As hundreds of leaders and practitioners across sectors arrive in Phoenix for Be the Change: Getting Results for Every Child, StriveTogether’s 2017 Cradle to Career Network Convening, we are proud to announce the designation of the Commit Partnership in Dallas County, Texas, as our second Proof Point community, a recognition that outcomes are improving as a result of transformed systems. This is a major milestone on the path to better and more equitable opportunities and outcomes for every child, cradle to career.
Across Dallas County, most cradle-to-career outcomes are improving, and there are communitywide examples of transformative — and sustainable! — change because of better coordinated actions taken by individuals and institutions across sectors in service of a shared vision for student success. Commit is leading change efforts across the cradle-to-career continuum and seeing results. Here are some examples:
Mobilizing partners around a shared result: Commit has brought together over 100 partners through Best in Class, a communitywide initiative to attract, prepare, recruit and retain effective and diverse teachers and school leaders. This effort began with TeachDFW, a teacher recruitment campaign for Dallas students. Best in Class now has leaders and practitioners across systems involved — including educators, deans, HR directors, school districts, foundations and businesses.
“Until TeachDFW, there was a lack of coherent collaboration among schools of education,” said Dr. John Gasko, dean of the School of Education at the University of North Texas. He describes the shift as creating “positive turbulence in the region with more providers elevating their gaze from ‘my institution’ to seeing this as ‘our work.’ What Commit has done has catapulted traditional and high-quality alternative providers on a different trajectory.”
School districts are playing their part by reviewing data to make decisions and surveying teachers to inform Best in Class’s strategies. In one case, Dallas Independent School District piloted a program to relocate highly rated teachers and principals to turn around schools — a strategy that already has been replicated in a neighboring school district.
To better understand how to attract students of color and low-income students into the teaching profession, partners asked students for input. Based on ideas from Latino students (the teacher demographic most needed currently), the university created a teacher superhero anime character as the mascot for the Emerging Teacher Institute Bilingual/ESL Teacher Program.
Building a culture of data-driven decision-making: Commit has enabled school districts and nonprofits to strengthen the data infrastructure to regularly collect, access and use student-level data to inform practices. After participating in StriveTogether’s Postsecondary Enrollment Impact and Improvement Network, Commit facilitated a local Impact and Improvement Network with three school districts and two nonprofit service providers to increase Federal Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rates using disaggregated data, continuous improvement skills and peer-to-peer learning. Participating campuses helped 63 percent of seniors (1,686 students) complete the FAFSA, up from 48 percent the prior year.
Now, school leaders widely use the continuous improvement process. “Instead of throwing stuff against the wall like spaghetti and hoping it sticks, I’ve become a better advisor and advocate for student success,” said Holly Moore, college advisor at South Grand Prairie High School.
To strengthen a culture of data use across nonprofit partners, Commit created D3, the Data-Driven Decision-Making Institute. The nine-month data training helped nonprofit practitioners learn how to use student-level data — to ask the right questions about data and not be afraid of data. Now, nonprofit partners can access some data directly from school districts to inform their practices.
Aligning actions, resources and structures to get results: Commit galvanizes 13 school districts, family-serving nonprofits, investors and the business community around common early learning strategies through Early Matters Dallas. Its pre-k enrollment campaign has significantly contributed to 5,800 additional students enrolling in pre-k over the last three years, representing the largest urban county growth in the state of Texas in that timeframe.
“We’ve increased the number of kids who’ve benefited from quality pre-k, which is a huge testament to what Dallas County as a whole has been able to galvanize people who normally wouldn’t talk together to work together,” said Derek Little, assistant superintendent of Early Childhood at Dallas Independent School District.
The campaign includes a common early learning registration week, a bilingual texting platform for family engagement and widespread dissemination of pre-k registration information through partners including faith leaders, WIC offices, pediatricians and city water bills. Even though districts and partners have encountered turnover and leadership transitions, strategies have been integrated directly into partners’ work — becoming part of how they function as opposed to something “extra” done because of being connected to Commit!
Local and state policies have changed to support this shared vision — including a $30 million budget reallocation by the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees to mandate quality pre-k for all 3- and 4-year-olds and state policy changes to enable community colleges to offer bachelor of arts degrees in early childhood education.
“Using this one piece of data — that kids who attend pre-k are twice as likely to be ready on the first day of kindergarten, that those kids are three times more likely to read by third grade and four times more likely to graduate high school — it’s become part of the dialogue. People understand that,” said Dustin Marshall, Dallas ISD School Board trustee.
Being designated as Proof Point is a major milestone — but it’s not the end of the road. Commit is working toward a 2030 goal to have 60 percent of adults earning a postsecondary credential. Critical strategies are underway to accelerate outcomes and eliminate educational disparities as systems continue to change. We congratulate Commit on this important step in its journey to transform Dallas County for every child, cradle to career.