Even in the most troubled neighborhoods and communities—those disrupted by poverty, poor health, violence and other ills—there are usually far more services available for children and youth than is readily apparent. Public agencies, non-profit organizations, charities, and volunteer groups all try hard to do their part to help kids grow up healthy and safe, and successfully gain the education they need to escape the grip of poverty. But, in most places, each of these service providers—the local school, the after school program, the free clinic, the Head Start program, the housing assistance organization, the counseling service and so on—work in isolation. And though each may be diligent and caring, and be held accountable by their funders or elected officials for meeting ambitious goals, they can only deal with part of the challenges that disadvantaged children and their families face.
So, what would it take to get all of these providers to both coordinate their efforts around a single goal and agree to measure their progress in meeting it? In a new Education Sector paper released this week, my co-authors and I identify four elements that must be present if this community-wide effort is to work:
- An overarching vision of student success
- Objectives, metrics, and performance targets aligned with the vision for each of the participating entities as well as the collaborative as a whole
- A system for collecting, analyzing, and communicating student outcomes data, as well as information on the partners’ organizational performance
- Strong, sustained civic leadership, supported by an intermediary organization dedicated to making the community’s vision a reality
When we went looking for a community trying to put all of these elements in place, we ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Strive Partnership of Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky has been operating for several years and is producing impressive gains in kindergarten readiness, vaccination rates, attendance, graduation rates and other metrics. But make no mistake: This is hard work. It poses technical, operational, political, and financial challenges. Such systems require engaging multiple players in decisions about priorities, resource allocation, performance measures, responsibilities, and consequences for participating organizations if performance lags. This is a new way of doing business, one that conceptualizes schooling as part of a community-wide effort to ensure that the children of today become the community leaders of tomorrow. As the cliché says, it takes a village to raise a child. But it takes more than isolated kindnesses and good works. It takes a purposeful, determined effort by people and organizations that agree to hold themselves accountable for success.