The Miseducation of Dallas County: Episode One

Episode One of The Miseducation of Dallas County podcast explores the “morbid fear of taxation” in the 1870s regarding education, and the similar opposition to raising taxes today. This episode’s historical content is heavily indebted to the work of historian Jackie McElhaney. She has a book titled Pauline Periwinkle about the fight for women’s suffrage in Dallas. This podcast is dedicated to educators everywhere. The future is in your hands. Don't Want to Listen? Read the Full Podcast Below: August 18th, 2017. Rob: It was definitely a day of anticipation. Waiting for that meeting to start, wondering how many members of the community would show up to a Friday night school board meeting. And then wondering if we were gonna be successful in this almost seven month effort to help get more money for the 158 thousand students of Dallas Independent School District. This is Rob Shearer. Rob: I am the director of communications and marketing at The Commit Partnership. And for over a half a year, he’d been working on a campaign to attempt the unthinkable: raise taxes in a Texas city. Rob: The data was pretty clear that this could make a really big difference in a district that is already pretty cash strapped. Spending more to get better quality absolutely ends up positively impacting students and their lives. So Rob and Commit joined a growing group of community advocates, who called themselves Strong Schools Strong Dallas, who were fighting for a Tax Ratification Election, or TRE, a ballot measure to be voted on by residents of the district for an increase in their property tax rate. Which, you might be surprised to learn, was supported by more than just data. Rob: The surveys from the community have convinced us, the calls from the community have convinced us, the meetings with the community have convinced us. It’s an important aspect of the work Commit does. They seek to leverage both quantitative data and qualitative community expertise to provide a complete picture of the school systems they study. And picture was clear: Dallas ISD’s budget, even at over a billion dollars, simply isn’t enough to meet all of its student’s needs. Rob: To the untrained ear, you hear billion-dollar budget, and you think Scrooge McDuck rolling around on his back in the cash. But the reality is when you divide that billion by 158,000 students, the amount per student is significantly lower than the national average. And given where our students are coming from, given the rates of poverty, given the percentage of students that are learning English as a second language, it is completely naïve to think that Dallas ISD can spend the exact same amount per student as more affluent districts and expect the same outcomes. And that is not because of a deficiency of our students, or a problem with our teachers, it is just the reality of it not being a level playing field. The school district itself recognizes this disparity. The [...]

By |November 8th, 2017|Data, News, Podcast|0 Comments

Partnership Achieves “Systems Change” Designation

To achieve better and more equitable opportunities and outcomes for every child from cradle to career, communities across the country are working to transform systems. The StriveTogether Network, of which The Commit! Partnership is an affiliate member, frames Systems Change as sustainable shifts in the way that individuals and organizations within a partnership make decisions and implement policies and practices to improve cradle to career outcomes. As part of StriveTogether assessment to achieve the ‘Systems Change’ designation, partners — including leaders and practitioners closely involved in work to eliminate educational disparities and improve student outcomes — provide unique perspectives on the interplay between the partnership and partners, how the partnership functions, and the types of sustainable changes made in local systems through examples of actual behavior, practice, and/or policy change. Based on this recent assessment, The Commit! Partnership — and our entire community working together to improve the odds for Dallas County kids — have achieved this ‘Systems Change’ designation. This accomplishment truly belongs to the community. The immense dedication of our 200+ cross-sector group of partners all aligned on common data-driven goals and strategies has contributed to some exciting results: a little over five years later, +24,000 more students are meeting key college-readiness benchmarks. Commit! team member Erik Moss, who helped the Partnership navigate the process to reach ‘Systems Change,’ had this to say following the announcement: “There’s something special happening in Dallas County and it’s thrilling to see people from across the country taking notice.”

Commit! Team Welcomes Taylor Toynes, South Oak Cliff Community Impact Associate

The Commit! team is excited to announce the addition of Taylor Toynes to fill the role of Community Impact Associate. In this position, Taylor will be focused on building lasting strategies to improve early childhood outcomes in Dallas’ South Oak Cliff community through neighborhood and family engagement. A native of South Oak Cliff, Taylor brings a deeply personal commitment to the students and families in the community where he was born and raised. He has served as a 4th grade teacher at W.W. Bushman Elementary School and as the Urban Specialist at Sarah A. Zumwalt Middle School, while also organizing the “For Oak Cliff” back-to-school festival last August. “It has been my mission to improve education for students and families in Oak Cliff,” says Taylor. “I look forward to serving as the Community Impact Associate with Commit! in the community that I was born and raised in. In order for us to make real strides in educational equity we have to start with early childhood. I am fired up and ready to work with everyone this upcoming year.” Taylor’s position is made possible with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and will build upon the ongoing work of school district, nonprofit, and community-based organizations in South Oak Cliff, where a collective impact approach has already started to yield results for the community’s youngest learners. If you’d like to connect with Taylor, he can be reached via email at

