Back in April, we wrote about StriveTogether and its efforts to bring collective impact funding to education reform. Recently, through the Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund, StriveTogether pooled $15 million to help communities work on educational improvement.
The Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund is designed to speed up the process of bringing in multiple stakeholders to address education, while building a new and improved civic framework for the future of education and career readiness.
This 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, a social enterprise based in Cincinnati, Ohio, focused on creating sustainable improvement in student preparedness for college and the workplace.
As we said in April:
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."
Recently, it announced the first six communities to receive support from its $15 million investment fund designed to accelerate education-focused collective impact. Looking at the grantees is helpful to get a sense of what the fund is all about and where future grants may go.
After a competitive application process among the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, the organization chose the following communities:
All Hands Raised (Portland, Oregon): This organization is an outgrowth of the Portland Schools Foundation, which started almost two decades ago as a collaborative of private and public sector leaders and parents who wanted to do more for education, and since 1994 they have distributed about $10 million to community education efforts. This group also runs programs throughout the community including Ninth Grade Counts, a network of more than twenty independent summer transition programs targeting at-risk students.
Commit! Dallas (Dallas County, Texas): This partnership works on a broad number of initiatives. As part of an initiative to improve 8th grade math skills, the partnership supported the opening of two new single-gender, open-enrollment middle schools in 2012. The partnership is also working on building on successful models for kindergarten readiness and helping struggling schools in Dallas County with making improvements.
Graduate Tacoma (Tacoma, Washington): Boosting graduation rates is the primary goal of this organization, serving the sprawling Tacoma, Washington school district. Among its many initiatives, this partnership gives out teacher impact grants to individual teachers ($500), groups of teachers ($1,000), and of whole schools ($2,000), to pursue objectives that improve educational outcomes.
Higher Expectations (Racine, Wisconsin): This program was created by the Racine County Workforce Development Board in 2008, when it embraced the creation of a workforce development strategy with the vision of full employment by the year 2020. Educational, private, public, non-profit, and faith-based organizations have come together under this umbrella in Racine to provide multi-year support for education and workforce development.
Seeding Success (Memphis, Tennessee): This organization brings together diverse stakeholders to work on the mission of school and career readiness. One of its partners, the Metropolitan Inner Faith Association, offers a program called COOL (College Offers Opportunities for Life) which provides ACT prep workshops, college tours, one-on-one counseling, FAFSA assistance, and other resources needed to make the transition to college.
Strive Partnership (Cincinnati, Ohio, and Northern Kentucky): Among its many efforts, this program mobilizes volunteer tutors for the schools in the areas covered, and supporting the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, an initiative to ensure that every child attend a quality preschool, either public or private.
Each of these communities is setting local goals and working within their own contexts, but they are all united by common benchmarks for educational success like higher graduation rates and improved test scores. Using common benchmarks allows assessment across programs to help replicate best practices. If these efforts pay off, we may see more collective impact investing for better educational and career readiness outcomes.