A host of recent education trends have made it impossible for school districts to succeed in isolation from their communities. Let’s consider three, for example:
The economic downturn has strained federal, state, and local education budgets leaving educators with the daunting task of doing more with less.
Federal and state education funding tends to follow the next shiny idea, forcing previous grantees to find another benefactor or close their doors.
Technology has begun to blur the boundaries between the classroom and community, making it impossible to contain learning inside the four walls of the traditional school system.
These changes all point to one obvious conclusion: communities and the organizations, businesses, and people that make them up, must become critical partners in our system. Our collective success depends on our ability to better leverage their time, expertise, and resources to scale successful education reforms.
A second term Obama Administration and Congress can help school districts and community partners work more collaboratively to drive better results. KnowledgeWorks encourages Washington to start with the following three steps:
(1) Leverage Local Philanthropic Resources – Encourage recipients of federal competitive grants to secure private and non-Federal resources at greater rates in the latter half of a grant cycle and use those resources to scale best practices. This will give local partners more skin in the game to drive better outcomes and ensure sustainability of reforms. Failure to secure local support for an initiative is a sign the federal government should invest its dollars elsewhere.
(2) Increase Transparency of Learning Outcomes – Expand report card requirements under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to provide a comprehensive picture of student learning. These outcomes should be developed collaboratively by school districts and the communities they are designed to inform, and span the spectrum of learning, with a minimum focus on entering kindergarten prepared to succeed in school, reading at grade level by the end of third grade, and graduating high school college- and career-ready. A robust picture of student performance will give educators and community members actionable data to scale effective programs.
(3) Emphasize Outcomes in Federal Programs – Require all federal grantees to meet quantifiable goals during key points in the grant cycle. If these goals are not met, grant funding, no matter what stage of the process, should not continue. Clear outcomes will increase local engagement by raising stakeholder awareness around measures for success.
We must resist the urge to throw more of the same at a changing landscape. Let’s instead leverage the talent of a diverse range of stakeholders and empower them with the tools to make wise, collective decisions for our children.