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.”

Tackle Summer Slide Program Results Show Over Half of Students Gained Two Months’ Reading Ability

Nationally, low-income students experience an average summer learning loss in reading achievement of more than two months every year. This summer, Istation initiated its 3rd annual Tackle Summer Slide program. The program is an effort to reverse summer reading loss by providing children with access to online curriculum, instruction from trained reading specialists, and learning incentives. Istation is an interactive computer-delivered program that provides every student with the individualized instruction she or he needs for continual success. Educators and parents can access online reports that track student progress and provide links to supplemental lessons. The collaborative effort between Dallas ISD, Dallas Afterschool, IStation, Dallas City of Learning, and The Commit! Partnership included 411 kindergarten through 3rd grade Dallas ISD students at eight community sites across the city. More than 30 literacy specialists worked with these students to prevent the trend of low-income students losing two months of reading achievement every summer. The results have been incredible. 72% of the students experienced no summer slide at all (up 8% from last summer), and 53% of students increased their literacy by two months. This significantly exceeds results from last year. Additionally, costs were cut in half this year by leveraging existing resources, such as sharing literacy specialists across sites. For the Tackle Summer Slide program’s fourth year, the involved organizations have already begun putting more supports and resources in place to hopefully help even more students overcome summer reading loss in 2018.

85th Texas Legislative Special Session Recap

On June 6th, Governor Greg Abbott called a special session and listed 20 priorities to be addressed during the 30 day special session, which began on July 18. Gov. Abbott later added school finance reform and Teacher Retirement System TRS-Care funding. The Legislature passed very few of Governor Abbott’s priorities, leaving the possibility of a second special session open. Most notably, the Legislature did not pass either school voucher or bathroom legislation. Additionally, teachers will be missing out on their raises, as the chambers failed to agree on how to finance a teacher pay bump. Perhaps the biggest “victory” of the special session was the extension of important state agencies via sunset legislation, a bill that was held hostage during the regular session that ended in May, and forced Abbott to call the special session in the first place. The Legislature also passed legislation on school finance reform – HB 21 by Representative Dan Huberty – initially a $1.8 billion influx to public schools in Texas, which would have added $1.5 billion to the basic allotment. The Senate stripped the bill down to ~$300m, focused primarily on various special education grants, support for small and rural schools, and extension of ASATR to prevent many districts from shuttering schools. This bill will have little to no effect on the school districts in Dallas County. However, the bill did establish a School Finance Commission to evaluate and suggest changes to Texas’ school finance system. It remains to be seen whether this commission will be a serious effort to overhaul the beleaguered school finance system, but we will keep an eye out as the members are selected and the commission’s efforts are underway. Overall, little was accomplished during the special session – for better or for worse. Our efforts remain on interim charges, such as supporting development of the EC-3 teaching certificate and the Early Childhood Institute at DCCCD.

Strengthening Cultures of Continuous Improvement in College Advising

College advisors from Cedar Hill ISD, DeSoto ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Education is Freedom, and Academic Success Program came together as an Impact & Improvement Network to strengthen their continuous improvement skills and impact postsecondary enrollment through growing the number of seniors completing FAFSA applications. Communities achieve results more quickly when they have a chance to work together and learn from each other. Collectively, the districts participating helped 1,686 seniors complete FAFSA applications by July 1, 2017. This represents a collective 63% FAFSA completion rate (compared to a 55% completion rate by non-participating districts) and is up from 48% last year. True continuous improvement means you are tracking the data, identifying whether or not an intervention was successful or not and folding that information back into what you do. The Impact & Improvement Network participants shifted their use of FAFSA data from reporting to identifying practices and strategies that move outcomes. In partnership with Commit!'s postsecondary team, participants practiced: Identifying which step in the financial aid process causes themost challenges for the most students using their experience and student and parent input Refining strategies to help students overcome those challenges Charting FAFSA data bi-weekly to see how effective their strategies were Actively adjusting practices based on strategy efficacy Those who attended the Dallas County College Completion Alignment Council meeting on August 30, 2017 collaborated on effective FAFSA/TASFA completion practices with participants and college advisors. The meeting included a FAFSA/TASFA Showcase with resources, tools, and an "effective practice" gallery walk from ocal campuses with high year-over-year growth in FAFSA completion rates. The Alignment Council meeting also included space to learn and discuss effective practices for supporting DREAMer/DACAmented students from local college bound advisor, Ann Marano, and the North Texas Dream Team.

