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Success by Design, Not by Chance: Building Capability to Achieve Results at Scale

Mon, 2016-05-23 13:08

Building Capability

While facilitating a planning session with a group of communities  as part of the Corridors of College Success Initiative, Luzelma Canales of the RGV Focus partnership in Rio Grande Valley made a profound summary statement that captured the heart of their work:

“We see what we do as making sure success – graduating from college – happens by design, not by chance.”

I had to sit with that insight for a bit. Success by design. What would that look like? What does that mean? We know a few things about how to get there – access to data, community ownership, building and sustaining the civic infrastructure that allows for truly personalized learning. But none of this can happen without building the capability of community leaders to drive real change.

Much has been made of the big data movement. As we noted in a recent piece, access to data and analytics is critical, but it is not enough to change how individuals, institutions, and systems operate to support the right pathways for all students to reach their full academic and social potential.

Evidence-based decision making is not sufficient to get to “success by design.”   To achieve improvement at scale and create better and more equitable systems, we need a host of partners across sectors working in alignment to meet the unique needs of a child. This can and does happen for a few lucky children. But if we want to reach “every child, cradle to career,” we have to strengthen the connections and partnerships across a community in smarter ways to anticipate needs and respond accordingly, continuously improving and implementing strategies that intentionally accelerate outcomes and narrow disparities.

How can we begin to work together to achieve better results?  We have much to learn from the health care sector and specifically the Institute for Healthcare Improvement on how they work with teams to cure diseases. They know how to turn data into actionable information to make better decisions. And they realized that in order to use this data, people require something much more purposeful and intentionally designed than traditional professional development: people need experiential learning and coaching, grounded in real work that can help them to build the necessary skills to get better results.

For the last 3 years, we have been working to build the capability of leaders across sectors to build and sustain the civic infrastructure required to improve community level outcomes through our Theory of Action. Building on that strong foundation, our big bet at StriveTogether over the next three years is to strengthen the capability of leaders across sectors at all levels to work together to use data to inform actions to change systems to get better results at scale. That will be the heart of all our work with the Cradle to Career Network. We have a learning framework to help develop a common understanding of the capabilities that must be cultivated in leaders working to create better and more equitable systems for every child.

Together, we’re building the muscles needed so every child in every community can achieve success by design, not by chance.


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The Power of Preschool

Thu, 2016-05-19 21:00

Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman

High-quality preschool has the power to changes lives, and provides a critical foundation for student success. That’s why when civic and business leaders in Montgomery County, Ohio learned that fewer than two out of five children entering kindergarten were truly ready, they decided to invest in increasing the number of children attending high-quality preschool in their area.

Championing the cause was Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman, who saw the impact of high-quality preschool first hand for her own children. Relying on national data as well as local research into the long-lasting benefits of high-quality preschool, she and others are hard at work expanding a pilot program in Kettering, Ohio to parts of Dayton, Ohio, with hopes to bring universal preschool to the whole of Montgomery County within 10 years, increasing the number of children enrolled from 600 to 2,250.

You can read more about Lieberman’s work in StriveTogether’s latest #ImpactAgent story, a campaign that aims to celebrate people and organizations who have changed the way they do business every day, based on data, to improve the lives of students from cradle to career.


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Network in the News: Summer Learning, Employment, Graduation

Thu, 2016-05-19 10:15

Student at Computer

Summer’s nearly here, and with it StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are rallying around summer learning opportunities, high school graduation, and everything that comes after.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.


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Not Your Typical Professional Development

Wed, 2016-05-18 20:12

Results-Based Leadership

Aligning partners across sectors and changing individual and institutional behavior is hard work. “Giving the work back” was the theme of one of StriveTogether’s recent convenings, Results Based Leadership: Building Capability for Local Leaders, the first of two capability-building convenings this year involving 28 cross-sector leaders from seven StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network partnerships: Achieve Brown County in Brown County, WI; Thrive Chicago in Chicago, IL; Marin Promise in Marin County, CA; Success of All Youth in Oak Park/River Forest, IL; Promise Partnership of Salt Lake in Salt Lake City, UT; Impact Tulsa in Tulsa, OK; and the Westbrook Children’s Project in Westbrook, ME.

What does it mean to give the work back? Rather than a professional development opportunity spent listening to long lectures and watching endless PowerPoint Presentations, the capability-building convening was an experiential learning opportunity in which participants themselves took on the work of identifying solutions to the big challenges they face in their work. After a day and a half of small group activities focused on addressing the adaptive challenges each have encountered as they work to improve outcomes and eliminate disparities, participants left feeling empowered and eager to apply what they learned to accelerate their work back home.