The Commit! Partnership Focuses on Equity in Collective Impact

In the last several years, Dallas County has made significant strides in addressing key educational challenges. From early education through postsecondary success, partners are collaborating in new ways and indicators related to pre-K, math, FAFSA completion, and other areas are trending positively. At the same time, racial and economic disparities persist; college readiness rates for White high school graduates are five to six times higher than their African American and Hispanic peers. To gain tools to address these disparities and mobilize communities to drive change, the Commit! Partnership and three other cradle to career communities are engaging in the inaugural StriveTogether Equity Fellowship, facilitated by E3 and Just Communities. In May, we were introduced to the “3 Rs” framework from Bill Daggett with the International Center for Leadership in Education. This approach has inspired the Partnership to infuse equity into its strategies to drive student achievement, focusing on: Rigor in content and expectations. It is the quality of thinking, not the quantity, and the core belief that rigorous learning can occur in any environment. Relevance in application of core knowledge to address real problems in an authentic manner. Rigor without relevance can prevent some from actively pursuing knowledge or equip others to succeed only in certain environments. Relationships between teachers and students or between organizations and families served. As one of our partners has succinctly stated, “Nothing moves without a touch.” Only after environments learn to cultivate mutual respect, honesty, responsibility and quality can collective impact lead to outcomes. The Commit! Partnership is working to integrate each of these elements into its work. Here are a few examples of local efforts: Rigor and Relevance : We are piloting a reading academy to provide professional development for grades K-3 teachers to introduce and reinforce quality early literacy instructional practices, including effective strategies to engage children from different backgrounds. After year one, all participants self-reported significant growth in their instructional effectiveness, and 14 of 19 participants saw greater in-year improvement in student literacy scores than teachers who were not a part of the pilot. The Dallas Independent School District (ISD) is now rolling out similar reading academies in additional feeder patterns in 2015-16, with supplementary coaching supports to improve instructional quality and raise student achievement. Relationships: The Commit! Partnership is supporting a coalition of community-based and resident-led organizations, like Empowering Oak Cliff, with data and facilitation for action in Dallas ISD’s South Oak Cliff feeder pattern. The power of the collective and its multiple touches was demonstrated in a recent pre-K registration push, where a mass canvassing effort and celebratory event grew early pre-K registration by more than 115 students over the prior year, representing 45 percent growth. Building on this momentum, the coalition continues to expand. A June Early Literacy Action Network meeting focused on deepening relationships between schools, nonprofits, grassroots organizations and residents to foster belonging and bring about truly collective impact. Incorporating the learning from the StriveTogether Equity Fellowship is especially relevant to this network. As we continue to [...]

By |July 1st, 2015|News|0 Comments

Fund to Invest in Six Communities to Accelerate Education Impact

StriveTogether chooses collective impact partnerships for Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund cohort. With help from some big-name funders, StriveTogether announced the first six communities to receive support from a $15 million investment fund designed to accelerate education-focused collective impact. As a part of the Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund, the first six community-based cradle to career partnerships will advance their work, scale practices that achieve results for kids and capture lessons to support the work of other collective impact partnerships across the country. After a competitive application process among the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, the organization chose the following communities: All Hands Raised (Portland, Oregon); Commit! Dallas (Dallas County, Texas); Graduate Tacoma (Tacoma, Washington); Higher Expectations (Racine, Wisconsin); Seeding Success (Memphis, Tennessee), and StrivePartnership (Cincinnati, Ohio, and Northern Kentucky). “The partners working together in each of these communities should be commended for their commitment to working in new and different ways to improve student outcomes at scale,” StriveTogether Managing Director Jeff Edmondson said. “With the additional support and focus, we believe these partnerships will not only impact their own communities, but will also help build knowledge and tools to accelerate results for collective impact initiatives across the country.” Through the Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund, each community will receive additional support through StriveTogether strategic assistance and capacity-building activities, such as advanced training in continuous improvement methods, data use and results-based leadership. Investments will be based on each community’s local goals and context, and support StriveTogether’s goal for these communities to reach “Proof Point” status by 2018. According to StriveTogether’s collective impact approach, called the Theory of Action, “Proof Point” communities experience sustainable behavior change across all education stakeholders and see 60 percent of cradle to career education outcome improving every year. Outcomes range from kindergarten readiness to post-secondary completion. “Each of these communities is committed to improving six cradle to career outcomes community-wide: kindergarten readiness, early grade reading, middle grade math, high school graduation, post-secondary enrollment and post-secondary degree completion,” Edmondson said. “This additional support will help them overcome the hurdles that stand in the way of fully realizing the potential of quality collective impact and education success for every child.” The Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund is designed to help communities reach their education goals faster, while building civic infrastructure for the future. Current partners and investors include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, KnowledgeWorks, Target and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, a philanthropic account administered by Vanguard Charitable. StriveTogether will select additional Cradle to Career Network members to join the cohort through a second competitive application process in approximately nine months. For more information on the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund, contact Mary Kenkel at or 513-929-1310. ABOUT STRIVETOGETHER: StriveTogether, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, works with communities nationwide to help them create a civic infrastructure that unites stakeholders around shared goals, measures and results in education, supporting the success of every child, cradle to career. Communities implementing the StriveTogether framework have [...]

