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 develop tools and knowledge through the Equity Fellowship, we will execute more elements of an equity-infused strategy for early literacy with core partners from Leadership ISD, Literacy Instruction For Texas (LIFT) and others, while integrating the knowledge, experience and momentum that Dallas Faces Race and others have initiated to mobilize Dallas County to face inequities and work for change.