Most people who visit Nashville bring home Grand Ole Opry t-shirts or busts of Andrew Jackson. What my colleagues carried back from Tennessee last December was not as much fun – but it was a lot more important for making young people college- and career-ready.
America’s Promise went to Tennessee to continue our ongoing collaboration with Alignment Nashville. In this case we were co-hosting a full-day communications training to create stronger advocates for quality education.
Alignment Nashville is a great demonstration of the power of partnerships. It brings together political leaders, nonprofits, public agencies and the business community, pooling resources and developing initiatives that support Metro Nashville Public Schools and make children and youth the city’s top priority.
The result? Impressive progress. The graduation rate for the area’s public school students rose from 63 percent in 2005 to nearly 70 percent in 2008 (the latest year for which the Average Freshman Graduation Rate is available), significantly shrinking the gap between local schools and the national average of 75 percent.
The training provided additional reasons to be optimistic about progress. During the substantial segment devoted to the Common Core State Standards, the two dozen participants broke into teams to develop plans explaining the advantages of the Standards to parents. Tennessee’s early commitment to the Common Core made this a particularly good test audience. Not only had they heard about the Standards, but many had experienced them as professionals and parents.
When the groups reported out, parents in the teams said they now felt more involved in their children’s education. For example, new report cards made it easier to understand course content and how their students were doing. Participants generally admired that the Common Core has a commitment to equity, to having all students acquire the same proficiency. And the group had no doubts about the need for better ways to get young people ready for life after high school.
The day’s conversations also revealed concerns. Despite the recent progress, the local graduation rate is still significantly short of the Grad Nation campaign’s goal of a 90 percent rate nationwide by 2020. And while participants enthusiastically supported having the same expectations for all, years of experience with the opportunity gap has left them worried. We heard several versions of this statement: “The students we work with already struggle. Is raising standards just another way for them to fail?”
It’s a crucial question. Fortunately, our experience suggests there’s a great answer, particularly for students affected most by the opportunity gap.
While people know America’s Promise best for our Five Promises—Caring Adults, Safe Places, A Healthy Start, Effective Education, and Opportunities to Help Others—partnership is just as big a part of our work. Whether it’s with Alignment Nashville or the 50 other local coalitions we support through our Grad Nation Communities, or with our 430 national partners, we’ve learned that collaboration is the most effective way to provide young people all the support, encouragement and responsibility they need. Connecting diverse organizations, identifying skills and expertise, focusing on our strengths, and telling communities about resources will provide the greatest help to young people.
This concerted, coordinated effort is particularly important for students who have fallen behind and are most likely to struggle to meet the expectations of the Common Core and, later on, of the economy of the future. Students need support not just in school, but also through expanded learning opportunities; not just from teachers, but also from parents, community members and business leaders.
Working together we can raise graduation rates and, through the Common Core, help ensure that all students become college and career ready. Working together we can prepare the next generation of Americans to be independent, secure and happy.
We’re already putting what we brought back from Nashville to work. That’s a lot more valuable than any souvenir.