Four ways collective impact leaders can help communities move from talk to action:

  1. Keeping results at the center enables collective impact partnerships to identify which partners and sectors need to be involved to improve an outcome at scale. Partnerships often focus on the involvement of a handful of partners at the table rather than taking a holistic approach to consider all community voices and resources to improve a particular cradle to career outcome.
  2. Achieving better results at scale requires aligned action across individuals, organizations, and systems. To change systems from cradle to career, partnerships need to support leaders across sectors in working together to produce measurable improvements.
  3. Reflecting on how formative experiences shape your own approach to equity and inclusion reveals critical insights that inform how community partners can work together to take action to address the root causes of disparities. While partners need not agree on the reasons why inequities persist to work effectively together, uncovering your own perspectives and being able to recognize your own assumptions and biases can have major implications for what actions partnerships take.
  4. Understanding the story behind the curve – uncovering the root causes of current conditions and trend lines – is a critical precursor to identifying and refining strategies to improve outcomes. In the social sector, we often quickly move from identifying a problem to jumping to solutions. Diagnose the right problem first before taking steps to identify the diverse set of strategies that will have the reach, scale, and impact to achieve the ambitious results you seek.

By the end of this summer, almost half of the partnerships in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network will have had exposure to the foundational skills and competencies of Results Based Leadership. We’ve already seen some great progress, and we can’t wait to see even more accelerated impact on improving outcomes and eliminating disparities!


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Network in the News: cooperation and collective impact

Wed, 2016-04-27 14:25

RGV Focus

What do collective impact, cross-sector cooperation, and making a difference in the lives of children have in common? Well, a whole lot. And they’re just a few of the reasons StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are making headlines.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.


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How Might We Get More Students to Class?

Wed, 2016-04-27 09:14

San Antonio Kids Attend to Win

In education, challenges are complex, often chronic, and sometimes seem insurmountable. But what if we tackled these challenges with a “How Might We” approach?

As IDEO’s CEO, Tim Brown, explains in his blog, The Secret Phrase that Sparks Creative Solutions:

“How assumes that solutions exist and provides the creative confidence needed to identify and solve for unmet needs.

Might says that we can put ideas out there that might work or might not—either way, we’ll learn something useful.

We signals that we’re going to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas to find creative solutions together.”

Over the next 12 months, five communities across the U.S. will ask “How might we decrease chronic absenteeism in our school districts?” They’re part of StriveTogether’s second Impact and Improvement Network, which will focus on improving academic outcomes along the Kindergarten to 12th grade continuum. And they will work together to understand the causes of chronic absence in their schools and to develop and test interventions to reduce the number of days students miss.

Fast FactsLearning + Action in the K-12 Impact and Improvement Network

Participants in StriveTogether’s Impact and Improvement Networks receive professional development in continuous improvement, equity, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Results-Based Leadership. This Impact & Improvement Network, however, will also incorporate aspects of design thinking (also known as human-centered design) to enable communities to better understand the needs of those they serve and involve students and families in the design of creative interventions. “How Might We” is one of many design thinking techniques used to spur innovative solutions.

The training is not conducted in a vacuum. Research indicates – and intuition confirms – that adult learning is most effective when it is applicable and connected to one’s day-to-day work. And at StriveTogether, we have a bias towards actions that are connected to the result you aim to achieve. That’s why the Impact and Improvement Networks pair learning with action.

Each community team has selected a K-12 outcome to apply their learnings towards. San Antonio, Texas (P16 Plus) and Waterbury, Conn. (Bridge to Success) will focus on early grade reading while Albuquerque, N.M. (Mission: Graduate), Austin, Texas (E3 Alliance), and Thornton, Colo. (Adams County Youth Initiative) will hone in on high school graduation. All five communities will work to improve a common factor that contributes to academic success – attendance at school.

Why Attendance?

Attendance is a predictive indicator, which means it is an early signal to educators if a student is at-risk of falling behind. Research shows that missing as few as 2 days of school per month– for any reason – negatively impacts a student’s academic performance. The five communities in the K-12 Impact & Improvement Network have identified chronic absenteeism as a priority and key driver of student success, particularly for certain subsets of their student population (e.g., special education, low income, Pre-K, grade 12, Native American, or African American students).

