Achieving Collectively What We Can’t Do Alone: Helping Learners through Structural Partnerships

Katherine Prince

Schools, districts and other education organizations face daily stumbling blocks to success, including limited funding, political stasis and complacency from portions of the public. It can already be difficult for them to achieve their highest visions for preparing all learners for life beyond school. The dramatic changes expected over the next decade are changing the destination, presenting new challenges even as they open new avenues for pursuing more human-centered, equitable learning.

One of those opportunities is to cultivate systemic interdependence between education and other sectors. As my colleagues and I suggested in Navigating the Future of Learning: A Strategy Guide, advocates will increasingly need to find ways to pool resources and identify solutions across grade levels, inside and outside classrooms and across the public-private divide.

Three examples illustrate the kind of cooperation that promises to help education systems provide a well-rounded education for learners in the coming decade while strengthening their own resilience: two-way tracking between K-12 and postsecondary education, wraparound services and business partnerships.


Two-Way Tracking between K-12 and Postsecondary Education

Cincinnati’s StrivePartnership has worked closely with Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and 12 regional colleges and universities to cooperatively improve outcomes for the school district’s high school graduates.

“For a long time, the handoff between K-12 and postsecondary education was just that. If you were college ready and you went to college, you’d do well. And if you weren’t ready, you wouldn’t,” StrivePartnership President Byron White said. “This new relationship is saying, no, this is not a handoff. This is continued engagement by both.”

Now, using existing data in a new way, the postsecondary institutions involved in the partnership will track the progress of CPS graduates as a group. As more information is collected and evaluated, participating schools will be able to identify patterns of success and failure. How are sports, other extracurricular activities, social club membership or side jobs affecting achievement? Are students faring better on particular campuses or in particular majors? What factors for success may surprise us?

“The basic agreements say that we’re going to work on these goals and share data. StrivePartnership played a role in defining what data we’re going to share,” White said.

University of Cincinnati (UC) and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College have invested the most resources to date. UC created an internal dashboard with a host of data about CPS students.

White is hopeful that the partnership will evolve such that the school district and the postsecondary education institutions build from the data. They can then share ideas and information for getting K-12 students better prepared for college and for getting colleges better prepared to meet CPS graduates’ needs in order to help them complete their degrees.


Wraparound Services

It’s no secret that learners can’t focus well if they’re hungry, unable to see a whiteboard or nursing a toothache. With childhood poverty rates remaining high and likely to remain so, especially in urban and rural school districts, partnerships are key to helping remove such obstacles to academic success.

In one example of how education institutions can collaborate with other systems, Ohio has adopted a Community Learning Center model that any school district may voluntarily adopt and customize to suit its needs.

The model has received national attention, including a documentary, Oyler, highlighting groundbreaking innovation within the Cincinnati Public Schools district. There, community learning centers have been attached to elementary and high schools to provide vital health, mentoring and well-being services.

Students are given dental, eye and hearing exams through Medicaid or private insurance, after-school meals and one-on-one tutoring. Onsite daycare, also Medicaid eligible, is offered for students with young children.

Some centers offer basketball courts open to the community and arts programming for learners and their parents.

Partnering in this way has helped CPS boost its four and five-year high school graduation rates to 77.9 percent in 2018, up from 74.7 percent in 2017 and far exceeding rates a decade and more ago.


Business Partnerships

While learners from high-income families may still find success with a traditional four-year college career, rising costs and decades of disinvestment in postsecondary education by states means many others can’t afford a bachelor’s or even associate degree through the traditional model.

That challenge is being met in creative ways in pockets around the country, including the University of Central Missouri (UCM) near Kansas City. UCM has collaborated with 12 school districts and more than 50 Kansas City area businesses to create far less expensive paths to degrees and good-paying jobs. Together, the partners have formed the Missouri Innovation Campus, which offers three years of paid internships to high school and college students, who begin earning college credit while enrolled in the K-12 system.

Through a partnership between the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District and UCM, MIC students have access to a state-of-the-art learning facility in Lee’s Summit, Mo. UCM accesses this facility at 60 percent of its total costs, while the school district pays 40 percent. The MIC facility hosts high school for more than 600 students during the day and college or graduate school for over 2,000 students throughout the day. It has been recognized nationally with architectural awards for its teaching and learning space.

The first graduates of the program finished their four-year UCM degree in two years and began working at their companies with an average starting salary exceeding $60,000. This model is being studied and adapted coast to coast.


Succeeding through Interdependence

The opportunities and challenges on the horizon indicate that structural partnerships such as these will be vital to forging successful pathways for learners navigating a rapidly changing economy and civic sphere, as well as for education systems and institutions seeking to bolster their resilience amid rapid change. Breaking down silos, cultivating institutional neighbors and growing partnership capacity represent three strategies that schools, districts and other education organizations can employ today to find and pursue innovative responses as they pursue their visions for the future of learning and contribute to vibrant community, regional and state-level learning ecosystems.


About the Author

Katherine Prince leads KnowledgeWorks’ exploration of the future of learning. As Vice President, Strategic Foresight, she speaks and writes about the trends shaping education over the next decade and helps education stakeholders strategize about how to become active agents of change in shaping the future. She tweets as @katprince using the hashtags #NavigateFutureEd and #FutureEd and can be found on LinkedIn.

For more on the opportunities described in this post, see KnowledgeWorks’ Navigating the Future of Learning: A Strategy Guide.




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