beyond a driver for our work and permeated the day-to-day cradle to career work in the region. Within our Early Childhood Action Team, a group of partners is working with the region’s workforce development system to improve pay structures for early childhood educators. At the other end of the spectrum, our College to Career Action Team is using data to connect students to high wage jobs in the region by refining experiential and academic programs within local colleges and universities.
PCPI has become a compelling statistic to motivate people in the region to take action. In everything we do, we try to begin with the end in mind to impact Northeast Indiana, from cradle to career.
Ryan Twiss is the Director of the Big Goal Collaborative, a Sustaining member of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network aimed at increasing the percentage of Northeast Indiana residents with a degree or credential to 60 percent by 2025. It is anchored by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, a 10-county economic development organization. The mission of the Regional Partnership is to create new business investment by generating business leads, building the regional product, and encouraging collaboration among key stakeholders.
This blog was originally posted by Living Cities as part of a group blogging event which asks, “What will it take to achieve dramatically better results for low-income people faster?” In the coming weeks, Living Cities will showcase a diversity of points of view around this question. Learn more about the event and follow the conversation on social media with #NewUrbanPractice.Communities can come together to model improvement, focus on data and build upon what really works for kids.
Ensuring all children have the opportunity for education success is the cornerstone for a brighter future for all Americans. But for decades, communities have launched various unconnected programs with little impact on overall student achievement. As Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, wrote in his Three Lessons for Transforming Cities blog post, deep and sustainable change will require communities to come together and focus on concrete outcomes, using data to identify and build on what works to achieve results at scale.
To do just that, community partnerships involved in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network are using a data-driven collective impact approach to ensure every child in their communities, regardless of income level, succeeds through education. Instead of immediately launching new programs to improve outcomes, all groups that impact children are working together to identify and scale what really works, then innovating in targeted ways when there are clear disparities. The good news: communities are seeing real results and we are learning a great deal about how to expedite impact along the way:Portland, Oregon
Through disaggregated data, All Hands Raised in Portland, Oregon saw disparities in graduation rates between white students and students of color. Now, organizations throughout the community are challenging themselves to do more and expect more, changing internal policies, investing in effective programs and organizing courageous conversations to discuss the causes of pervasive achievement gaps.
Over the past three years, the graduation gap for students of color has closed from 14.3% to 9.5%. In several large high schools, the gap is gone. Using a similar disciplined approach, partners have worked together to reduce chronic absenteeism as a way to increase early grade reading outcomes, increase student retention from 8th to 9th grade and to improve high school graduation rates long-term.Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Milwaukee Succeeds partnership saw how impactful literacy coaches could be on improving foundational reading skills, a critical component of reading proficiency. With less than 20% of the city’s third graders reading proficiently, Milwaukee Succeeds wanted to multiply that impact by focusing on effective coaching practices for teachers. Through an initiative launched with Milwaukee Public Schools, Northwestern Mutual and other organizations, K-2 teachers in two MPS schools received support for reading from coaches to continuously improve their instructional practices with students.
After just three months of the additional support, many students doubled their reading progress on the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) assessment. And now, the training program has been expanded and will be operating in six schools. If similar results are achieved in year two, coaching support for teachers will likely be expanded further.Dallas, Texas
Through data analysis, The Commit! Partnership in Dallas County, Texas discovered that students’ overall reading scores often correlated with access to a leveled library. It became clear that schools with these libraries had higher reading scores than those without.
With the data, Commit! partnered with a local district to leverage existing resources to provide libraries in all participating schools. The data has already helped improve third-grade literacy. They continue to use data to provide additional literacy instructional supports, including a reading academy to extend professional development for early grade teachers.
We are seeing more and more of these bright spots of student impact every day. And, we are learning how to expedite progress and improvement from these and other committed communities. For example, we now know how important it is to focus on individual organizational improvement to build critical capacity as part of the collaborative work. We have also learned how critical it is to have ongoing access to both programmatic and student outcome data to ensure practitioners have the real-time information needed to pinpoint what led to improvements. Lastly, we know that communities must create incentives and build trust that data will be used for constructive, not punitive purposes.