In addition, attendance is an advantageous data point for this kind of national learning network. It is a common metric collected across states, which allows communities to share what they’ve learned and tackle challenges together regardless of geography. More importantly, however, attendance data is available regularly. Schools collect it daily, and it is available for analysis weekly. This allows for “rapid-cycle continuous improvement.” Because you get fresh data often, you can try out an intervention – what we call a small test of change – and see, within a week or two, if that strategy had an impact. You then decide if you want to adopt, adapt, or abandon that strategy depending on its effectiveness.

About the K-12 Impact and Improvement Network

The K-12 Impact and Improvement Network launches this week and runs through September 2017.

We are excited to partner with Attendance Works, who will serve as a content expert and coach for our communities, and with Design Impact, who is our thought partner on the integration of design thinking strategies into our continuous improvement process. This work is made possible by the Lumina Foundation.


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Network in the News: funding, FAFSA, and school designs

Thu, 2016-04-07 20:14

FAFSA applications are due soon.

Partnerships are broadening their horizons while retaining their focus on the essentials.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.


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Partnerships and Public Policy

Wed, 2016-04-06 13:51

Mission Graduate

Guest post by Heba Atwa-Kramer, Director of Community Impact at United Way of Central New Mexico, backbone organization for StriveTogether Cradle to Career partnership Mission: Graduate.

Our board recently challenged us to consider ways we could use public policy engagement to support our investment in the community and programmatic work. The timing of this request and the StriveTogether Policy & Advocacy 101 training was perfect. I was able to gain valuable knowledge and skills to help me respond to our Board’s challenge. United Way of Central New Mexico (UWCNM) intends to engage in public policy to support and protect our grant making and programmatic work, like our cradle to career education initiative, Mission: Graduate.

This year we are launching three multi-year grants that will fund projects that work to implement three of Mission: Graduate’s collaborative strategies: summer learning loss, reduction in chronic absences, and adult transitions to college. As a first step toward advocacy, UWCNM and Mission: Graduate recently partnered with the City of Albuquerque, the Early Childhood Accountability Partnership, and  the University of New Mexico Center for Education Policy Research to provide an opportunity for our donors, volunteers, community members, and lawmakers to learn about summer learning initiatives in our community. The event focused on the findings of the Utah State University five-year study on New Mexico’s K-3 Plus program, a program that seeks to reduce summer learning by providing qualifying students an additional 25 school days during the summer.

Educational events like this will be the flagship public policy offerings of UWCNM as we explore our capacity for further advocacy. We hope to use our access to research and the lived experiences of our agency partners and their consumers to provide valuable policy-related information to our donors, volunteers, lawmakers, and community members.

We are in the early stages of public policy engagement but as we deepen that engagement, the training’s effective mix of technical and legal information, coupled with capacity-building materials, will serve as a valuable resource. I have used the knowledge I gained at the training to facilitate the foundational process work, while keeping in mind the elements that will help drive our work forward in a meaningful and thoughtful manner. I will use both the technical information and capacity-building resources as we move from the planning phase into action and advocacy. I strongly encourage organizations seeking to increase their understanding of public policy, and their capacity for public policy-related work, to consider attending a future training.

Heba Atwa-KramerHeba Atwa-Kramer is the Director of Community Impact at United Way of Central New Mexico (UWCNM). She is part of the team that thinks about how to maximize the impact of UWCNM investments in her community, and staffs the organization’s complementary public policy work. In this role, Heba has the opportunity to spend every day working to improve the health, education, and financial stability of central New Mexico.


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Making the Case for Advocacy

Mon, 2016-03-28 01:09

Network partners gather to talk about advocacy.

Advocacy can be a scary word. We don’t want to appear to take sides or lose our neutrality. But advocacy doesn’t have to be scary and I am willing to go so far as to say that advocacy is what cradle to career partnerships do every single day.

What is advocacy?

A participant at the recent StriveTogether Policy and Advocacy Convening defined advocacy as “bringing community voice to decision-makers.” Bolder Advocacy, an organization that works to advance and protect the role of nonprofits in influencing public policy, takes it further and defines advocacy as, “any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.”

And if the image they provide to illustrate advocacy to non-profits is any indication, this is work we’re already doing: items in green can always be undertaken by partnerships, those in yellow we may do with limitations, and those in red we may never do.

