by Khotan Shahbazi-Harmon
Since E3 Alliance and Strive were founded in 2006, many similar examples of education intermediaries seeking to facilitate collective change have been initiated around the country. In our experience, every single one of those partnerships share three common goals. While they may be worded differently and have different specific objectives, each one strives to meet some goal toward increasing school readiness, closing achievement gaps, and improving success in graduation and beyond. However, E3 Alliance is the only such partnership we have seen where one of our four overarching and explicit goals is to create a culture of community accountability for education across our region. We firmly believe that responsibility for educational outcomes can’t reside with just a principal or a school. Banks, county commissioners, chambers, community leaders – a critical mass of leaders must take responsibility for ALL our children reaching their highest potential or we will never, we believe, create a platform for true systemic change.
Thus, sharing progress with internal and external partners is not just about the typical methods: presentations and press releases, newsletters and annual reports, PSAs and social media and gatherings. In addition to all of these, we work diligently to actively engage partners and non-partner stakeholders to both understand and share data for better decision-making and to foster community change. So, for instance, we hold regular community E3-3D (Data Driven Decision-making) events, where we both share intriguing and actionable data on student trends and outcomes and have panels of students or teachers or business leaders or college admissions officers reflect on the reality behind the data we’ve shown, what may be done to make positive changes, and how data can be better used by the community to lead change. This combination pf practitioner wisdom with quantitative data, combined with active community engagement and discussion, rapidly turns into powerful information and increased engagement for better decision-making and action.
In addition, when we identify meaningful ways for community partners to engage in and own behavioral change, we ask them to lead this action. For instance, when our superintendents identified student attendance as a key lever for increasing both student achievement and school funding, we assembled a community-led Missing School Matters Taskforce and armed members with the data on student absenteeism and its impact. They in turn engaged over a hundred businesses, community groups, city and county agencies, neighborhood associations, and nonprofits in getting the Missing School Matters word out. E3’s data on the potential effect of improved attendance was then shared with many tens of thousands of families across the community. The impact is undeniable: while student enrollment in our region has grown at a relatively steady rate for over two decades, and the total number of student absences has grown at almost exactly the same rate, when the Missing School Matters campaign was launched in 2011 for the first time those trends diverged, with enrollment continuing to rise but total absences actually dropping. The net impact is a data point we are now sharing with the community in discussions about how we will continue making improvements: we’ve gained over $20M in increased revenues for Central Texas schools since the campaign launched.
Khotan Shahbazi-Harmon is the Director of Communications & Community Accountability at E3 Alliance