"The problems out there are enormous and too large for any one entity to tackle on its own. It does take a collective approach, with the school districts working together with business leaders and community partners, to really address the underlying challenges facing families.” —David Jansen, Fresno Unified School District
Join the Data Quality Campaign and StriveTogether for a webinar this Tuesday, August 26, at 1:00 p.m. (EDT) to learn about a set of new resources—and the network of educators and nonprofits that are working to expand them—to help schools and their community partners protect and use data to work together more effectively. The new set of resources will be released by StriveTogether the week of August 25, 2014, with additional resources released this Fall.
The element that distinguishes collective impact from other modes of cooperation to improve youth achievement is rigor. This rigor—to not only prove, but constantly improve—is founded on the smart use of data, shared within and among schools and community partners and used to identify and spread effective practices across programs and systems. School-community collaboration is not simply about scaling an individual program or evidence-based practice; it’s about using data to improve decisionmaking at all levels, all of the time.
As I was sitting on the plane heading to Denver, rereading The State Education Agency: At the Helm, Not the Oar in preparation for the meeting I was about to attend, panic struck. The paper suggests a new governance approach for state education agencies (SEA)—most boldly that they should leave work that is outside of their core competencies to other entities rather than build internal capacity to do new and different work. I thought—If this is true, then how can we at the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) be advocating for states to move “from compliance to service,” as we like to say? Is our entire push for SEAs misguided? Should we be encouraging other entities to do this work instead?
I was quickly relieved as I continued to read and saw that even the authors suggesting this new governance approach still recommend that management of the state longitudinal data system remain at the SEA. I was further relieved as I continued to ponder and realize that if the SEA is able to focus on its core competencies—which include data systems—then its capacity (e.g., people, funding) to do this work automatically increases.
Then the meeting started. Hosted by Grantmakers for Education, “The State as the Unit of Change: Building Capacity to Impact Learners” brought together foundations of all shapes and sizes, an impressive lineup of speakers, and a focus on examining the relationship between the Colorado Education Initiative and the Colorado Department of Education. Throughout the conversations a couple of themes emerged.
This first is that local (i.e., not national) funders invest locally, which means these foundations don’t often invest in state-level education efforts. This seems to stem from the idea that change happens at the local level, which is true, but systemic change in education must involve the state. I understand the point made that policy is only as good as its implementation, which is why at DQC we push states to provide support and service to districts related to data use in addition to building the data system. However, we must continue to reinforce the value of state-level efforts and to support SEAs in focusing on their core competencies so they can have the most impact.
The second theme I noticed was that foundations, not uniquely from—I think—many other stakeholders, want to see impact from their investments over a short period of time. This makes investing in education complicated since the overall goal—students prepared for college and the workplace—does not happen in just a few years. Measuring impact is even more complex for SEAs, as priorities and initiatives often change depending on the current (often political) leadership and as their roles and responsibilities continue to increase into areas the SEA was not designed to tackle. Measuring this impact is critical, however, not only for foundations but also for states, districts, and others doing the work to continuously improve. When SEAs can focus their work and improve the quality of their data system and supports then better data will exist to measure impact.
The conversations only reinforced that the more SEAs are able to focus on their core competencies—including data systems—the more capacity they’ll have to do this work well.