Bolder Advocacy

I am sure many of you can think of a time when a decision was made – be it about funding, testing, data access, or some other thing that greatly impacted your work – where you were not part of the decision-making process.  Even when we aren’t at the table, we have to live with and sort through the consequences of these decisions. This can stall our work – in some cases it prevents us from doing our work altogether.

If we are not advocating and using our collective voice to shape decisions, then our pathway to changing systems will be much longer and much harder. Stand For Your Mission, a campaign that promotes board and trustee advocacy, suggests that “successful advocacy does not require stepping into the quagmire of partisan politics. It simply means using our voices as committed and informed champions for our missions.”  And don’t our missions deserve that?  Don’t our students deserve someone to advocate on their behalf?

So, now what?

Your leadership table is full of influential actors whose voice will be crucial in advocacy efforts, and it’s important to get them on board. Facilitating an open and honest conversation about the partnership’s mission, goals, and future is a great place to start.  Stand For Your Mission provides a helpful guide to having this initial advocacy conversation and a few tips for non-profit leaders and funders. It is important to understand what issues the partnership will be taking a stance on, who will be the voice, and what the collective message will be.

Advocacy and be tricky, especially in a partnership that has multiple individual and organizational agendas on the table, but it is doable – and it is worth it.


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Bueller, Bueller? Taking Attendance is More Than a Formality

Thu, 2016-03-24 10:39

Dr. Carol Harle is an #ImpactAgent for chronic absenteeism.

For students and teachers, taking attendance might seem like a pointless formality.

But the power of those attendance numbers to change the outcome for students is huge.

Students who miss more than 10 percent of regular school days are considered chronically absent, and teachers are often aware of which students are on track to be chronically absent within the first few weeks of the school year. Research shows an overwhelming correlation between attendance and school performance, so when the administration in Harlandale Independent School District (HISD) in San Antonio, Texas, with the guidance of community partners and P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County, wanted to improve third grade reading results, they saw a way to use regular attendance data to do just that.

Their work, and their incredible results – more than 2,300 students have shown improvement, and 44 percent of those who were once chronically absent are no longer chronically absent – is the focus of the first in a series of stories exploring how organizations who have changed the way they do business every day, based on data, are improving the lives of students from cradle to career. Each of these stories highlights the work of one individual who is on the ground, making it happen, championing data and advocating for students: an #ImpactAgent for change.

For students and their families in San Antonio, Texas, that #ImpactAgent is Dr. Carol Harle, Harlandale’s Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. From creating attendance committees, assisting school leadership in crafting a plan to address chronic absence that fits with their school culture, and creating a new position within the district focused on data, Dr. Harle has made tackling this issue in a new way a priority. And it’s paid off, big time.

For more of Dr. Harle and Harlandale’s story, read the first #ImpactAgent story, and learn how possible it is to change student outcomes, one school day at a time.


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Network in the News: graduation rates, SXSWedu, workforce training and more

Tue, 2016-03-22 13:45

Bridge to Success joins partners to donate books to local students.

Recent reports and studies by Network partners, as well as many local events to benefit students and communities, have gained traction in the media in recent weeks.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.


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Don’t Be Afraid to Advocate

Wed, 2016-03-16 00:00

Generation Next encourages cradle to career partnerships to embrace policy and advocacy.

Guest post by Victor Cedeño, Director of Networks and Education Policy with Generation Next, a Cradle to Career partnership in Minnesota.

Being a part of the StriveTogether network is exciting because there is a widely held belief that we must do anything necessary to improve outcomes for kids. Eager to have a conversation about how education policy can play a role, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the StriveTogether Policy and Advocacy training.

The training demystified the world of advocacy and lobbying. We learned the differences between the two and strategies to prepare and be effective in pushing for policy solutions. Yet the most valuable component of the conference was being able to discuss the common fears that partnerships across the country share regarding the world of policy and advocacy.

The strength of collective impact lies in the broad coalitions we are able to bring together and maintain. We cut across the traditional battle lines in the education world, bringing together districts, unions, businesses, foundations and other institutions for the sake of improvement for all students. These coalitions can be powerful, but also fragile. There is a fear that entering the world of law and policy making will bring out the traditional fissures and fracture the partnership.

But there is a path forward, and I would argue that unless we are willing to enter into conversation around policies, we will fall short of the improvements we seek. Partnerships are perfectly equipped to do this work because we’re on the ground, and we have the backing of data and evidence. We’re good at taking our time, being patient, and educating key audiences. When we engage in advocacy and lobbying, we have the power to gain powerful alliances.

