All Hands Raised for childhood education (Portland Business Journal, October 9, 2015)

Posted on October 13, 2015 in Media Coverage

Lifting Student Achievement Demands Long-Term Partnerships

By Dan Ryan

Read the story below and here.

In 2009, local business leaders made it clear they did not see how the good work happening in our schools was translating into meaningful gains for out kids.

At the time, I commonly heard sentiments like, “I receive stacks of proposals that all sound compelling and yet clearly we can’t fund all of them. More importantly, what specific impact would a donation really have?” or “How do I know that the non-profits are working together? We need a system to connect the dots so our corporate philanthropic investments can have more of an impact.”

This feeling of fragmentation was compounded by compelling research from the Coalition of Communities of Color, which made it crystal clear we were (and are) failing our kids of color at unacceptable rates. This led a group of community leaders to prioritize equity and efficiency as the key drivers in building a new “cradle to career” system in Multnomah County.

This required dissolving similar entities so leaders could belong to a single table where racial educational equity would be the primary focus. Thus a 15-year-old organization — the Portland Public Schools Foundation — was reoriented and re-established as All Hands Raised to serve Multnomah County’s urban core, which includes six school districts.

Today — three county chairs, two mayors, and eight superintendents later — that table remains intact, in large part due to the leadership of our local corporate CEOs and their continued commitment to improve educational outcomes for all children and youth.

The current challenge of the All Hands Raised Partnership is to sustain the cross-sector and cross-organization work teams focused on key transition points. These teams are focusing on big picture systemic issues, while at the same time moving deeper into aligning practices on the ground in specific schools and neighborhoods using measurable results as the guide.

This means partnering across our community, and especially with communities of color, to improve kindergarten readiness; K-12 attendance; school policies and practices aimed at reducing the number of students of color who are suspended or expelled; ninth grade credit attainment; the number of students accessing financial aid for college; and the pathways to careers in construction and manufacturing. Building the work groups around these measures and identifying our focus areas is a tremendous accomplishment, yet keeping people at the table as we move deeper into implementation is new territory for this community.

Simply put, can Portland, a city known for meetings and visions and “Portland polite,” stay at the table as we study, measure and scale effective practices? Can we commit to the kids, and not to our own programs? Can we let go of investments that feel good, or sound good at our dinner parties if they have little impact?

Our disciplined approach to improve practices comes from the business sector. Investors support the ‘product’ from research and development to the market with the expectation of profits, and make necessary course corrections based on measurements to ensure a culture of efficiency. Imagine how focused and committed we will need to be to apply this work ethic to the much more complex aims of improving conditions and outcomes for the children and youth in our community.

Unfortunately, we have become comfortable with three-year cycles of fits and starts fueled by new policies, mandates and grants that fail to see implementation to the depths necessary to ignite a change in practice and culture that will sustain better results for our kids. We can expect this work to be a long-term, exciting and difficult grind.

Our schools can’t do this alone. We will continue to need the courage, wisdom, leadership and investment of the business community to help us make a cultural shift from trying hard to getting results. There is no long-term economic plan more critical than that.

Dan Ryan has served as CEO of All Hands Raised since 2008. All Hands Raised brings together six Multnomah County school districts with leaders from the county, city, nonprofits, higher education and businesses to help organizations come together collectively to improve educational outcomes for all of our children and youth from birth to career.