These stories and lessons learned are evidence that real change can happen and we can all model improvement when communities come together, focus on data and build upon what really works for kids.
Here’s a count down of the top StriveTogether blog posts for 2014. Top posts in 2014 focused on staffing collective impact efforts, communicating effectively, engaging community stakeholders, using data, advancing equity, and sharing action that is moving outcomes for children across the country.
In February 2014, President Barack Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative to address alarming opportunity gaps like the ones above, and to ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. Through this initiative, the Administration is joining with cities and towns, businesses and foundations who are taking steps to connect young people to mentoring, support networks, and the skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way into the middle class.
“I firmly believe that every child deserves the same chances that I had,” President Obama said at his public signing of the Presidential Memorandum on My Brother’s Keeper. “We’re committed to building on what works.”
To drive action throughout the country, President Obama issued the MBK Challenge in September 2014, asking communities to commit to implementing a cradle-to-college-and-career strategy for improving outcomes for all young people. And, the Administration called on StriveTogether to help by sharing our collective impact approach and lessons learned from existing cradle to career partnerships working to bring all community stakeholders together around a common vision to improve education outcomes for children.
Today, the StriveTogether approach was a central focus of a webinar hosted by the White House and the U.S. Department of Education for an initial group of the over 182 mayors and community leaders from 43 states, D.C., and 18 tribal nations that have accepted the MBK Challenge.
During today’s webinar, StriveTogether Managing Director Jeff Edmondson walked participants through the implementation guide for the MBK Challenge, highlighting best practices for community-wide action based on the StriveTogether Theory of Action and the successes of existing cradle to career partnerships. Jeff discussed key principles for developing a sustainable cradle to career approach, critical milestones on the path to systemic change, and the importance of data-driven action. He also shared success stories from StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members, including Milwaukee Succeeds in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, All Hands Raised in Portland, Oregon, and StrivePartnership in Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky.
“We commend the White House and the U.S. Department of Education for their focus on the My Brother’s Keeper initiative,” Jeff said. “It is encouraging to see so many communities across the country committing to the challenge, and taking steps to make sure everyone works together to improve outcomes for all children, from cradle to career.”
Jeff will join additional MBK webinars in the New Year, which will focus on specific action communities can take to improve the core outcomes that MBK Communities have committed to focus on:
- Ensuring all children enter school cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally ready
- Ensuring all children read at grade level by 3rd grade
- Ensuring all youth graduate from high school
- Ensuring all youth complete post-secondary education or training
- Ensuring all youth out of school are employed
- Ensuring all youth remain safe from violent crime
Five of these six core outcomes are linked with the core outcomes StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are working towards improving in their communities.1 Forbes Insights 2 U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey 2007-2011 3 Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University
“Process is the new program.”
Ben Hecht, CEO of Living Cities, made this statement during a collective impact webinar we recently held with Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton. It took some time for the meaning of this insight to settle in, but I have come to believe that it is profound as it aligns with our focus on quality collective impact as a smarter way to address complex social problems.
In essence, effective collective impact prioritizes rigorous process over reactive programs. It’s about a new way of working together to achieve results at scale that forces us to rethink how we work individually and collectively each and every day.
As members of the StriveTogether Network forge new ground in this emerging field, we are starting to see that there are processes at multiple levels that must replace our programmatic perspective on changing outcomes. At the partnership level, we have developed the common methodology in the Theory of Action. But when we get closer to the ground level and start working to impact the services delivered to children, we have come to recognize the importance of continuous improvement – the use of data to get better each and every day. James Surowiecki from the New Yorker perfectly captured the essence of why this concept is so important in a recent article on continuous improvement:
“High performance isn’t, ultimately, about running faster, throwing harder, or leaping farther. It’s about something much simpler: getting better at getting better.”