At Generation Next, we are currently exploring and prioritizing policy issues based on our work and the work our partners are doing on the ground. Where we have found opportunities for advocacy:

  • We’ve been working on increasing the number of students screened at age 3 and have discovered that our state lacks a centralized database on who has been screened by either a school or a health clinic. That means that some families may be receiving the same type of screening twice. Furthermore, without a centralized database we cannot identify where there is duplication and where the community should focus extra resources.
  • In partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools and Saint Paul Public Schools, Generation Next has been working on identifying students before they are off-track to graduate in four years. We started a pilot to gather this data at a few local high schools, but this is the type of system change that is needed at the district level. Policy makers could encourage other districts to do the same and provide resources to intervene at the first sign of risk.
  • As for data, there is an opportunity to ensure all transcripts are digitized and easily transferable between districts. There is also a need for a common kindergarten readiness assessment, as without state guidance each district is free to choose a different one.

There is a comfort in being part of a collective action effort: funders are not going at it alone, superintendents feel like they have support, and businesses finally have a role in contributing to education. However, part of that comfort also comes from the fact that we have focused on incremental improvements and not necessarily radical policy changes. We must continue to focus on improvement through practice but do away with the fear of policy solutions for the sake of the change we seek on behalf of all kids and our communities.

Victor CedenoVictor Cedeño is the Director of Networks and Education Policy with Generation Next, a Cradle to Career partnership in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Victor serves as the primary staff for identifying education policy innovations locally and across the country, and ensures these innovations are core parts of Generation Next strategies. He is also tasked with ensuring that Generation Next networks are supported, aligned, and working strategically to find and identify the most effective solutions to meet the coalition’s five key goals to close the achievement gap.


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Data Dashboard Keeps Users, Student Outcomes at the Center of the Conversation

Tue, 2016-03-15 10:34

Annual Indicator Dashboard from Road Map Project

When it came time for the Community Center for Education Results (CCER), the backbone organization supporting The Road Map Project in South Seattle and South King County, to release its annual report on Indicators of Student Success, they decided to try something new. In addition to a shorter, 17-page 2015 annual report – in 2014, it was 45 pages long – CCER staff wanted to give the communities they serve a fresh perspective on the region’s education results.

“We wanted something user-friendly,” says CCER Communications Manager Kristin Johnson-Waggoner about the new Annual Indicator Dashboard, which grew out of a desire to make data more accessible to the community. “Something that could be used to help influence decisions and allow people to really understand student outcomes. The dashboard is a breakthrough for the project.”

CCER didn’t need to completely reinvent the wheel to push their data out there in a new way, either. They were one of 15 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members selected to participate in a new data analytics fellowship program with Tableau Foundation, and were given free training on the Tableau data software as part of their participation in the program. The data team at CCER – Mridula Polina, Trevor Thomas, Alessandra Pollock and Shelby Cooley – had been building automated processes for most of their indicator reporting. The timing of the fellowship, which began months before the 2015 Results Report debut, was ideal and they were able use their existing dataset to underpin the dashboard.

The Road Map Project tracks 40 indicators and the need for actionable, relevant and local data across the seven-district region is huge. While the annual results report focused on regional and district-level data, the dashboard allows users to filter down to individual schools. The community can examine progress toward the project’s 2020 goal and examine trends over time for student subgroups within Road Map schools for dozens of indictors: honors course-taking, discipline, direct enrollment in postsecondary, college completion, and more.

“There’s a connection to the school you went to, the school your kids go to,” says Cooley. “People want to know what’s happening there.”

Johnson-Waggoner is also excited at the prospect of the continual reporting that’s made possible by an online dashboard. CCER can make updates in real time, rather than “keep those who are trying to make change waiting.”

The Annual Indicator Dashboard was rolled out in early February at a 200-person meeting of the Road Map Project’s Education Results Network, a group of cross-sector stakeholders. The CCER team is interested in learning how the dashboard is explored and shared, and working with the community to determine how it can be improved. Ultimately, it is their hope that the dashboard will be used as a tool to inform conversations, both formal and informal, and as a way to explore and contribute to the critical work of the cradle to career partnership.

“We want people to become informed, to be motivated, to be advocates,” says Johnson-Waggoner.

And with the wealth of data available from the Annual Indicator Dashboard at their fingertips, that’s a real possibility.


