The entire education pipeline from birth to higher education readiness must be tended with cost-effective investment and out-of-school, family and community support. Perhaps the best model for total community, cradle-to-career student success is the one used by the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Three features of the Strive model are key and relevant for rural and non-metro Minnesota. First is the concept of having all community sectors on board. Strive partners in Cincinnati include parents’ groups, minority community advocates, large private-sector employers, area school districts, key philanthropic foundations and the United Way, universities and workforce training entities, the local archdiocese and Catholic schools, and smaller businesses through regional chambers of commerce. Participants in a nascent Strive Twin Cities working group represented a similarly broad range, including the United Way and corporate citizens like Target and General Mills.
Second, roadmaps and a set of specific measurements for success are paramount. Improvement on 40 out of 54 indicators as shown in their 2010 Report Card is a top selling point for the Strive model, but implicit in that claim is vigilance and record-keeping on many critical steps along the cradle-to-career continuum. Benchmarks and a unified data system lie at the heart of the Strive process, and that data is available for rural communities and students, from national, state and local education agency record-keeping.
Finally, Strive mobilizes improvement networks to achieve the goals on the roadmaps. The crucial getting-it-done part involves well-organized, task-oriented teams that implement programs and policies that deliver the desired results, from ensuring that the community’s youngest children are read to 20 minutes a day, to overcoming financial hurdles to post-high school enrollment and retention. The roadmap and the networks in Cincinnati are focused on five cradle-to-career strategic goals: every child prepared for school; every child supported in and out of school; every child succeeding academically; every child enrolled in college or career training; and every child graduating with post-secondary credentials.
Applause is due to any and all constructive efforts to empower and enthuse more people in the community to help students succeed. In some cases, it can be argued that only parts of the continuum really need serious reinforcement, such as early childhood education, or, in the case of Cook County, addressing geographical limits on access to post-secondary credentials. Many smaller rural communities and school districts may lack the capacity to launch a full-blown Strive model for student success. But as the Itasca Student Success initiative is showing, groups of school districts, local chambers of commerce, city and county governments and local higher education institutions and nonprofits – all working together from the same road map and with a Strive-like strategy – may be the best hope for educational equity and continued economic vitality in rural Minnesota.