Dallas County Students Show Significant Improvement on Key Academic Indicators

The recently released State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) data from the Texas Education Agency indicates noteworthy improvement for Dallas County students. The 4th Grade Math indicator, which contributes to showing if Dallas County students are on a postsecondary pace, is the largest gain from 2016 to 2017, raising seven percentage points. Since 2012, all indicators have increased considerably (3rd Grade Reading up five percentage points, 4th Grade Math up 14 percentage points, 8th Grade Science up 11 percentage points, and Algebra 1 up 11 percentage points). Overall, 24,000 more Dallas County students are meeting The Partnership’s four STAAR benchmarks today than in 2012. Since 2016, 8,900 more Dallas County students are meeting indicators that show they are on a postsecondary pace (1,241 more students meeting 3rd Grade Reading, 3,957 more students meeting 4th Grade Math, 1,068 more students meeting 8th Grade Science, and 2,590 more students meeting Algebra 1). While STAAR results cannot be the sole predictor for student success, the significant improvement for Dallas County students is encouraging overall. With more students meeting key academic benchmarks this year, we are one step closer to the state’s 60x30 goal: By 2030, at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 will have a certificate or degree.

For Oak Cliff Festival

The Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty recently released their poverty report, stating that Dallas has the highest child poverty rate in the country. Dallas joins cities such as Baltimore and Chicago in having the largest gap of disparity between the rich and poor in America. When we focus on the total number of individuals living in poverty in particular zip codes, 75216 stands out and has one of the highest poverty rates in Dallas County. In an effort to eliminate the financial burden of purchasing school supplies, the community organized the 2nd Annual For Oak Cliff Back to School Festival, which took place August 13th. This year at For Oak Cliff, we had 3,000 families attend Glendale Park in the spirit of peace and serenity. For Oak Cliff is more than just a school supplies giveaway festival, we also registered over 100 people to vote and were able to match over 20 people with jobs. Schools such as Paul Quinn College and The University of North Texas were also at the event, speaking to students about their respective colleges and what it takes to enroll. Margaret Benson, who has lived in the neighborhood over 40 years and has lived in Oak Cliff over 70 plus years, states, “The past two years, I have seen the park filled with families excited about the upcoming school year. This event gives me hope for the generations to come and that there will be change within the community.” We want to thank everyone who made this event possible: Dallas Park and Rec, The Mayor’s Office, The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, The Dallas Mavericks, Williams Chicken, Texas Instruments, and Celanese. Stay tuned for upcoming For Oak Cliff news and events by visiting our website at and liking our Facebook page.

2016 Partner Survey Results Now Available

Earlier this year, partners were invited to share their perspectives and experiences of The Commit! Partnership as part of a national evaluation to better understand how communities come together to improve educational outcomes. Conducted by Equal Measure, this second annual “Cradle to Career Partner Survey” was administered here in Dallas, along with 15 other communities across the country. You can read the full report here, along with a brief summary slide deck here. Here are just a few of the takeaways: Our community continues to lead on a national stage: Of the 16 participating communities, the Commit! Partnership rated consistently higher across all communities in every category. We are improving our collective ability to do this work: The Commit! Partnership ratings increased from 2015 to 2016. Eliminating locally defined disparities and continuous improvement continue to be strengths. Areas for improvement remain: Among our opportunities to improve are broadening community knowledge of the partnership’s vision, expanding the diversity of perspectives informing that vision, mobilizing the contributions of parents and students, and more effectively bringing about public policy changes that support improved educational outcomes. Thanks to those partners who took the time to participate in the survey. This feedback will help us improve our collective efforts to improve outcomes for all children in Dallas County, from cradle to career.

Early Pre-K Registration Campaign

Dallas County is off to a great start to the school year with an increase of 1,348 more children registered for Pre-K! Congratulations to all those involved in our countywide Early Pre-K Registration Campaign! This marks the second consecutive year of increase and a notable step toward our collective goal to ensure at least 80% of children are kindergarten ready by 2025. This year’s Early Pre-K Registration campaign featured the combined efforts of nine local districts — Cedar Hill ISD, Coppell ISD, Dallas ISD, DeSoto ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Irving ISD, Lancaster ISD, Mesquite ISD, and Richardson ISD — making it the largest district-level effort to date. The commitment of four additional districts, collaborative planning efforts and assorted outreach strategies greatly expanded the reach well beyond that of the 2015 campaign. Registration and outreach efforts were also greatly supported by community partners and stakeholders. Over 140 organizations, businesses and individuals were equipped with 105,000 flyers! Libraries, community centers, food pantries, clinics, churches, local nonprofits and other stakeholders have championed the importance of early learning to families across Dallas. Thank you to Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas for making this possible! And thank you to all of the partners that continue to prove the power of our collective action. If you’d like to be involved with the 2017 Pre-K Registration effort, please contact Kim Manns at Articles featuring this year's Early Pre-K Registration Campaign: Dallas ISD's pre-K enrollment hits 11,000 for the first time, Dallas Morning News, September 8, 2016 When should workforce training start? As early as pre-K, Dallas coalition says, Dallas Morning News, September 9, 2016