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Sustaining Leadership Engagement: It’s All in How You Set Up the Room

Wed, 2016-03-09 13:55

Leaders in the Board Room

Picture yourself walking into the room where a collective impact partnership meeting is about to take place.  The room should not look like every other Board or committee meeting you’ve ever attended. Instead, it should feel like you are walking into a stadium where you have the score board clearly marked displaying the partnership’s critical metrics:

  • Trend lines and targets for the key metrics you are reporting to the community. You should know exactly where you stand on the measures you are focused on addressing – such as kindergarten readiness or college enrollment – against the targets you have set collectively..
  • Data on specific local practices that you have found actually improve the outcomes you care about, as well as any data on practices that don’t work. Data on the impact of practices would ideally  include how practitioners – operating independently or in Networks – have outlined their plans to make improvements based on the data and the timeline on which they will test revised interventions.
  • The resources available – time, talent, and most definitely treasure – that could be mobilized to support the improvement projects to move the outcomes.  Seeing the resources available and that can be deployed against impactful practices can help leaders see the invaluable advocacy role they can play as a part of the partnership.

Dan Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of Portland’s All Hands Raised, calls these “hustle metrics” – and making sure you put all this data in front of leaders on a regular basis is essential for helping them see how they can move the most critical metrics of all:  your annual student outcome data.  In fact, simply setting up the room this way whenever you engage leaders is a concrete way to answer two of the most frequently asked questions I get from Cradle to Career Network members: :

  • What is the long-term value the work of the cradle to career partnership team provides a community?
  • How do I keep leadership actively engaged in this systems level work?

If the meeting room was always designed in this way, community partners would come to understand there is no better place to go for the data they need to inform their decisions about how to take action to improve outcomes for children in their communities.  Simultaneously, the community partners will understand their role: helping to continuously evaluate and identify what works and advocate for resources to support their constant improvement.

I challenge you to rethink your next leadership meeting. Try setting up the room in this way. Give your partners time on their own to digest the information, and then invite them to find ways that they can commit – and be held accountable – for using the data to inform their organizational work and their work as a collective.


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Network in the News: Leaders in Education, Grants Awarded, and Literacy

Thu, 2016-03-03 16:08

Students in Austin, TX.

Network members closed out February with some big announcements and a number of enriching community events.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.


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7 Tools for Advancing Equity in Education

Mon, 2016-02-29 11:30

Equity vs. Equality

The racial, ethnic and socio-economic divide that exists between white students and most students of color raises questions about the quality of life for so many people and, as Jared Bernstein recently pointed out, the future economic gains are at stake for all. In education collective impact work across the country, we’re seeing communities shift their focus from designing interventions aimed at under-performing students to designing interventions aimed at the root causes of educational achievement gaps. This expanded focus, to address educational disparities at their origin, is the work of advancing equity in education. Given the multifaceted and deeply engrained history of the educational achievement gap, finding ways to address disparities and create a more equitable path forward is often unclear and cannot be done by any one group, organization or person. For those willing and ready to start the conversation and take action to advance equity, the publicly available tools listed below can help deepen your understanding, frame conversations effectively and develop equitable strategies that fit local context and extend across all social sectors.

  1. Equity is not Equality - Document courtesy of Interaction Institute for Social Change - Use this slide to start conversations on equity. Have individuals come up with a label or description for the picture and then have them discuss how this applies to our work.
  2. The Four Voices of Collective Impact - Document courtesy of CoCreative Consulting - This tool outlines four voices needed in collective impact initiatives; Expertise, Experience, Design and Intent. Use it to ensure you have all the right voices at the table.
  3. Assessing Your Organization’s Readiness and Capacity to Move a Racial Justice Agenda - Document courtesy of Western States Center - This assessment is designed to identify potential barriers to taking on a racial justice focus. It outlines the preparatory work that may be needed to effectively engage in and sustain racial justice work.
  4. Racial Equity Impact Assessment - Document courtesy of RaceForward - A Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) is a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision. This includes sample questions to anticipate, assess, and prevent adverse consequences of proposed actions on different racial groups.
  5. How Can we Create an Inclusive and Equitable Planning Process? - Document courtesy of Racial Equity Tools - This tip sheet focuses on inclusivity in four issues: processes, practices, decision-making, and accountability. These tips apply to a wide variety of group formations and processes, including coalitions, collaborations, system interaction, dialogue processes, etc.
  6. The Business Case for Equity - Resources courtesy of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance - My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBKA) generates and distributes innovative tools and resources to support change in local communities that will ultimately improve the lives of boys and young men of color (BYMOC). Information available here will help business leadership develop a complete understanding on issues BYMOC face, recommended ways to approach the community and how diversifying talent can positively impact the corporation itself.
  7. Community Collaboration for School Innovation Toolkit - Made possible by the Colorado Department of Learning, The Learning Accelerator and The Colorado Education Initiative - The driving principle behind the Community Collaboration for School Innovation toolkit is that over time, community engagement has become a one-way mechanism for districts to push out information about initiatives and programs into the local community. This toolkit provides a process for school districts to understand who needs to be engaged, how to engage them and how to develop a clear understanding of what the community expects from their school district. The processes outlined will help facilitate effective conversations with multiple perspectives to align initiatives and efforts.