To perform at the absolute highest levels and achieve highest impact – from athletics to teaching – it comes down to improvement. And in the social sector, where there are so many actors working in so many silos to improve a given outcome, that means we need to figure out how to get better together.
Over the last couple weeks, we have engaged in many conversations on continuous improvement work. I have heard three powerful insights in these discussions that point to how we can create an environment where we can be successful at continuously improving together:
1) “What you do is not rocket science, but it is brain surgery.” – Charles Glover, The Meadows Foundation
While infinitely logical, we need to accept that continuous improvement work is extremely challenging. But instead of getting overwhelmed by the work, we need to identify the technical and adaptive challenges we need to address and overcome them with the determination and attention to detail of a brain surgeon. We can make this happen and practitioners are showing us the way.
In Menomonee Falls, WI, Superintendent Pat Greco has teachers across the district and students using basic continuous improvement processes. How did she do it? She started with a core group of “rock star” teachers. They led the way to demonstrate how this can be done effectively, and other teachers started to come along at the urging of their peers. She essentially created demand for data in an environment where it is most often used as a hammer instead of a scalpel!
2) “I realized our passion for application did not match our passion for discovery.” - Dr. Uma Kotagal, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Dr. Kotagal is one of the foremost continuous improvement leaders in the social sector due to her leadership role in the adoption of related methodologies in healthcare. She currently leads all continuous improvement work at one of the top three children’s hospital’s in the nation, which has adopted the mantra that they want to be the absolute best at getting better.
I asked her about what triggered her to lead this movement, and she told me a frightening story. In the 1970s, a research study came out that showed a primary cause of death for prenatal infants was temperature change after birth. Despite overwhelming evidence, few hospitals actually implemented practices to prevent temperature change after birth. She realized that the social sector was much more interested in research than actually improving based on what it or any data told us. In this case, this “passion for discovery” over application was actually costing lives.
3) “Incentives right now focus on starting something new, not applying something known.” - Colin Groth, StriveTogether
It has become painfully clear that most incentives – financial, recognition or otherwise – reward leaders across the social sector for research and starting new ideas, instead of building on what we know works. This is particularly acute in higher education where faculty tenure is based almost exclusively on publishing and attracting grants. Non-profit executive directors tell us that they continually struggle to attract investments to spread what works. Philanthropic leaders tell us that their boards are often looking for new ideas alone rather than expanding what works. And the communications staff for elected officials says they need a quote on something new – not known – to attract the media. In order to make continuous improvement the norm, the incentives will simply have to reward what works, not the latest, greatest idea or sound bite.
We are excited to be working with a Network of communities looking to figure out how we can take the practice of continuous improvement to scale across communities. It will not be easy. It will take new types of resources and expertise to do this work that is a bit like “brain surgery”. We will need to develop a sincere passion for the application of learning in real-time to improve outcomes, much less save lives. And we will have to create incentives that reward building on what works, not chasing the latest fad. By doing these things we will not only figure out how to get better together, we will consistently improve outcomes at a scale never seen before.
Four new community partnerships have joined the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network!
StriveTogether officially welcomed Higher Expectations from Racine, Wisconsin; Impact Tulsa from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Portland ConnectEd from Portland, Maine; and Yonkers Thrives from Yonkers, New York to the Network this fall.
With these new members, the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network now includes 53 community partnerships from 28 states and Washington, D.C, all working to connect cross-sector leaders around a common vision – improving education outcomes for kids. Together, the Network connects over 8,000 organizations and impacts over 5.5 million students.
As part of the Network, Higher Expectations, Impact Tulsa, Portland ConnectED and Yonkers Thrives have a connection with communities across the country – through online tools and regular events like the 2014 Cradle to Career Network Convening – to share knowledge and learn from successes, failures and insights as each community works to align resources around improving education outcomes. They also have access to resources and tools designed to help communities implement StriveTogether’s Theory of Action, a nationally recognized collective impact approach that helps communities develop and sustain cradle to career partnerships.
