Team Education: These Funders Want to Push Collective Impact to the Next Level

Too much K-12 education philanthropy involves funders writing huge checks for initiatives that over-promise and, more often than not, under-deliver. One problem is that many of these initiatives don't connect the dots between the broad range of factorsinside school systems, but also in the communitythat shape educational outcomes.  

A group of funders has said “Enough!” and joined forces for an approach to education funding that aims for collective impact and sustainable results. This new approach is known as the Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund, a multi-year investment fund that's pooled $15 million to help communities reach their goals for education improvement. The fund is operated by the StriveTogether network, a national alliance of more than 60 community partnerships in 31 states and the District of Columbia. StriveTogether is a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks.

The funders supporting the new Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Target Foundation, KnowledgeWorks, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. All have pledged support for this new fund, and StriveTogether hopes this new funding pool will strive for collective impact rather than just creating new programs.

It's an interesting group, and a reminder of the diversity of ed funders out there. While big reform funders like Walton, Gates, Broad, and Arnold so often grab the spotlight, ed philanthropy is a big universe. And, unless we're imagining things, we're seeing more concerted efforts to reduce the dominance of a handful of ed reform funders over the debate on how to boost student achievement.

The growing attention to "collective impact" is one sign of that pushback. While reform funders tend to focus narrowly on improving education with school-level strategies, a collective impact approach aims to broaden the approach, looking at the many stakeholders in a community that need to be engaged if students are to succeed. StriveTogether talks about this in terms of creating a "civic infrastructure that unites stakeholders around shared goals, measures and results in education."

One the best examples of this strategy, which we've covered at IP, is Say Yes to Education, the ed group that's working in several New York cities to improve education by pulling every lever availablefrom improving the quality of instruction in schools to addressing the socio-economic challenges facing poor families. As we noted last year, the Wallace Foundation is currently funding a big study of this approach, and results should be out later this year. 


The funders supporting the Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund are no strangers to education projects or to collective impact. Casey published a working paper last year about how organizations can lay the groundwork for collective impact. Casey's education framework requires a collective impact approach, as the funder's interest in education is part of a larger goal of helping underserved children and families. Schusterman aims for education impact in such areas as high school dropout rates and college completion, both at the national level and in its home base of Tulsa, OK. Meanwhile, the accelerator fund seems perfectly aligned to the funding interests of Draper Richards Kaplan, which was started by two venture capitalists who sought to bring a V.C. approach to philanthropy, working with new initiatives and organizations.

Related: This Venture Funder Likes to Get In Early

The Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund may be a new funding stream, but StriveTogether emphasizes that it will fund work that has an established record of success. The first cradle to career community began in 2006 in urban school systems in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, when the Strive Partnership united local leaders in school districts, higher education, business, and the nonprofit sector to improve K-12 education. To achieve success, the partnership agreed on a set of goals and measurable outcomes, including kindergarten readiness, fourth grade reading, middle school math achievement, high school graduation, and college completion. Data plays an important role in the StriveTogether approach, with partners analyzing and sharing data to monitor progress toward meeting goals. Out of 53 measurable indicators of success, the partnership in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky demonstrated improvements in 34 of them.

This new investment fund will not only support a framework for sustainable education improvements, but also support the development of new tools, resources and training to drive sustainable improvements nationwide. Through the new Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund, StriveTogether hopes for five communities to achieve what it calls “Proof Point” status by 2018. Proof Point status means sustainable change and continuous improvement across 60 percent of cradle to career outcomes, such as kindergarten readiness, elementary reading, secondary math, high school graduation, and college enrollment.

StriveTogether will select participating communities through an open application process in May 2015, with work tailored to the chosen communities slated to begin the following month.