“The New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education”: Examples from our Case Library

blogimage_educationReleased earlier this month, a new report from Teachers College at Columbia University, with support from the Wallace Foundation, examines a growing trend in education. In “Collective Impact and the New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education,” researchers found that communities are increasingly looking to cross-sector collaboration, particularly collective impact models, to overcome the complex problems faced by our education system. The researchers describe the current landscape of this field and identify trends in location, reach, and other areas, providing a framework through which to view collaboration as a solution to problems in education — and potentially other common knotty problems faced by communities today.

In their scan of education initiatives across the United States, the researchers identified 182 cross-sector collaborations operating as of January 2015, involving school systems, state and local governments, businesses, community organizations, and non-profit institutions. Several key trends emerged from this scan. First, most efforts (55 percent) involved an area larger than a city, usually a county or region, suggesting that “these collaborations may represent a potential vehicle for coordinating efforts between central cities and their surrounding communities, an arrangement that has had salutary results for other public services and may well help to address some intractable problems.” Second, these collaborative efforts are often affiliated with national networks, such as StriveTogether, which promote cross-program learning and resource sharing, and provide national visibility and political clout.

Communities are increasingly looking to cross-sector collaboration, particularly collective impact models, to overcome the complex problems faced by our education system.

The purpose of this report was not to evaluate whether or not these collaborations are working, explained Jeffrey Henig, a Professor of Political Science and Education at Teachers College and one of the researchers on this report, in Education Week. “It’s really an effort to say there’s something people are talking about, what is it, and where is it, and what can we say about that.” The report warns against immediately judging whether collective impact is an ideal model for improving education in the United States, although “this reaction is understandable, especially in an area like education where the stakes are high and public yearning for improvement is so palpable.”

In our examination of functioning cross-sector collaborations for education across the United States, The Intersector Project has seen several encouraging examples of how combining efforts and resources among the public, private, and non-profit partners can provide results that no one sector could have achieved on its own.

“By working together and adopting a common strategy and goals … we can make a vastly larger difference in our children’s lives than we ever could working separately.”

Take our case study of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program in San Diego. In 1966, Mary Catherine Swanson, a young high-school English teacher, recognized that a traditional method of dividing students based on perceived abilities left a broad group of capable but underachieving students underserved. She developed a new method of teaching that formed the foundation of AVID in 1980, incorporating a teaching philosophy that empowers underachieving students to perform at advanced placement/college-level standards while providing individualized, cross-sector social and academic support. AVID brings together public and private universities (which provide tutors and academic support), nationwide state agencies and school districts (which help implement the program and evaluate methods of measuring student competency), and business professionals (who provide career advice, mentorship, and job opportunities). Today, AVID has evolved into a college readiness system from elementary to higher education reaching more than 700,000 students in 4,900 schools across 45 states and 16 countries. In 2013, 99 percent of the 34,229 AVID seniors graduated high school on time, and 91 percent reported plans to attend college.

“By working together and adopting a common strategy and goals … we can make a vastly larger difference in our children’s lives than we ever could working separately,” explained John Bennett, former Aspen Mayor and Director of the Cradle to Career Initiative (CCI), another example of a successful cross-sector collaboration leading to improved educational outcomes. CCI targets the 80-mile corridor between Aspen and Parachute in western Colorado, where over half of children are not ready for kindergarten, and only 73 percent of low-income youth graduate high school. Recognizing that this problem reached beyond the classroom, the Aspen Community Foundation (ACF) launched the Aspen to Parachute CCI in 2012. CCI has mobilized over 60 non-profit organizations, four school districts, government agencies, and business leaders in a community-led collaboration designed to address educational equality. CCI has instituted community enrichment programs for 1,400 K-8 students, two pre-kindergarten “jumpstart” programs for at-risk children, and two mobile “preschools on wheels” reaching 120 underserved children.

The Teachers College researchers are planning to delve deeper into this issue through close examinations of cross-sector collaborations across the country: “This multi-focal effort, juxtaposing close exploration of some collaborations with evidence about many others gleaned from other kinds of evidence, may help to answer core questions about whether and how collective impact and other contemporary cross-sector collaborations can fulfill their promise and justify the considerable investments of time, resources, and hope that have been made in them.” We look forward to learning more about what these case studies reveal. From our own examinations of cross-sector efforts, we’ve seen that they can undoubtedly be challenging and resource-intensive. But we’ve also seen the outstanding results that they can produce. For more examples of cross-sector collaboration in education and in other issue areas, see our full Case Library.