To join the Network, Higher Expectations, Impact Tulsa, Portland ConnectED and Yonkers Thrives met an initial set of benchmarks defined by the Theory of Action. To meet these initial “exploring” benchmarks, these partnerships were able to show that they have the critical foundation in place to build and sustain the infrastructure needed to drive change in their communities. They also committed to being accountable for improving a core set of academic outcomes and indicators.
“These quality benchmarks are critical for ensuring a community transforms how they serve children,” said Jennifer Perkins, Director of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network.“ As more communities successfully meet these quality benchmarks, we will collectively progress towards achieving our ultimate goal: supporting the success of every child, cradle to career.”
More about the new Network members:
Higher Expectations | Racine, Wisconsin
Building on the foundation established in 2008 through a county-wide workforce development plan, Higher Expectations connects education, business, government, non- profit and faith-based organizations to create a strong cradle-to-career partnership among its members in Racine County, Wisconsin. The collective impact work of Higher Expectations will strengthen best practices and track progress on key outcomes from early childhood to successful employment. Throughout this work is the unifying theme that children will grow up as assets to their families, schools and communities
Higher Expectations work involves two school districts in Racine County and impacts more than 12,000 students.
Impact Tulsa| Tulsa, Oklahoma
ImpactTulsa is a partnership of local community leaders from education, business, civic, non-profit, philanthropy, and the faith community, including school districts that represent 90% of Tulsa area students, that have come together to address the most pressing needs facing education today by finding long-term, concrete solutions. Together, the partnership is developing a common agenda that will better ensure Tulsa area students will graduate fully prepared for post-secondary education and have the skills and abilities to succeed and meet the needs of today’s workforce.
Impact Tulsa works with 15 school districts, impacting more than 120,000 students. Read our blog about Impact Tulsa’s recent baseline report card release.
Portland ConnectED | Portland, Maine
Portland ConnectED aims to build and sustain a citywide culture dedicated to supporting highly effective education for Portland’s youth, for Portland families, and for the Portland community at large. The partnership coordinates efforts, aligns resources, and harnesses expertise of organizations and leaders throughout the city and the country to prepare our citizens to meet the challenges of the future.
The Portland ConnectED partnership impacts 7,000 students through its work with the local school district.
Yonkers Thrives | Yonkers, NY
The Yonkers Thrives Partnership is an education-focused collaborative comprised of approximately 100 organizations working to build cradle to career civic infrastructure that develops well-educated and well-prepared 21st century workforce to revitalize the Yonkers economy and beyond.
Yonkers Thrives impacts 26,000 students through its local school district.
As a father of four, I am often reminded how a child’s perspective can help point adults in the right direction. I can’t count the number of times my kids have figured out something I simply thought could not be solved. But I have to say that I was surprised by what I learned last week from children about how we can best use data in education. The students in Menomonee Falls School District proved to me, yet again, that children CAN show us the way.
I had the pleasure of visiting schools at every level – elementary, middle, and high school – in this amazing district and I simply could not believe the power of what I experienced. Superintendent Pat Greco, who was a featured speaker at our recent Cradle to Career Network convening in San Diego, has worked with her team of administrators and faculty to figure out how data can indeed be used as a flashlight instead of a hammer. Their work to apply continuous improvement processes across the district is getting international attention, but it is impossible to grasp the power without visiting. Here’s what I saw:
In most classrooms, a data wall like the one pictured above captures several key pieces of information that is updated daily or weekly:
- Starting on the left, you will see “I can” statements (representing district standards) to help students understand and embrace the sequence of what they will be learning.
- In the middle is a classroom-generated mission statement and a concrete performance goal for all students. Below this are the results of quarterly benchmark assessments plotted out for each class (no names) to show the progress they are making toward the class goal.
