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Like many areas, Cincinnati recognizes that the strength of the local economy will depend in large measure on improving the skills of its workforce — both to attract new jobs and to fill existing vacancies for highly trained workers. Area leaders also recognize, as do those elsewhere, that improving educational outcomes is critical to success.
But, unlike many other communities, Cincinnati has not burdened its schools with the sole responsibility for addressing the problem.
“We’re all in it together,” said Greg Landsman, the executive director of the Strive Partnership of Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky. “In other communities, reform movements have fallen short when they get into the finger pointing and divisiveness that doesn’t net any improvement in terms of academic achievement for kids.”
Four years ago when local leaders became aware that educational attainment in the area had fallen behind similar cities nationally, they responded by forming the partnership, which now, in addition to the local school districts, includes more than 300 civic groups, philanthropies, colleges, public agencies, nonprofits and businesses. The partnership’s overarching purpose, says Landsman, is to focus its collective resources on “creating the most robust talent pipeline in the country, focusing on the urban core.”
To do that, the partners take a “cradle-to-career” approach that starts with making sure children are prepared for kindergarten by providing them with the opportunity to attend high-quality preschools. The partnership looks to see that, as they grow, students get the support they need, inside and outside of school, to be healthy and successful. They are given help in getting admitted and paying for college. And, once on campus, the colleges work to help them graduate.
The partnership stands out for four main reasons. No. 1, all of the partners have signed on to a singular goal – graduating more students ready to succeed in their careers. They’ve established objectives, metrics and performance targets for their work and report on their progress regularly. Understanding the importance of data, the partnership is completing a system for collecting, analyzing and communicating student-level data to the partners and teachers who can use it to improve their services. Finally, it stands out for the strong, sustained, civic leadership that backs the effort.
Later this month, the Obama administration will award multi-million dollar grants to a number of communities for projects that also will depend on collective action and shared accountability. Several of the communities that applied for those grants plan to follow the partnership’s lead. In addition, a Strive Network has been established to share nationally the lessons that have been learned locally.
The partnership’s leaders know their work is not done. Too many students drop out of high school, too many of those who graduate are not prepared for college work, and too many quit before obtaining a credential or degree. But the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky communities should take pride in having addressed those problems seriously and collectively over a sustained period of time. As important as schools are to this equation, they cannot do this job alone.
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