Thursday, May 26, 2011

ACHIEVEMENT GAP FIX? Retired CPS asst. supt. introduces holistic approach called Strive

COLUMBIA, 5/26/11  (Beat Byte) --  During the 2011 Columbia School (CPS) Board race, this reporter called Board candidate proposals to close the much-discussed "achievement gap" empty, unimaginative, and ineffective. 
Now, former CPS assistant superintendent Jack Jensen has introduced a holistic approach to achievement gap closure called Strive which relies on "broad cross-sector coordination" rather than the "isolated intervention of individual organizations."
To improve school achievement among minorities with the non-profit Strive program, the entire city, county, and business community partner with the school district in a way that isn't even discussed, much less implemented amidst Columbia's community leadership fiefdoms.   Instead, the achievement gap is largely viewed as a problem restricted to two groups:  the school district and the Black community.   Strive takes a more big picture approach.
"The scale and complexity of the U.S. public education system has thwarted attempted reforms for decades," reads a Winter 2011 Stanford Social Innovation report Jensen forwarded to several dozen community leaders.  "Against these daunting odds, a remarkable exception seems to be emerging in Cincinnati." 
That exception -- Strive -- "has brought together local leaders to tackle the student achievement crisis and improve education throughout greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky," write authors John Kania and Mark Kramer.  "In the four years since the group was launched, Strive partners have improved student success in dozens of key areas across three large public school districts...including high school graduation rates, fourth-grade reading and math scores, and the number of preschool children prepared for kindergarten."

Now the executive director of early childhood education advocacy group First Chance for Children, Jensen said he found Strive "an interesting framework for change in a community.   With my background, I thought about the Achievement Gap as the issue to tackle."
Strive has succeeded, Kania and Kramer argue, because "a core group of community leaders decided to abandon their individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to improving student achievement." 
That group included more than 300 leaders of Cincinnati-area organizations, from influential private businesses to city government, eight universities and numerous advocacy groups.  "These leaders realized that fixing one point on the educational continuum—such as better after-school programs—wouldn’t make much difference unless all parts of the continuum improved at the same time.  No single organization, however innovative or powerful, could accomplish this alone."
In Columbia, however, the school district has gone it alone for years, with little help from City Hall, County Hall, or powerful, prominent types too busy dodging their property taxes to worry much about helping under-privileged children learn to read and write.  
This year, City Hall is yanking police officers from school-based safety programs in a fit of budgetary pique (while spending millions as usual, now on ill-advised parking garages).   The County Commission and Court system are busily expanding too, in large part -- at least where the Courts are concerned -- to accomodate offenders whose criminal careers often emerge from the depths of the achievement gap.

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