In 2015, StriveTogether began working intensively with partners from six communities to build their leadership capability to achieve results. And less than three years later, all six of those communities have now shown sustainable systemic change across the four pillars of the Theory of Action. In addition, these six partnerships have all shown trending improvement across StriveTogether’s cradle to career outcomes.
We have compiled a few lessons along with examples from some leading-edge partnerships:
Shared Community Vision: Often in social change work, individuals understand a big idea (e.g., improving education) but continue to row in different directions toward differentiated north stars. Though the unit of change in our work is students, adult behavior, practice, and policy change are the most vital levers.
Higher Expectations (Racine County, WI) and its partners have aligned their work around a fully capable and employed Racine County workforce in policy and practice. United Way of Racine County (UWRC) aligns all funding decisions to this vision, and Racine Unified School District (RUSD) launched its “North Star,” a vision of “all students graduating prepared for college and/or career.” Recognition from Ford Next Generation Learning highlights RUSD in collaboration with Higher Expectations’ efforts to develop a collaborative structure that supports community engagement in schools. Higher Expectations also has engaged more than 91 employers in the Academies of Racine, which provides students with opportunities to gain skills needed for a 21st century workforce.
Evidence-based Decision Making: Using data to better understand the root causes most impacting a student’s success leads to better investments and alignment of resources.
Seeding Success (Memphis/Shelby County, TN) is the lead data expert in Shelby County, supporting a centralized database of real-time student-level data used by 25 partner organizations. For instance, Emmanuel Center’s summer literacy program recognized that regular attendance was critical for students to avoid losing skills over the summer. By using the Seeding Success database of student-level data, the program was able to customize supports for students which led to better outcomes, like one student who improved two reading levels over a seven-week period.
Collaborative Action: Once adults (leaders, practitioners, teachers, etc.) know what factors really underlie student success they have to act. Data must be used to improve regularly – not just analyzed and admired once a year – by leaders and practitioners serving students and families.
With support from All Hands Raised (Portland/Multnomah County, OR), Franklin High School began receiving real-time updates with student-level completion data for federal college student aid applications. Franklin High School counselors developed universal strategies to increase the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completions, such as designating the month of December to FAFSA in the schools’ economic classes. They were also able to analyze data to determine how to differentiate support for students. They identified African-American and Hispanic students who were college bound but wouldn’t be able to pay for it. They provided different interventions and targeted specific students to help them complete FAFSA. The result was more than an 18 percent increase in FAFSA completion county-wide over a two-year period.
Investment and Sustainability: Obtaining better and more equitable outcomes for students isn’t the sole responsibility of schools. It requires the alignment of resources and policies that can sustain and scale what works for kids.
Commit Partnership (Dallas County, TX) created an advisory board of cross-sector leaders to resource community-aligned strategies through Early Matters Dallas, which raised more than $4 million to invest in Dallas Independent School District’s (ISD) early childhood data infrastructure that was matched with a public investment by the school district. Commit also supported the passage of a Dallas ISD policy change to mandate the district serve all 3- and 4-year-olds in quality pre-k by 2025, which represents a $30 million budget reallocation by the School Board.
As part of an ambitious new strategic plan, the network has committed to raising the bar again and building on our approach to “quality collective impact.” The next, more integrated phase in our trajectory demands that StriveTogether manage more complexity, more innovation and more growth.
You can get involved by joining the national movement in creating real change for our children, our communities and our country.