My View: Some good news on graduation rates
Last month's Portland-area headlines about no improvement in Oregon's high school graduation rates were not what anyone wanted to read. Despite these persistent headlines, there is groundbreaking work happening to change outcomes for kids and families in this community.
Eight years ago, local leaders, ignited by the low graduation rates and inspired by the national StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, created the All Hand Raised Partnership. Its purpose is to transform systems to improve education outcomes for children, youth and young adults. The leaders share a commitment to move from talk to action and ensure the success of children, especially kids of color and kids in poverty. Today, the All Hands Raised Partnership is posting positive results and is a national model for communities across the country.
How do we know this? Because we convene the StriveTogether Network, composed of nearly 70 communities doing collective impact work across 29 states and impacting more than 13 million children. Last year we visited the most promising cradle to career collaboratives. Without a doubt, the All Hands Raised Partnership stood out as an extraordinary example of an effective, results-driven, community-based partnership. All Hands Raised is a weaver organization — rather than creating new programs, the partnership leverages existing community assets and weaves them together to produce better outcomes.
Here's what's happened: High school graduation rates have climbed 20 percentage points, with Latino students by 31 points and African American students 22 points. It's not always easy to see the direct impact of All Hands Raised, but the statistics speak loudly. While we celebrate these gains, there is a lot of work to be done.
Key to this progress is the integration of culturally-specific organizations — such as the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, Latino Network and REAP — in schools throughout seven districts. It has been key to have these organizations partner equally with the schools' teachers and staff, co-creating and implementing strategies to improve student outcomes with the support of their superintendent leaders. Experience shows that this shared leadership model has created an essential and powerful paradigm shift.
During our visit we met teachers, principals and partners — and we were impressed. The voice we reference most in our national conversations is that of Heidi Lasher, principal at Gresham's Hall Elementary School. She shared how teachers, school staff and partners have addressed the complicated issue of discipline by examining their own implicit bias and creating space for hard discussions. Because of the work of this team, Hall has seen a 26% reduction in discipline referrals this year over last.
The work happening at Hall is just one example of how your region is blazing trails and rich with organizations doing incredible direct service work. Yet, without organizations like All Hands Raised ensuring that systems connect and integrate, change will not happen. This is about taking the longer view to create results through alignment, efficiencies and practices. We believe that through efforts like the All Hands Raised Partnership, communities can change not only local headlines, but more importantly, change lives.
Connie Ballmer is co-founder of Ballmer Group and a StriveTogether board member. Jennifer Blatz is president and CEO of StriveTogether.