- And on the right are the 15-day “plan, do, study, act” (PDSA) cycles the class is currently using to meet a specific standard. In simple terms, this means: 1) the class sets a goal; 2) the class reviews the results of mini-assessments that indicate mastery; 3) students give feedback to the teacher (and vice versa) on what is working to achieve mastery; and 4) they all make a plan for how to move forward to achieve their goal.
Every child is engaged in this process of inquiry and improvement. Even kindergarten students highlight what was working for them and the teachers respond based on their experience.
A few insights I took away from my visit to Menomonee Falls:
- Kids love using data to improve individually and collectively! In one classroom, a teacher was very honest about how challenging this methodology was to use initially, but then reflected as to why he now has come around to embrace the work. As he talked about his struggles a student was visibly agitated, worrying he might not indicate that he liked using the process. When asked why, she simply stated, “This work tells me where we are as a class so we can all improve and we get to share what type of teaching works best for us. I like that.”
- It pays to start small to go fast. Rather than roll out the work to everyone, the district started small with a core group of teachers that were willing to be early adopters. These teachers embraced the methodology and not only model how to use it with their peers, but train them on how to make the process a seamless part of what they do every day.
- Transparency creates more engaged learners. A continuous improvement expert on our team noted that the teachers were using what he calls “visual management”. Rather than simply talking about the data, they put it on the walls so everyone can make sense of it and (hopefully) fully own improvement. Behavior challenges are reportedly down and participation of students and parents (empowered by knowing their child’s progress in real-time) is up.
- Continuous improvement enables personalized learning. Menomonee Falls struggles with the same budget issues as any district. One teacher noted that he had a teacher’s aide for a half day each week, but other than that he was on his own. That said, by using data to understand what students are learning in real-time and hearing from students about what is working for them he is able to meet students individually and collectively where they are using a variety of teaching techniques. He is able, in short, to personalize learning in ways he could not before.
In our work with communities, we often struggle with getting adults to really listen to what the data is telling them and change what they do every day. It is clear in Menomonee Falls that children are able to do just that when empowered with the data…and by teachers who work proactively to help them use it.
I am hopeful we can not only listen, but learn from them about how to overcome our fear of data and let it shine a light on the path we need to take to better outcomes. Children can and will show us the way.
Watch a video of Jeff Edmondson and other education and quality experts reflect on Menomonee Falls School District’s continuous improvement approach:
StriveTogether, Living Cities and over a dozen more organizations and cradle to career partnerships recently formed a workgroup to discuss how collective impact efforts can address disparities across different races, classes and cultures. Earlier this year, we shared insights from our ongoing discussions about how to move these often difficult equity conversations forward in communities. Since then we’ve continued to work together through monthly calls and regular in-person meetings. While we’re still learning about the many different ways to advance equity goals through collective impact, we’ve identified a preliminary list of five concrete steps community partnerships can take to reduce local disparities and address issues of equity in education systems and beyond.1. Be mindful of language and how you frame the conversation.
Incorporating equity considerations into collective impact will almost always require courageous conversations among all stakeholders involved. Yet different phrasing can trigger different reactions with different communities or types of partners. For this reason, partnerships need be sensitive to local narratives when framing conversations about equity. Language can very easily lead to charged and unproductive conversations, especially when opening up discussions about race or class. Establishing shared terminology can be an important part of framing these conversations.
One specific tool for effectively framing conversations about equity is the Head, Heart and Hands framework developed by Jarrod Schwartz and Just Communities (which was adapted from a model by Anthony Neal). The framework emphasizes the importance of grappling with issues of equity from both an intellectual space (the head) as well as a personal, emotional space (the heart) before moving to action (the hands). Collective impact partnerships are often very comfortable and skilled with data and theories (the head), but need to be more intentional about taking the time to understand the stories behind the data (the heart). Framing equity conversations so that there is time for both is essential for landing on the best action moving forward.2. Seek outside expertise.
