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TC Study Suggests Cross-Sector Collaboration to Improve Education Is Gaining Attention Across the United States

 

Collaborations in which school systems, state and local governments, businesses, community organizations, and nonprofit institutions work together to improve educational outcomes for children and youth are attracting attention across the country, according to Collective Impact and the New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education: A Nationwide Scan, recently completed by TC researchers and commissioned by The Wallace Foundation.

This ambitious and varied approach to improving educational outcomes – known in some circles as “collective impact” but which the TC researchers define more broadly as “cross-sector collaboration” – is popular. The authors suggest that Congressional gridlock and disappointment in the federal government’s influence over top-down, school-centered initiatives of the NCLB-era may have fueled a general skepticism toward Washington. Slower growth in the flow of federal funds, combined with local school budget constraints, may have prompted some locals to take matters into their own hands, the study suggests.

 “While not necessarily new, collabo­rative efforts increasingly seem necessary to address the complex challenges facing students, schools, and communities today,” the report says. “For many persistent problems in education and community well-being, root causes and needs are multifaceted and straightforward solutions do not exist.”

The term “collective impact,” coined in 2011 by the nonprofit consulting group FSG, describes broad, multi-sector collaborations that can involve mayors’ offices, leading local employers, schools, universities, funders, healthcare providers, social service agencies, nonprofits and community members. The collective impact strategy introduces new elements, including a stronger focus on monitoring and adjusting to outcomes data. It has attracted attention nationwide as communities try to solve problems – such as increasing rates of childhood immunization, improving school readiness, and increasing third-grade reading proficiency – that exceed the ability of most single agencies to resolve alone and which can benefit from collective effort, expertise, and resource commitment.

 

The TC team that authored the report includes Jeffrey Henig, Professor of Political Science and Education; Carolyn Riehl, Associate Professor of Sociology and Education Policy; David  Houston, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis; Michael Rebell, Professor of Law and Educational Practice, and Executive Director of TC’s Campaign for Educational Equity (CEE); and Jessica Wolff, CEE’s Policy Director.

The study was not designed to determine if these collaborations are working; rather, it chronicles intriguing patterns in the current generation of collaborations that suggest a new level of attention being given to the political, operational, and educational dynamics that can make or break these initiatives.

An interesting feature of local cross-sector collaborations, said Henig, one of the study’s lead researchers, is that they bypass a longstanding point of disagreement in Washington: whether ensuring the academic success of students who often come from impoverished backgrounds can be achieved by schools alone, or, instead, requires a range of societal supports.

 “What we’re seeing is that this movement is about drawing on all resources that can help students in a focused and coherent way,” says Henig. “They’re not pushing a particular intervention, but instead a mode of collaboration.”

Looking across the variety of 182 cross-sector collaborations, the researchers found:

 
  • A substantial number of cross-sector collaborations predate the contemporary collective impact movement and are still operational, offering encouragement that the general idea of collaboration is indeed viable. Nearly 60% of the 182 initiatives in the scan were launched before 2011, and nearly 20% before 2000.
  • Collaborations are found throughout all regions of the nation, and their distribution is roughly equivalent to the distribution of population across U.S. Census-defined regions of the country. Most collaborations identify a target area larger than a city, potentially providing access to a wider range of resources and facilitating coordination on a grander scale.
    • These efforts are often affiliated with national networks that have the potential to facilitate cross-program learning, shared resources and perhaps national visibility and political clout. Slightly fewer than half of the collaborations overall have some national network connection, such as with Promise Neighborhoods, Strive Together or the Coalition for Community Schools.
    • The collaborations report data on a range of indicators, focusing most often on student test score performance and high school graduation, and somewhat less often on goals for kindergarten readiness, post-secondary enrollment, or access to health services.
    • Business, higher education, and social services are most likely to be represented on formal governing boards. The representation of minority group organizations, teacher unions, charter schools, private schools, and neighborhood or community organizations appears to be less frequent and less consistent across sites.

The report also says that compared with other large cities that lack such collaborations, cities that have them often have higher levels of poverty, pockets of great affluence, and relatively slower increases in local revenue and federal support. Places with collaborations seem to have a more settled and stable demography and longer experience with racial and ethnic diversity.

 “This scan gives us a portrait of cross-sector collaborations across the nation,” said Hilary Rhodes, senior research and evaluation officer at Wallace. “We want to better understand how they operate, including how people start collaborating and move toward a common goal. This scan is the first step toward that.”

The report notes that while the collective impact model has influenced many new and some older initiatives, it does not dominate the full set of cross-sector collaborations that exist. “Collective impact may evolve into a generic descriptor for the current era of cross-sector collaboration, but it is also, at least for the time being, a fairly specific prescriptive model.”

A rationale for establishing cross-sector collaborations is to reduce the fragmentation, duplication, and intergroup competition for resources that some observers believe contribute to potentially wasteful efforts. And yet, the survey notes that more than half of the 182 collaborations occurred in places with at least one other cross-sector education collaboration, and 12 percent are in places with four or more, raising a possible concern about overlap.

“Too much of a good thing may dilute all efforts and result in unproductive competition and lack of coordination,” the report says.

The scan is part of a broader project that includes a literature review, published in October 2015, and forthcoming intensive case studies of how community institutions in Buffalo, Milwaukee and Portland, Oregon, are working together to tackle social and educational challenges in their communities. The project will also include mini-case studies from five additional cities to provide a deeper understanding of such collaboration.

The report is available free of charge at wallacefoundation.org/collectiveimpactscan.

