With the implementation of the new ESSA law, cradle-to-career partnership new opportunities to support the law’s implementation in their community and in their state.

New Data, New Opportunities

by Anne Olson on September 28, 2016

Too often, policy can seem inaccessible to the people in charge of, or affected by, its implementation. That’s why, in part, the StriveTogether network has identified four different roles cradle-to-career partnerships can play in policy:

  • Data expert
  • Partner Convener
  • Community Mobilizer
  • Advocate

Connecting each of these concepts is one major role: liaison.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the importance of being a community liaison as communities learn about the flexibilities and potential opportunities under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Lillian Pace, Senior Director of National Policy at KnowledgeWorks, and I facilitated a workshop at the 2016 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Convening, Rise Up: Education Excellence for Every Child, in Memphis, Tennessee, last week. The event explored ways that StriveTogether partnerships can best help communities accelerate the achievement of results from cradle to career. The room was filled with representatives from across the country, all with similar priorities—understanding the new ESSA law, exploring the implications for their partnership, and finding opportunities their partnership can take to support the new law’s implementation in their community and in their state.

We presented an overview of the law, focusing specifically on accountability measures and the new data states will collect to determine how schools are performing. (For action items that cradle-to-career partnerships can take to support ESSA implementation, read our one-pager.) The new ways in which a state is required to report on school success gives parents, advocates, and community stakeholders access to data they may have never had before, and StriveTogether partnerships are in a unique position to help them interpret that data with the right partners to continuously improve efforts to improve child outcomes in their communities.

To get a taste of what this might look like, workshop participants reviewed a draft of the California proposed school accountability report card, considered how their communities might react if this was the required report card for their school, and shared ideas about how states and districts can be more thoughtful in presenting data to the community. There was agreement that focusing on growth and proficiency is a positive step for states, as California anticipates doing. The multi-dimensional focus gives credence to schools that are continuously improving—both high and low performing schools.

Which brings me to the liaison piece. Participants talked about how they can help interpret data for parents and community members, finding bright spots and helping establish next steps and strategies for growth in communities. They discussed the nuances of picking particular measurement indicators, such as parent engagement, and focused on how they might be able to help shape the conversation to focus on what’s appropriate for their community.

Finally, participants discussed what ESSA can mean for their stakeholders, including how they want to measure success, how they’d like to give feedback to their state departments of education during this visioning and application process, and developing tools for local partners to understand data once it has been reported upon.

Partnerships can play a key role in bridging the gap between policy and implementation, and ESSA is no exception. Being a liaison and convener to help partners understand the new law will help create an even more robust system of continuous improvement and change, strengthening the communities where partnerships reside.

As your community looks at the new ESSA law and explores implications and opportunities of the new law’s implementation in your community and state, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the way data is presented in the California proposed school accountability report card work for your community? What do you think about the new areas of focus being shared?
  • What can you do to help interpret data for parents and community members? What kinds of tools, training, or materials would help parents and advocates use this data to find stronger opportunities for all students?
  • What does ESSA mean for your stakeholders? How will ESSA impact your work?
  • How do you want to measure education success in your community and how can you share that feedback with your state department of education?


At the final morning in Memphis, Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York, invited the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network convening attendees to stand for the gatherings they had attended as she cycled through the locations of the last seven years. Once everyone was on their feet, she announced, “Welcome to the Network!”

The feeling of community was carried over into the morning’s speakers, whose stories of impact ranged from Learn to Earn Dayton’s push for kindergarten readiness to Graduate! Tacoma’s work to improve high school graduation rates. Everyone was invited to see their own impact in making big changes from the smallest step forward.

“The data did the work,” says Ginger Walker of P16Plus, who shared, along with executive director of the partnership Judy McCormick, the impact of making one small test of change at a single campus.

“From teachers to lunchroom staff, everyone was talking about FAFSA completion,” Walker says, highlighting the challenge of college enrollment and persistence among the majority minority population in San Antonio, TX. A FAFSA team was gathered monthly to look at data and make changes in real-time to ensure more students were getting the supports they needed. Government and Economics faculty were incentivized to encourage and give time for FAFSA completion during the school day, and pep rallies were held to rally students around the importance of submitting their FAFSAs. In just one year, they saw an increase of 10 percent, and the program is taking off – 7 campuses will be employing the same methods this coming year.

In Tacoma, WA, they’re seeing tremendous gains, as well. High school graduation rates were estimated at 55 percent in 2010, and have risen steadily over the last five years to 82.6 percent in 2015 – above the state average even among schools whose students aren’t majority economically disadvantaged, which theirs are. Amanda Scott Thomas, Director of Community Partnership, Academic Equity and Achievement at Tacoma Public Schools, insists their successes are due to shared ownership in defining a clear goal.

After digging into the data, the way ahead was clear in Dayton, OH, too. Ritika Kurup, Director of Early Learning with Learn to Earn Dayton, explained how upon seeing the correlation between high school graduation rates and kindergarten readiness, the community mobilized around summer learning efforts. After disaggregating summer reading program data, the disparities were clear. Learn to Earn Dayton shared their findings with local libraries, who took the initiative to change their practices to better support the children most in need. A new library card was introduced, one that didn’t require a parent signature and didn’t accrue late fines. A book drive was also organized to provide books where children need them most: in the home. In 2012, the drive’s first year, 8,000 books were distributed. This year? 80,000. Students with the greatest need received a book a week for 10 weeks.

“It was all about getting the right programming for the right kids,” says Kurup.

And while every partnership had details to share about how their communities achieved such incredible results, Graduate! Tacoma’s Executive Director, Eric Wilson, insists there’s “no silver bullet.”

“It’s not just one thing, it’s 50 things,” says Wilson. Each community is different, but many communities share similar challenges, making annual convenings all the more valuable for learning and networking opportunities. For, as Zimpher pointed out, they’re an opportunity to reaffirm the value of collective impact work and to “hold hands and work together.”



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In 2013, the data revolution was going full steam ahead in K-12 education, but it was going in the wrong direction. Everything was focused on using data for evaluative purposes and placing blame instead of using data as a resource to help drive improvement. The collective impact movement, when implemented with rigor and discipline in […]

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Adriane Johnson-Williams, founding facilitator for the Seeding Success partnership in Memphis, TN, is exploring what it looks like to truly do the work of collaborative action. Through stories of challenging conversations and genuine relationship building, she shares her experiences working to change behaviors and practices in pursuit of better and more equitable outcomes at scale. […]

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StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are building a sense of community around back to school, civil relationships, and election issues. The Education Coalition of Macon County co-hosted a back-to-school breakfast to kick off the new school year on “a note of cooperation and community.” They were also a part of a newly renewed data sharing […]

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