Understanding structural equity often requires some learning. Luckily, plenty of resources, tools and organizations exist that either have this capacity or are able to build it within people. If you are looking to tackle topics such as racial equity, you can tap local expertise to bring in added capacity to your collective impact effort. While your partnership doesn’t need to be the “expert” in equity, the backbone does need to have an explicit equity lens. And while it can understandably feel risky, backbones shouldn’t be afraid to introduce courageous conversations around race, class or culture.
Two examples of partnerships that have engaged local equity experts are All Hands Raised in Portland, which partners with the Coalition of Communities of Color, and THRIVE Santa Barbara, which partners with Just Communities. In both cases, the additional capacity significantly helped advance efforts to address racial inequities.3. Assess community readiness and meet stakeholders where they are.
There’s no cookie cutter approach for explicitly integrating equity into collective impact work. Depending on where the community, the staff or the leadership may be in their understanding of structural equity issues, the steps you take to incorporate an equity lens can look very different. In some communities, the first step is simply be bringing everyone together in the same room. In others, deeper conversations around topics like racial equity might be possible. Regardless of your community’s readiness to address structural inequality, there is always an entry point. In Dallas, two local family foundations recognized that their community needed to build the capacity for conversations around race and racial equity. With this capacity building as a starting point, they’ve since engaged over 250 organizations and 700 individuals wanting to build these skills by offering a series of racial equity workshops for different audiences, including teachers, students and nonprofit leaders.
Community readiness is critical to understand, yet also difficult to assess. Luckily, tools currently exist to help in this process. In Portland, All Hands Raised andCoalition of Communities of Color developed a tool for organizations to identify how their currently policies and practices influence racial equity. This organizational self-assessment tool allows partner organizations to gather baseline information and identify growth opportunities for organizational change to improve outcomes for children of color.
Collecting and sharing data on disparities is one starting point for equity conversations in collective impact partnerships. Partnerships should identify local disparities and use that to guide what disaggregated data is reported. If disparity in the community shows up along sex or class lines, then break down data by those dimensions. Different communities will often see different disparities, which may also vary by indicator or partnership focus. In Seattle, the Road Map Project releases its annual report card disaggregating data by race and class. While they don’t disaggregate each indicator by both race and socio-economic status, they do disaggregate based on the local disparity identified. See examples here and here.
Disaggregated data also serves the critical role of building a shared community narrative on equity. The use of disaggregated data can shape local narratives in several ways, such as by bringing about awareness of local disparities or by countering and replacing commonly held narratives. In some cases, this narrative-shaping will happen only when you unpack the disaggregated data to look for the deeper stories that underlie or counter common narratives. Without this intentionality, disaggregated data can run the risk of reinforcing commonly held narratives. In Santa Barbara, Just Communities was able to use disaggregated data to help shift the local narrative away from blaming parents for student performance and towards the structural causes of racial disparities.5. Equitably include and empower community members.
Collective impact approaches run the risk of reinforcing inequality when they solely consist of institutional stakeholders (i.e., those formally in power). The intentional and equitable inclusion of low-income communities and communities of color in the design and implementation of collective impact efforts is thus one step partnerships can take to advance equity. In the case of cradle to career efforts, the parents and youth who efforts seek to benefit are themselves best equipped to shape those efforts (i.e., they’re the context experts). This inclusion of community expertise should occur at all levels and should occur equitably by creating targeted opportunities around the unique needs of those historically disengaged from civic decision-making.
Of course, the onus of creating the right conditions for authentic and equitable engagement is on the partnership. For example, Just Communities in Santa Barbara ensures Spanish-speaking residents are able to authentically participate in meetings by providing two-way interpretation services instead of only having non-English speakers wear headphone and listen to translations. These efforts helped create meeting spaces without a dominant language.
Collective impact efforts need to be intentional about dismantling structural racial and class inequality in order to truly transform systems into more equitable ones. While certainly not exhaustive, this list outlines some initial ways collective impact partnerships can advance conversations on equity. Systems change requires behavior change at both individual and organizational levels, and the first step in changing behavior is raising awareness and understanding.
