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See how local partnerships are overcoming national gridlock

By Robert Abare

A new report released today reveals the ways local collaborations between varied organizations, government offices, and nonprofit institutions are yielding improved education outcomes for children in cities across the country. The report, Collective Impact and the New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education, was conducted by researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University and commissioned by The Wallace Foundation.

Why is local collaboration taking flight? The answer may come as little surprise: dysfunction in Washington. Congressional gridlock has increasingly impeded the availability of federal funding opportunities, and the top-down school improvement strategies brought by No Child Left Behind have left many education advocates dissatisfied with national initiatives. To overcome these hurdles, local governments and organizations have been forging relationships in order to find alternative ways of improving education results. This process is often referred to as "collective impact," but was renamed "cross-sector collaboration" by the authors of this new report.

Intriguingly, the report does not attempt to determine if these collaborations are successful. Rather, it chronicles intriguing patterns in the current generation of collaborations, which suggest a new level of attention being given to the political, operational, and educational dynamics that can make or break these initiatives. In order to provide children with critical support as soon as possible, these collaborations have side-stepped an age-old argument in Washington: do disadvantaged students require the support of schools alone, or a range of societal initiatives and aids?

"What we’re seeing is that this movement is about drawing on all resources that can help students in a focused and coherent way," says Jeffrey Henig, Professor of Political Science & Education at Teachers College and a co-author of the report. "They’re not pushing a particular intervention, but instead a mode of collaboration."

Here are more of the report's key findings:

  • Many cross-sector collaborations predate the contemporary "collective impact" movement and are still operational, supporting the viability of this practice. Nearly 60 percent of the 182 initiatives in the scan were launched before 2011, and nearly 20 percent before 2000.
  • While such efforts are found across the United States, almost 40 percent of the collaborations in the scan are located in the Midwest, a proportion almost twice as large as that region’s share of the U.S. population and more than twice its share of large cities. In contrast, the South has a lower proportion of collaborations relative to its population.
  • The collaborations report data on a range of indicators, focusing most often on student test score performance and high school graduation, and somewhat less often on goals for kindergarten readiness, post-secondary enrollment, or access to health services.
  • Business, higher education and social services are most likely to be represented on formal governing boards. The representation of minority group organizations, teacher unions, charter schools, private schools, and neighborhood or community organizations appears to be less frequent and less consistent across sites. 

This report builds on The Wallace Foundation's previous important research on afterschool systems, or the networks of allied organizations and government agencies that unite across cities to ensure high-quality out-of-school time programming for America's students. You can download and read the full report released today, Collective Impact and the New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education, on The Wallace Foundation's website.