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Moving from Talk to Action with Results-Based Conversations

Tue, 2016-02-23 10:14

When conversations focus on results, real work happens.

In August of 2015, StriveTogether, in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, launched the StriveTogether Leadership Program. This nine-month program is an in-depth training for the six cradle to career partnerships participating in StriveTogether’s Accelerator Fund in Annie E. Casey’s Results Based Leadership, a practice that has changed social outcomes for communities across the nation. This blog from Kirstin Yeado, Community Impact Manager with Higher Expectations in Racine, Wisconsin, and is one of several reflections from participants in the program.

Meetings without a particular result or focus are simply work avoidance.

This, among many other takeaways, has influenced Higher Expectations’ approach in taking on the complex challenges that so many communities face. Working toward eradicating racial disparities in education and opportunity in Racine, Wisconsin, Higher Expectations has recently joined five other StriveTogether Network communities in the StriveTogether Leadership Program. When we know that 88 percent of white students entered school “ready to learn to read” in the Fall of 2015, but only 71 percent of African-American students and 68 percent of Hispanic/Latino students, we know, too, that this is a challenge that requires a commitment to results.

At a recent site visit, we were given the opportunity to be truly results-focused, using the visit to spearhead a conversation with community leaders who would be willing to commit their time, talent and resources to solving the challenge of racial disparities. But what would be on the agenda? What’s the result we want to achieve? And what would the “ask” of our participants be? Using lessons in results-based facilitation learned from StriveTogether and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we developed a results-based agenda that used a particular outcome – kindergarten readiness – as the focus of our conversation. By keeping the conversation focused on this particular challenge, we created a clear path to action.

Our meeting was attended by several community leaders, including leadership from the school district, county, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and the local NAACP.

  • Our conversation started with a data walk. Before you can begin to tackle the challenge of inequity, you must know what the data tells you.
  • We then spent time as a group uncovering the story behind the data. What does the data tell us about the state of well-being for children in Racine? As we reviewed the data, we saw a clear pattern of disparities that started in kindergarten and continued through post-secondary experiences between African-American and white students. We also noticed a growing Latino population in our community.
  • Next, we spent time exploring the mental models that guide the thoughts and actions of our community each and every day. Like most communities, we know there are mental models around who is “responsible” for these outcomes. Understanding these models is critical to ensuring we develop solutions that disrupt or align with our beliefs about root causes.
  • Finally, we made action commitments. What can we as community leaders do to continue have tough conversations and, ultimately, move the needle when it comes to kindergarten readiness?

During our time together, we agreed to further explore the implicit racial bias that affects so many communities and how it impacts the way we approach solutions to racial inequity. We also will be doing a deeper investigation into kindergarten readiness “bright spots” where outcomes are strong for all students and racial disparities are minimized, and investigate key aspects that make these schools, programs or classrooms successful.

Though our conversation in January was brief, it was a necessary step for our community. Using the lens of kindergarten readiness results, we engaged our community in an important discussion and developed next steps around a challenge that often leaves people feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start. Though we know the journey ahead is long and full of challenge, it’s a journey our community must take if we wish to eliminate racial disparities.

Kirstin YeadoKirstin Yeado serves as the Community Impact Manager for Higher Expectations in Racine County, Wisconsin, a StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Sustaining member. Higher Expectations launched in 2014 with the bold vision of creating a fully capable and employed Racine County workforce. Yeado is an experienced social sector professional who has provided technical assistance to communities building partnerships through the Federal Promise Neighborhoods and Building Neighborhood Capacity (BNCP) programs.