By |June 2nd, 2015|News|0 Comments

In Dallas, First And Second Graders Get Virtual Reading Lessons

By STELLA M. CHÁVEZ KERA News Only about one in three third graders are reading at grade level in Dallas County schools. And that can have big implications down the road since only one in five kids who read below grade level go on to college. A new kind of virtual tutoring aims to tackle that problem even earlier. And the volunteer tutors don’t even have to leave the office. Listen Listening...3:37 The KERA radio story At Nancy J. Cochran Elementary School in Dallas, a group of first and second graders read “Eat up, Chick!” The book’s about a baby chicken who won’t eat worms because she doesn’t like how they look. So, she tries other food – a carrot, a bone, some hay. One day, she finally tries a worm. And she likes it. On this day, the story for these kids continues in a different way. Principal DeMarcus Goree introduces his students to their tutors in person for the first time since they were paired up six months ago. “So today, we have the individuals who have been helping you out over the computer with TutorMate, and they’re here to meet you face to face,” Goree told the class. “You may not recognize their face … but you may recognize their voice.” He tells the kids to give them a round of applause. Dallas and Houston are the first school districts in the state to participate in Tutormate – a nationwide effort designed to increase the number of first and second graders reading at grade level. Here’s how it works: Every week, 40 volunteers from eight area businesses spend 30 minutes online with their students. The tutor and student can’t see each other, but they can hear each other. The students read and play games designed to strengthen their weak spots. Casondra Wallace is a first grade teacher at Cochran. "A lot of my kids who came to me were not on grade level this year, so just getting them to a first grade level has been a challenge," Wallace said. Wallace said her students looked forward to the weekly call from their tutors -- they love reading with someone who’s not their teacher. And it seems to be making a difference. “I have a girl who came in pre-k reading level and as of this week, she’s reading at a first grade level, which is amazing,” Wallace said. In Dallas, the program is a partnership between the district, the educational non-profit group Commit! and Innovations for Learning. All of the kids attend schools in the Moisés E. Molina High School feeder pattern in southwest Dallas. Companies participating in the program include Haynes & Booth, Intuit, Nielsen, Thompson Reuters, Comerica Bank and Expedia. Wallace said the students having been working especially hard on sight words – common words that you can’t sound out like “the” or “again.” On Thursday, second grader Renee Wesley met her tutor, Brittany Sumrall, in person for the first time. Sumrall has spent the [...]

By |May 29th, 2015|News|0 Comments

Remarkable Changes At Once Struggling DISD Elementary School

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A struggling Dallas school has found a way to make a big turnaround. Those involved say the success is the result of a collaborative effort. For Paul Laurence Dunbar Learning Center teacher Aaron Jackson’s students, budgeting the balance between wants and needs is not just a math lesson — it’s a daily life lesson. “Who can tell me what gross income is?” Jackson asks his students. The teacher explained that many of his students are dealing with exceptional circumstances. “We can say it’s an excuse, but it’s the truth. I mean, a lot of these students come from poverty, low-income families.” Dunbar Learning Center sits just south of Fair Park. Just a year ago test results were poor, with fewer than 50-percent of third-graders passing state reading exams. But this year it seems everyone can feel a change. Nazli Avila, a 5th grader at Dunbar, said, “I feel more comfortable this year.” Concerns last year had some parents sending their children to other schools. But this year parents like Jesse Wilson are not only standing behind their kids, but the school also. “That’s the good part about this school — the academics!” Wilson said excitedly. “I’m loving them.” “For the most part, most of the adults teaching in Dunbar classrooms last year are still educators at the school. So what’s the difference in making the difference for Dunbar? Principal Dionel Waters explained, “What we’re seeing is some promising data.” Waters says while test scores are improving slowly, the learning center has made a leap in another category, critical to raising student achievement. Teacher Jackson believes that change is in the attitude of the adults. ‘The climate,” he said. “Most of the teachers want to come to work [and are] eager about work.” Can attitude affect aptitude? For Dunbar, it goes back to balancing the budget. The school certainly doesn’t have everything it wants, but for the moment students are getting a lot more of what they need. Dunbar is one of the Dallas Independent School District’s “Imagine 2020” schools. According to the ISDs website, the district is providing “a commitment of resources and support intended to accelerate student achievement and deepen student learning” at those designated campuses. (©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

