Is this the most important improvement programme in education?
I think it might be.
Strive is a major improvement partnership in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky that is seeking to improve a struggling education system and address a student achievement challenge that mirrors our own.
While the US has one of the most highly educated populations in the world warning signs indicate a growing crisis – it is ranked 14th in the world in the percentage of 25–34 year olds with a higher education, and only 28th in the percentage of 4 year olds in early childhood education, with a 69% enrolment rate.
Cincinnati — faced with daunting local education challenges, including diminishing budgets and weak performance across the ages — is seeking to challenge this decline through collective action.
In 2006, a core group of 300 educational and community leaders decided to out-think how they were delivering their services and begin to act together. They represented universities, city government officials, foundations and nursery schemes and every stage of school.
Unsurprisingly, the early days of this partnership suffered from taking two steps forward, one step back. But this was followed by a growing determination to abandon individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to attaining a big vision, in this case pupil achievement.
And a big story appears to emerging from the first six years of the programme. Across 15 key priority areas, ranging from early childhood development and learning through to promoting data driven decision-making, 89% of the ‘indicators of success’ are trending in the right direction – up from 81% in 2011 and 68% in 2009.
Now among the many interesting and compelling facts about Strive are these:
First, they realised that fixing one point on the educational journey of the child – such as better primary programmes – would not work unless action was being taken systemically across the whole educational journey. Their strap line is ‘every child, every step of the way, from cradle to career’. This resonates strongly with the belief (and growing evidence) for whole-system change in other areas with complex systems.
Second, they did not get caught up with creating new educational programmes or trying to get more money. Instead, through a carefully structured process (more on that in a moment) they sought to focus the entire educational community on a single set of goals and specific objectives that are measured in the same way. Participating organisations are grouped into 15 different Student Success Networks by type of activity and priorities, such as continuing professional development or early learning.
Now about that process…each Student Success Network has been meeting with coaches and facilitators for two hours every two weeks for the past four years. They developed shared indicators, discussed progress transparently and learned from each other. That’s right – every two weeks, for two hours, for four years. No all-talk-no-action, faux partnership here. Just discipline, commitment and a belief that the ‘answers are in the room’.
And finally, the type of collective effort that is making Strive of global significance goes far beyond the laissez-faire collaborations that regularly attempt to tackle social issues. This collective impact initiative has centralised infrastructure and a dedicated staff. Its structured process maintains a common agenda, shared measurement and continuous communication. Participants cherish peer learning and place high value on ‘doing what you say’.
Strive and other programmes like it around the world are telling us the same thing — there are no short cuts to success. It is painstaking and takes determined effort, continuous adaption and huge commitment to tackle the complexity of large-scale systems and fix their problems.
What is really exciting to me is that they are crafting a potent combination of data-informed decision making with a passionate belief in the development of emotional intelligence to underpin collective action – nurturing people to learn to work together over time.
Take a look at www.strivenetwork.org
There’s much to share and a growing global network to share it through. I’m hoping to go visit in 2014, so more in due course.