Collective Impact – Creating a Self-Sharpening Education System

By: George Tang
Over the last several years, collective impact has become common education vernacular and has generated as much buzz as Kimye. Ok, maybe not that much, but collective impact has become a household term for communities seeking to ensure children are effectively supported and seamlessly connected from early childhood to K-12 education to higher education to the workforce. Since the 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review article, the approach Strive and others’ developed have garnered national and international attention for their ability to focus community leaders around measuring a common set of indicators, identifying effective strategies, and directing resources towards helping spread these practices.
While many may have thought collective impact would just be another flavor of the day reform, the most recent Collective Impact Forum convening brought over 200 funders from across the country to see how to move their own work forward. Over the past several years, we have rolled up our sleeves to support efforts in Texas and believe the collective impact framework will become a foundational structure to advancing our goals for student success. Here’s a shortlist of reasons for why collective impact is here for good:
Reason #1: Helping Everyone Know Where and How to Focus – For most people, educational performance data is as clear and easy to understand as the decision making of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ask anyone in your own community and they may be able to refer to the most recent scores for the district they live in or for the district that is most often in the press. However, ask if they know how their overall community is doing on the whole and most would be hard pressed to provide accurate or reliable information. In today’s rapidly changing environment (e.g., increases in the number of economically disadvantaged families, the frequent moving of homesteads within the year, the knowledge that 70-85% of students are staying, living and working in the communities they grow up in), understanding a community’s progress on the education to workforce pathway (positive, flat, or negative) is critical for determining where to focus resources, seek innovation, and make investments.
In Dallas, the Commit! team has developed a simple, digestible scorecard for knowing how our 800,000+ students are progressing against the key indicators impacting our students. This easy to consume annual scorecard is shared publicly across the city so the Mayor, businesses, philanthropy, community based organizations, parents, and most importantly the institutions that serve students all know how we as a city are benefiting or failing our students. The Commit! Team then meets with each individual leader to share how each organization is performing relative to their peers across the community. This scorecard has led to healthy competition, the identification of areas to target with new resources/investments, and a far better lens for understanding the overall health of our educational ecosystem.
Reason #2: Accelerating the Replication of Effective Strategies – Despite having identified so many different “evidence-based” initiatives and approaches, education reformers have long struggled to achieve change at scale. Breakthrough programs and approaches (e.g., charters, early college high schools, project-based learning) have yielded powerful results for students, but combined they have had limited reach and impact on the student population as whole. There are many factors that have led to the inability to reach a critical mass (e.g., belief that a single institution can raise the bar for others, quality of implementation, lack of understanding the local context, availability of resources), but the goal for collective impact initiatives is to create a network of partners who are committed to identifying local strategies (where possible) that are working for students and then promoting and directing resources to help lower performing institutions or schools determine how to replicate these efforts.
In the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), one of the poorest regions of the country, the RGV Focus team has identified a strategy pioneered by Pharr San Juan Alamo (PSJA) ISD that helps high school dropouts get on an accelerated pathway to not only earn their high school diploma but move them towards a college degree. As a result of the large number of students recovered and graduated from PSJA’s program, 25% of the districts in the partnership are beginning to replicate these efforts utilizing their own funds and resources, rather than soliciting funding from others to help advance these strategies. Based on the results over the next couple of years, more districts may begin to implement these practices with their own resources. Collective impact can provide the type of adoption and spread that has been so elusive to the ed reform world.
Reason #3: Building a Robust Partnership Focused on Continuous Improvement – With the new normal for gainful employment being some level of a postsecondary credential (technical, two year, four year), our historical focus on improving a single organization or designing an innovative solution is not realistic to create the step function change required for our most underserved students to succeed. Further, with the constant shifts in policy and funding, a concerted focus on aligning partners to effectively address the needs of our students throughout the education system to workforce is required. We believe collective impact enables communities to more quickly recognize the implications of these changes and understand how they collectively must adapt to these new conditions.
For example, the RGV Focus Leadership Team responded to new legislation that required school districts to partner with an institution of higher education to develop college prep courses in math and English. RGV Focus established a task force that collaboratively designed and developed two college prep courses that would be accepted by all five institutions of higher education as evidence of college readiness. The 39 school districts across the RGV have moved quickly to address new legislation and are both ensuring consistency throughout the region and more importantly, benefiting our students.
While these are just a few reasons for collective impact’s rapid uptake, Educate Texas firmly believes this framework is a critical component for achieving our vision of strengthening the public and higher education system so that all students can succeed. We are committed to helping more communities across Texas build the necessary infrastructure and supports to improve the future of all our students.
About Educate Texas
Since its founding in 2004, Educate Texas, a public-private partnership of Communities Foundation of Texas, has become a state and national leader for improving postsecondary readiness, access, and success for students from low-income, underserved communities. During our ten year history, we have established a statewide track record of 134 Early College High Schools and T-STEM Academies serving over 63,000 students working in collaboration with a broad stakeholder base of public and private leaders — Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), Texas Workforce Commission, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Ford Foundation, Greater Texas Foundation, The Meadows Foundation, Texas Legislature, and the Governor’s Office. Through our work, Educate Texas has directed more than $400 million to piloting, proving, and replicating effective educational practices in Texas, including a 3x state match to the $100 million of philanthropic grants.
George TangGeorge Tang ensures Educate Texas delivers on its mission of increasing postsecondary readiness, access and success for all Texas students. Prior to joining Educate Texas, George co-founded Rosetta, a NYC advertising agency fueled by an analytical approach to creating high-impact marketing strategies. George established many of the firm’s best practices and helped Rosetta serve over 30% of the Fortune 500, before being acquired by Publicis. After returning to Dallas with his family, he joined Educate Texas and has been focused on building the organization’s infrastructure to identify bold and innovative approaches to improve student outcomes.

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