We hope these five practical steps are useful in starting the equity conversation in your community, and to making the necessary shift to see systemic change in addressing local race and class disparities.
Most of us remember Charles “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who miraculously landed his plane on the Hudson River in January 2009 after his engine was disabled by a flock of birds.
As flight control attempted to provide assistance, Sully disabled communications and simply said, “It’s my plane – I’m going to land it.” As a result of his courage and focus, he saved the lives of every person on board his plane.
This story popped into my head as I reflected on my experiences last week at the 2014 Facing Race conference in Dallas, and the conversations we regularly have with communities as they address racial inequality in their local education systems. Just as Sully had the courage to take control of his plane, we all must be committed to having the courage to focus on fighting inequality and help pilot our communities in the right direction.
As an African-American person of color, I was thrilled to join over 1,000 of my peers from around the country at the Facing Race conference and to learn how to greater incorporate race and equity conversations into my work with cradle to career partnerships. I took away some key lessons to share with others who have the courage to battle inequality:
1) Equity is not just an education issue, it’s an economic one.
As an African-American male, I have experienced first-hand the devastating effects of institutionalized racism. I have also experienced the transformative power of an education, and how access to a high-quality education can help people of color overcome our history of institutional racism.
However, I believe that approaching equity from an educational perspective that “we need more high-performing students of color” misses the bigger picture. It is not only important to support students of color with access to the knowledge and resources of a high-quality education to become productive citizens of society. Our failure to do this also has global implications for our country.
Were you aware that China recently graduated more high school seniors with the equivalent of a perfect score on the SAT than the total number of American high school graduates?
Let that statistic sink in for a moment.
It is clear, that if America wants to continue to compete globally, we need to provide every student with the opportunity to learn and succeed academically. If we do not, our ability to create/innovate the world’s greatest products, tools and processes will be vastly outpaced by other countries.
2) We need to understand the power of language.
It is no surprise to many of us that language carries an immense amount of power. It has the power to bring people together as well as tear people apart.
One workshop I attended at the Facing Race conference focused on how, in relation to race, language is particularly important for individuals as well as communities. For example, some have found it appropriate to label undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens,” or to veil low-income, African-Americans as “the urban poor.” These labels are especially harmful when they are followed by generalizations, such as “if only the urban poor worked harder” or “got a job.”
In order to use language as a tool to build, it is important to first seek to understand, and then to be understood. What are the causes of urban poverty? Could there be factors outside of an individual’s current situation that have contributed to it? Often times, asking these questions provide a path to a solution, as opposed to making an assumption or providing a blanket solution as a result of your own personal experience or opinions.
3) If we want to turn the tide, we need all hands on deck.
For many of my non-black/brown friends, the subject of race can be very difficult. After all, you didn’t “own any slaves” nor have you been “explicitly racist.” However, our ability to overcome our history of institutionalized racism and its present-day implications (note: racism still exists) is the responsibility of not just people of color, but every person who believes in justice.
As I again reflect on the story of pilot Sullenberger, my belief is confirmed that everyone can be a pilot for change in their community, and each of us need embrace a deep-seated commitment to equity if we are to be a part of the solution.
“I don’t care what you do – make coffee, create widgets, work in education – it’s about serving people who need us. That’s what it’s really about.”
During a visit with the StriveTogether team yesterday, former president of Starbucks Coffee Company North America and Starbucks Coffee International Howard Behar told us he realized this the minute he joined the company in 1989. Howard’s leadership helped establish the company’s “people before profits” culture, and build the Starbucks brand worldwide. “It’s not about the Coffee” is now the title of his leadership book, and a key message in his regular speaking engagements on organizational and personal leadership.
In advance of Howard’s visit, the StriveTogether team prepared a few questions to ask him (and grabbed a Starbucks coffee, of course). We were prepared to pick his brain on leadership methods and take away some lessons to build upon in our work with communities.
