Communities can come together to model improvement, focus on data and build upon what really works for kids.

Living Cities is open sourcing our 2014 annual report, asking folks to respond to the question: “What will it take to achieve dramatically better results for low-income people faster?” This blog is a response to that question. Stay Tuned for the Annual Report microsite - coming soon! And follow the conversation on social media with #NewUrbanPractice.

Ensuring all children have the opportunity for education success is the cornerstone for a brighter future for all Americans. But for decades, communities have launched various unconnected programs with little impact on overall student achievement. As Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, wrote in his Three Lessons for Transforming Cities blog post, deep and sustainable change will require communities to come together and focus on concrete outcomes, using data to identify and build on what works to achieve results at scale.

To do just that, community partnerships involved in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network are using a data-driven collective impact approach to ensure every child in their communities, regardless of income level, succeeds through education. Instead of immediately launching new programs to improve outcomes, all groups that impact children are working together to identify and scale what really works, then innovating in targeted ways when there are clear disparities. The good news: communities are seeing real results and we are learning a great deal about how to expedite impact along the way:

Portland, Oregon

Through disaggregated data, All Hands Raised in Portland, Oregon saw disparities in graduation rates between white students and students of color. Now, organizations throughout the community are challenging themselves to do more and expect more, changing internal policies, investing in effective programs and organizing courageous conversations to discuss the causes of pervasive achievement gaps.

Graduation Gap

9% The current graduation gap for students of color in Portland, Oregon, down from 14.3% three years prior.

Over the past three years, the graduation gap for students of color has closed from 14.3% to 9.5%. In several large high schools, the gap is gone. Using a similar disciplined approach, partners have worked together to reduce chronic absenteeism as a way to increase early grade reading outcomes, increase student retention from 8th to 9th grade and to improve high school graduation rates long-term.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Milwaukee Succeeds partnership saw how impactful literacy coaches could be on improving foundational reading skills, a critical component of reading proficiency. With less than 20% of the city’s third graders reading proficiently, Milwaukee Succeeds wanted to multiply that impact by focusing on effective coaching practices for teachers. Through an initiative launched with Milwaukee Public Schools, Northwestern Mutual and other organizations, K-2 teachers in two MPS schools received support for reading from coaches to continuously improve their instructional practices with students.

After just three months of the additional support, many students doubled their reading progress on the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) assessment. And now, the training program has been expanded and will be operating in six schools. If similar results are achieved in year two, coaching support for teachers will likely be expanded further.

Dallas, Texas

Through data analysis, the Commit! Partnership in Dallas County, Texas discovered that students’ overall reading scores often correlated with access to a leveled library. It became clear that schools with these libraries had higher reading scores than those without.

With the data, Commit! partnered with a local district to leverage existing resources to provide libraries in all participating schools. The data has already helped improve third-grade literacy. They continue to use data to provide additional literacy instructional supports, including a reading academy to extend professional development for early grade teachers.

We are seeing more and more of these bright spots of student impact every day. And, we are learning how to expedite progress and improvement from these and other committed communities. For example, we now know how important it is to focus on individual organizational improvement to build critical capacity as part of the collaborative work. We have also learned how critical it is to have ongoing access to both programmatic and student outcome data to ensure practitioners have the real-time information needed to pinpoint what led to improvements. Lastly, we know that communities must create incentives and build trust that data will be used for constructive, not punitive purposes.

These stories and lessons learned are evidence that real change can happen and we can all model improvement when communities come together, focus on data and build upon what really works for kids.

This #ThrowbackThursday post originally appeared on January 7, 2015.

Image Source: Flickr user comedy_nose by Creative Commons.