Published Monday, Feb 29, 2016

Report Cover
The report was co-authored by Jeffrey Henig, Carolyn Riehl, David Houston, Michael Rebell, and Jessica Wolff
Jeffrey Henig
Jeffrey Henig, Professor of Political Science and Education
Carolyn Riehl
Carolyn Riehl, Associate Professor of Sociology & Education Policy

 

Collaborations in which school systems, state and local governments, businesses, community organizations, and nonprofit institutions work together to improve educational outcomes for children and youth are attracting attention across the country, according to Collective Impact and the New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education: A Nationwide Scan, recently completed by TC researchers and commissioned by The Wallace Foundation.

This ambitious and varied approach to improving educational outcomes – known in some circles as “collective impact” but which the TC researchers define more broadly as “cross-sector collaboration” – is popular. The authors suggest that Congressional gridlock and disappointment in the federal government’s influence over top-down, school-centered initiatives of the NCLB-era may have fueled a general skepticism toward Washington. Slower growth in the flow of federal funds, combined with local school budget constraints, may have prompted some locals to take matters into their own hands, the study suggests.

 “While not necessarily new, collabo­rative efforts increasingly seem necessary to address the complex challenges facing students, schools, and communities today,” the report says. “For many persistent problems in education and community well-being, root causes and needs are multifaceted and straightforward solutions do not exist.”

The term “collective impact,” coined in 2011 by the nonprofit consulting group FSG, describes broad, multi-sector collaborations that can involve mayors’ offices, leading local employers, schools, universities, funders, healthcare providers, social service agencies, nonprofits and community members. The collective impact strategy introduces new elements, including a stronger focus on monitoring and adjusting to outcomes data. It has attracted attention nationwide as communities try to solve problems – such as increasing rates of childhood immunization, improving school readiness, and increasing third-grade reading proficiency – that exceed the ability of most single agencies to resolve alone and which can benefit from collective effort, expertise, and resource commitment.

 

The TC team that authored the report includes Jeffrey Henig, Professor of Political Science and Education; Carolyn Riehl, Associate Professor of Sociology and Education Policy; David  Houston, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis; Michael Rebell, Professor of Law and Educational Practice, and Executive Director of TC’s Campaign for Educational Equity (CEE); and Jessica Wolff, CEE’s Policy Director.

The study was not designed to determine if these collaborations are working; rather, it chronicles intriguing patterns in the current generation of collaborations that suggest a new level of attention being given to the political, operational, and educational dynamics that can make or break these initiatives.

An interesting feature of local cross-sector collaborations, said Henig, one of the study’s lead researchers, is that they bypass a longstanding point of disagreement in Washington: whether ensuring the academic success of students who often come from impoverished backgrounds can be achieved by schools alone, or, instead, requires a range of societal supports.

 “What we’re seeing is that this movement is about drawing on all resources that can help students in a focused and coherent way,” says Henig. “They’re not pushing a particular intervention, but instead a mode of collaboration.”

Looking across the variety of 182 cross-sector collaborations, the researchers found:

 
  • A substantial number of cross-sector collaborations predate the contemporary collective impact movement and are still operational, offering encouragement that the general idea of collaboration is indeed viable. Nearly 60% of the 182 initiatives in the scan were launched before 2011, and nearly 20% before 2000.
  • Collaborations are found throughout all regions of the nation, and their distribution is roughly equivalent to the distribution of population across U.S. Census-defined regions of the country. Most collaborations identify a target area larger than a city, potentially providing access to a wider range of resources and facilitating coordination on a grander scale.
    • These efforts are often affiliated with national networks that have the potential to facilitate cross-program learning, shared resources and perhaps national visibility and political clout. Slightly fewer than half of the collaborations overall have some national network connection, such as with Promise Neighborhoods, Strive Together or the Coalition for Community Schools.
    • The collaborations report data on a range of indicators, focusing most often on student test score performance and high school graduation, and somewhat less often on goals for kindergarten readiness, post-secondary enrollment, or access to health services.
    • Business, higher education, and social services are most likely to be represented on formal governing boards. The representation of minority group organizations, teacher unions, charter schools, private schools, and neighborhood or community organizations appears to be less frequent and less consistent across sites.

The report also says that compared with other large cities that lack such collaborations, cities that have them often have higher levels of poverty, pockets of great affluence, and relatively slower increases in local revenue and federal support. Places with collaborations seem to have a more settled and stable demography and longer experience with racial and ethnic diversity.

 “This scan gives us a portrait of cross-sector collaborations across the nation,” said Hilary Rhodes, senior research and evaluation officer at Wallace. “We want to better understand how they operate, including how people start collaborating and move toward a common goal. This scan is the first step toward that.”

The report notes that while the collective impact model has influenced many new and some older initiatives, it does not dominate the full set of cross-sector collaborations that exist. “Collective impact may evolve into a generic descriptor for the current era of cross-sector collaboration, but it is also, at least for the time being, a fairly specific prescriptive model.”

A rationale for establishing cross-sector collaborations is to reduce the fragmentation, duplication, and intergroup competition for resources that some observers believe contribute to potentially wasteful efforts. And yet, the survey notes that more than half of the 182 collaborations occurred in places with at least one other cross-sector education collaboration, and 12 percent are in places with four or more, raising a possible concern about overlap.

“Too much of a good thing may dilute all efforts and result in unproductive competition and lack of coordination,” the report says.

The scan is part of a broader project that includes a literature review, published in October 2015, and forthcoming intensive case studies of how community institutions in Buffalo, Milwaukee and Portland, Oregon, are working together to tackle social and educational challenges in their communities. The project will also include mini-case studies from five additional cities to provide a deeper understanding of such collaboration.

The report is available free of charge at wallacefoundation.org/collectiveimpactscan.

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