However, we found out right away that Howard wanted to talk about our country’s education system. He also had a few questions prepared for the StriveTogether team. “Every single day, somewhere, there’s an article about education,” Howard said. “Somewhat naively, I thought, ‘How hard can it be to have a child ready to read at third grade?’”
To help answer his question, he started getting involved in his home state of Washington. Howard talked to superintendents, teachers, parents and students. He asked them, what does it take to make sure all third graders are proficient? And what is keeping us from getting this done? While they all had similar answers to these questions, it was clear to Howard was that this work is not simple or easy.
Continuing his exploration, Howard wanted to hear what the StriveTogether team thought based on experience working with communities trying to change their education systems to improve outcomes for every child. A few key insights emerged from the discussion:
- This is not an education problem. It is a challenge of leadership and management.
- Partners must come together around a common goal and be accountable for results.
- If we want to change the system, we need to engage the people who represent all children we are trying to help.
- Results cannot be achieved without building and maintaining trust between all partners.
- Data should be used as a roadmap for how to improve, not a way to place blame.
For Howard, it was not all about the coffee. It is all about taking care of people, and caring enough to listen to what they have to say and ask how they feel. Whether you’re working to change education systems in your community, or growing a major multinational corporation, this message is a great reminder for all of us. We can go nowhere without taking care of each other.
“If it smells bad, can’t we just throw it out?”
Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, a well-known civil rights activist since the 1960s, asked this question about racial inequality to more than 1,600 people gathered in Dallas last week for the Facing Race 2014 Race Forward conference.
We all know racial inequality metaphorically smells bad. Most of us recognize the smell, but how often do we ask someone else if they smell it, too? What would happen if we turned to our neighbors, educators, or leaders and simply asked them if they noticed something that didn’t smell quite right? And what if we decided, like we do when the milk goes sour, to just throw it out?
If only it were that easy.
As StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are actively exploring the critical role of equity in improving student education outcomes, our team was excited to attend Facing Race last week and participate in a forum to learn and share experiences. It was an honor to join seasoned professionals and emerging organizers with a passion for racial justice to discuss solutions for inequality. I was struck by the wide net cast in support of racial equity – women, men, white, black, Latino, Asian, indigenous, LGBTQ were all represented.
As a white person, this was my first opportunity to engage in discussions around systemic and institutionalized racism using a lens colored with privilege I’ve rarely thought much about. It required me to lean in to discomfort and address realities that sometimes feel easier to ignore.
Dr. Reagon’s question about throwing out racial inequality continues to stick with me. If only eliminating racial inequality was as easy as tossing it out with yesterday’s garbage. At the most basic level, this makes complete sense. When our food begins to rot or we smell something acrid, we identify it and figure out how to make it stop.
It will take time, commitment and dedicated action to begin to break down structural barriers and systems that perpetuate the racial inequity problem. During the Facing Race conference, the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) shared a frame for addressing structural racism using a systems thinking approach. As StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members work toward eliminating local education disparities in their communities by changing systems, this model felt particularly poignant.
The systems thinking approach requires a deep dive into the multifaceted layers that make up our institutions, systems and communities. When a racial injustice is identified, using a systems frame requires that we determine the systemic cause by exploring existing patterns, underlying structures, conscious or unconscious biases and core cultural or institutional values. To truly throw out racial inequality, we must understand and challenge the most fundamental beliefs and behaviors that keep our systems in place.
At Facing Race, Jaime-Jin Lewis of Border Crossers said that we should “call people in, not call people out.” That’s what systems change work requires – the ability to bring together people from all walks of life, with different backgrounds, experiences and expertise, to effectively facilitate discussions rooted in equity. As communities grapple with racial inequalities in education, it can feel comfortable to address gaps solely through disaggregating data; this is indeed an important first step. For sustainable systems change, the next more difficult step is to call people to the table in authentic and engaging conversations. We have to have the courage to ask each other – if we smell something that doesn’t sit quite right, can we just throw it out?