By |May 14th, 2015|News|0 Comments

Apply to Join a National Community Leadership Network

Are you a leader with the potential to unite our diverse Dallas community in support of at-risk children and their families? Do you know someone else who might be? If so, here’s a great opportunity to join a national cohort of community-based leaders - and get paid to develop your skills! The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has launched a three-year fellowship program for emerging and established leaders. Selected fellows will join a national cohort whose work will focus on racial healing and equity. Every fellow will receive an annual stipend of $20,000 and be reimbursed for travel expenses as they enhance their leadership skills at quarterly meetings with peers in their cohort. In the third year of the program, each fellow also will receive $5,000 to execute his or her action plan. More information about the WKKF Community Leadership Network or to apply, visit: The deadline to submit an application for the fellowship is Jan. 10, 2014.

By |November 26th, 2013|General, News|0 Comments

Dallas to Host National Strive Network Convening

As you may already know, Dallas is not alone in its quest to a build a regional cradle to career educational partnership. Communities in 34 states and the District of Columbia have adopted a similar approach to better serve every child. Once a year, the Strive Network convenes these communities from across the country to connect and share what they’re learning. Because our community has demonstrated significant progress in building this collective approach, Dallas has been selected to host this year’s convening at The Fairmont hotel on September 25-27. Education leaders from across the state and country will be participating, including Jeff Edmondson, Nancy Zimpher, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Education, Data Quality Campaign, Educate Texas, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Lumina Foundation. There will be a number of ways for local partners to participate, free of charge. Look for more communication in the weeks ahead; for now, please mark your calendars for September 25-27.

By |August 20th, 2013|General, News|0 Comments

Todd Williams: We are Failing Dallas County’s Schoolkids

The following op-ed written by Commit! Executive Director Todd Williams appeared in this morning's edition of the Dallas Morning News: We are Failing Dallas County's Schoolkids by Todd Williams I left the private sector three years ago to volunteer my efforts full time toward education. I’d realized that whatever success I’d had was owed principally to teachers and mentors over the years who’d convinced me I could do anything in life if I studied hard and gave my best. Growing up within a family living, at best, paycheck-to-paycheck in East Dallas, my access to a quality public education from Dallas ISD substantially changed my life trajectory. Austin College and 100 percent financial aid transformed it. I was blessed to live the American Dream. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, my story was very common. Today, it’s increasingly unique. And we, our collective community, must ask ourselves: Why? Today, Dallas County has 500,000 K-12 students. Ninety-one percent of those students attend a public school. Poverty is pervasive; 70 percent of those students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Most importantly, only 13 percent of public school students who start ninth grade across Dallas County graduate four years later academically ready for higher education. For our Hispanic and African-American children, who collectively represent 80 percent of all first-grade children regionally, that number is 4 percent. These tragically low numbers represent our community’s future — and that future is increasingly worrisome. We are collectively failing our children. Regardless of their ethnicity or ZIP code, they are our children and our region’s future depends on the success of all of them. Too many of us have stopped fully supporting our public school system, believing that if we pay our property taxes, we’ve somehow done enough. But our educators and children need more than our dollars; they need us to share in the collective accountability for each child’s future, regardless of whether our own children are grown or attend school elsewhere. Educators cannot, and must not, be asked to stem the cycle of poverty alone. When is the last time each of us did the following? Encouraged our own offspring to consider becoming a public school teacher. Asked our company to adopt a school. Personally mentored a child, volunteered or provided an internship. Thanked a school board trustee for serving countless hours in an unpaid role. Voted in a school board election? Held our representatives truly accountable for working meaningfully to improve our education system. Within DISD, we pay over $1.4 billion in taxes, yet less than 2 percent of us vote in school board elections. The 2011 elections were canceled due to lack of candidates. We allow select media to focus more on reporting scandal and conflict among educators instead of discussing academic progress, best practices and remaining challenges. We watched the state decimate pre-K funding in 2011 while concurrently growing prison expenditures. We watched legislators cut $5 billion of resources for public K-12 education (taking us to the bottom 10 percent of [...]

By |January 7th, 2013|General, News|0 Comments