Five years ago, StriveTogether embarked on a journey to measurably improve education for every child by bringing rigor and alignment to how people in different sectors work together.
At a time when many were claiming to drive collective action and collective impact, we engaged the most advanced community partnerships in the Cradle to Career Network to establish a methodical and collaborative process, using data to figure out what’s working and what isn’t. That led to the creation of the StriveTogether Theory of Action, which outlines major checkpoints in a cradle-to-career partnership’s development.
Our local partnerships set a bold goal, raising the bar for what they wanted to achieve as their north star: improvement in 60 percent of benchmark indicators across the cradle-to-career continuum and tangible examples of how systems have changed because of actions taken by partners throughout the community. This became the definition of “proof point” and a critical milestone toward which Cradle to Career Network members aspire.
Today, I’m proud to share that the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network has achieved the short-term target and bold goal of achieving five proof point communities by 2018 (eight months ahead of schedule!). Five communities in the Network have consistently improved educational outcomes for kids in every part of the educational pipeline — from infancy to adulthood — and have changed systems in formidable ways to advance better and more equitable outcomes going forward. Three of the communities also are closing racial disparities.
Tacoma (Graduate Tacoma) is the fifth community to join Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (StrivePartnership), Dallas County (The Commit Partnership), Portland/Multnomah County (All Hands Raised) and Racine County (Higher Expectations for Racine County) in reaching this milestone. To effect positive change in education, it takes an entire community, a willingness to change old behaviors and reliable data. Leaders and practitioners in each community have demonstrated dedication, persistence and perseverance as their work has evolved over time.
The five communities reached this goal through the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund, which combines a results-based leadership program called Results Count™ with strategic assistance and financial support. We launched the Accelerator Fund three years ago to build the capability of leaders in communities, provide some financial support in high-leverage areas of work and share practices across the cohort to drive better outcomes across the entire Network. It’s exciting to see this impact from the Accelerator Fund — that our approach to pairing intensive capability building and financial support has expedited partnership progress in powerful ways.
The impact the communities have seen over the last few years is inspiring. Here are just a few examples:
- Generating $15 million in revenue to make quality preschool available and affordable for every 3- and 4-year-old in Cincinnati.
- Enrolling 5,800 additional students in pre-k over the last three years. Local and state policies have changed to support this shared vision, including a $30 million budget reallocation by the Dallas Independent School District Board to expand quality pre-k for 3- and 4-year-olds.
- Increasing countywide completions for federal college student aid applications by 18 percentage points over two years through a variety of strategies. These effective practices are now spreading to all high schools in Multnomah County.
- Decreasing unemployment rates between the city of Racine and the state of Wisconsin, leading to the smallest gap in the last 25 years.
- Increasing public high school graduation rates to 86.1 percent from 55 percent since 2010 after a USA Today article labeled Tacoma schools “dropout factories.”
Our national evaluation from Equal Measure showed us that the Theory of Action is proving to be a valid roadmap for how cradle-to-career partnerships develop and is emerging as more of a framework than a theory. Our approach is a flexible framework that yields real, lasting results in a variety of communities, with a tailored approach that must be led by the community at all levels. And now these tangible results from five communities in different regions across the country show the power of the StriveTogether approach and the dedicated work of leaders and practitioners across sectors to get better results for children and families.
Ultimately, this work is about changing the culture of how systems work so that every child reaches his or her full potential. These five communities have taken a big step forward, but in some ways, the next phase of their work has only just begun. Together with the Network, StriveTogether has developed a bold new strategic plan focused on raising the bar once again to help communities drive toward broader economic mobility outcomes. We want to take this moment to celebrate, but so much more needs to be done to improve education and economic mobility for every child. It’s our obligation as Americans to provide every child with the opportunity to succeed in life through a quality education.We look forward to learning from and sharing stories of how these and other communities across the Cradle to Career Network use local data to find and solve problems, dismantle obstacles to opportunity, advance race equity and inclusion, and drive practice and policy shifts across systems to ensure the success of every child and youth from cradle to career.