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The Thrill of Collective Impact

Mon, 2016-02-22 10:39

Lenawee leaders in action.

Guest post by Stan Masters, Data Steward for the Lenawee Cradle to Career Partnership in Adrian, Michigan.

It’s a roller-coaster ride when you are serving your community to improve educational outcomes. You don’t know what’s around the next corner: It could be a sweeping curve, a deep descent, or a complete 360-degree loop. But that is what is exciting when you get to share these experiences with others at a StriveTogether Exploring Communities Convening, which I recently had the opportunity to do.

Lenawee Cradle to Career Partnership had the opportunity to attend StriveTogether’s Exploring Communities Convening in 2014. In this convening, you have opportunities to listen and share with leaders in communities who have been trying to orientate themselves around a common agenda. Guest speakers encourage you to dare to do something special for your students along their pathways to success. As the Data Manager for Lenawee Cradle to Career, I was able to connect with others who have the same responsibilities in breakout sessions and networking meetings to build my expertise. As my team debriefed on each day’s events, we were able to put together various pieces that helped to define our action plans and timelines.Collective impact in action.

While your community is unique because of its climate and culture, there is a uniform track that we all follow in this work: the elements of collective impact. For me, the graphic of the arrows moving from “program-rich” to “systems-rich” has become my call to action. When I climb the hills of continuous communication or dig deep into shared measurement systems, I know that I am experiencing the thrill of this responsible work in tandem with other communities.

An Exploring Communities Convening is just what you need as you look for examples of mutually reinforcing activities around cradle to career outcomes of kindergarten readiness, third grade reading, middle grade math, high school graduation, and post-secondary enrollment/completion. With the support of our backbone support organizations and over 50 partners in just two short years, the Lenawee Cradle to Career Partnership is beginning to raise its hands together to celebrate our successes.

Join the excitement and fun at this year’s Exploring Communities Convening in Chicago on March 22 – 23. Learn to appreciate the wind in your face, the somersaults in your stomach, and the applause that awaits you at the end of your journey. Then get back on the coaster and ride it again! Move to the front and witness a new perspective for youth, families, and stakeholders in your community.

Stan MastersStan Masters serves as the Data Steward for the Lenawee Cradle to Career Partnership in Adrian, Michigan. He is employed as the Coordinator of Instructional Data services for the Lenawee Intermediate School District, the county’s regional education agency. Just one year after attending the StriveTogether Exploring Communities Convening, Lenawee Cradle to Career Partnership met the necessary community milestones to join the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network as an Emerging member.

View our Storify wrap up of the 2015 StriveTogether Exploring Communities Convening.


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Network in the News: ELL, FAFSA, Graduation Rates and More

Fri, 2016-02-19 09:09

Big Goal Collaborative works to offer free FAFSA assistance to families.

StriveTogether Cradle to Career Partnerships are in the news this week sharing incredible graduation rates, annual report cards, stories of FAFSA assistance and more.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.


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Opportunities for Collective Impact in ESSA: Part Three

Thu, 2016-02-18 11:06

The programs authorized under ESSA provide a great deal of potential for collective impact.

There’s a lot of potential in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for communities interested in collective impact. I’ve already explored opportunities for states to develop their own accountability systems and how data can be used more effectively to improve outcomes for students. In this final installment of the series, I’m looking ahead to the federal grant programs that were reauthorized and embraced under ESSA:

These competitive federal grant programs support the overall goal of building cradle to career civic infrastructure and achieving collective impact. Full-Service Community Schools and 21st Century Community Learning Centersare fully embraced under ESSA as a way to make sure resources are at students’ fingertips, not dispersed randomly throughout a community. We have seen cradle to career partnerships help identify the most high-impact programs and services to partner with schools under these programs, and the support of ESSA will only see that impact grow. Communities will now be able to use Title One dollars for key roles and supports, such as school-based resource coordinators who serve the critical role of connecting students to the resources they need the most.

And with the authorization of Promise Neighborhoods under ESSA, StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network communities working arm-in-arm with Promise Neighborhoods in the most high-needs communities will be able to better test data utilization to personalize learning. While they were already doing this work, the potential for such alignment was only increased with ESSA’s passage.

Opportunities in all three areas – accountability systems, data use, and competitive grant programs – will become much clearer when the DOE releases regulations, but until then, it is never too late to engage your elected officials and agencies at the state level to let them know the knowledge and expertise you bring to the table to achieve better results at scale.


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