Celebrating and Looking Forward: College Access & Success

The 2015-2016 school year brought many reasons to celebrate, including an increase in FAFSA/TAFSA completion rates in five districts and an increase in college enrollment after the hard-to-navigate summer months for students participating in the countywide texting program. We are invested in supporting our community partners’ work in increasing postsecondary enrollment and completion, and we look forward to continuing that work during the 2016-2017 school year alongside you. College Affordability Over the past three years, Dallas County school districts, nonprofits, higher education partners, and business community volunteers have come together to promote a better understanding of how (and why) to pay for higher education. What originated as a community coming together to host community FAFSA/TASFA workshops has evolved into a strategic effort to increase FAFSA/TASFA completion rates. Our work together now includes a broader college affordability campaign, grassroots support from area students acting as a street teams on their campuses, and multiple training sessions for advisors and after-school providers. Success to Date: As a result of these efforts, 43% of 2016 seniors completed FAFSA by July 1. While this is down one percentage point (220 seniors) from 2015, five districts had FAFSA completion rates above their 2015 rates and 18 high school campuses had at least a 5 percentage point growth. Coming Up Next: The County is in full swing getting ready for the early FAFSA/TAFSA opening this year on October 1. To make sure students are well-informed and motivated to apply as early as possible, our region is joining the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s FAFSA/TASFA Challenge by participating in the statewide GenTX campaign in November. Additionally, we have launched a new initiative for 2016-2017: the Impact and Improvement Network. Under this initiative, five districts (Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville, Grand Prairie and Lancaster) were selected to participate in an 8-month, in-depth network on continuous improvement tools and templates specifically to strengthen and improve financial aid completion rates as they adapt to the new financial aid timeline. How can you get involved? Accept the state challenge by setting a FAFSA/TASFA completion goal and/or help spread the word about financial aid here Download new toolkits and resources on including a tip sheet with talking points for non-college advisors to use to debunk financial aid myths Share college affordability events and dates with us so we can help you promote! Bridging the High School to College Transition Even for our most engaged and prepared students, the summer after high school graduation can be difficult to navigate. Graduates don’t have access to their counselor and are not yet connected to a college campus. With these challenges, many Dallas County seniors, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, fall off track, or “melt,” at some point during their senior year or during the summer and do not enroll in any postsecondary program. To combat this, Commit! brought together local school districts and higher ed partners to launch a text messaging system in 2014-2015 that sent students reminders on college enrollment milestones and allowed them to [...]

Dallas Tackles Summer Learning Loss Together

Dallas is at the forefront of a national movement to reverse summer learning loss – a critical challenge given research showing that low-income students, on average, experience more than 2 months’ loss in reading achievement every summer. Led by Big Thought, this summer Dallas City of Learning (DCoL) involved more than 150 partners at over 100 locations to help stem summer learning loss for approximately 50,000 students. You can read the stories of multiple DCoL partners, including Commit!, here. As part of this citywide initiative, Tackle Summer Slide is a collaborative effort focused on reversing summer reading loss by providing children entering grades K-3 access to online curriculum, instruction from trained reading specialists, and learning incentives. Summer learning sites that were willing and able to serve as host partners received access to Istation reading licenses, training for staff, a reading specialist two times per week to help with tutoring students, and incentives, including tablet computers, to reward student attendance and achievement. Host partners this summer were: Circle of Support, Oak Cliff Boys & Girls Club, Roseland Boys & Girls Club, Cummings Rec Center, Nash-Davis Rec Center, Samuell Grand Rec Center, Frazier Revitalization Inc., Heart House, Jubilee Park & Community Center, Readers 2 Leaders, Trinity River Mission, and Catholic Charities Santa Clara Community Center. As a result of these efforts: 475 rising K-3 students received services 50 parents attended at least one literacy workshop (piloted with two host partners) 57% of participating students stayed on grade level or grew their reading ability according to ISIP data performance Look for an upcoming post in our Bright Spot Blog Series featuring a few of the Tackle Summer Slide host partners that achieved particularly positive results!