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Note:  This column was first published in the Charlotte, North Carolina Charlotte Observer on October 5, 2014.  An impressive explaination of how community metrics can be used to improve eduction, it is reproduced here with the permission of the paper and the author.

New Approach Tackles Dropout Rate
by Mary Lynne Calhoun Ed.D.
 

The “united” in United Way of Central Carolinas has taken on a new, powerful meaning with the adoption and implementation of the Collective Impact model of philanthropy.

We’re all familiar with the essential work of United Way in raising funds to support the work of human services agencies to address our community’s most pressing needs. Collective Impact intensifies the power of this work by moving from the isolated impact of individual agencies to the shared impact of working toward a common goal. 

United Way of Central Carolinas began the Collective Impact process by conducting a five-county community needs assessment in 2011. That report identified education, particularly high school completion rates, as a critical need in our region. Sixteen United Way agencies that work with children and youth were invited to plan together about how they might contribute to stronger education outcomes for the community’s most vulnerable children. Benchmark goals related to high school completion (e.g., quality preschool education, early literacy, strong mentoring relationships with caring adults, etc.) were identified and included in the model.

A sophisticated data-sharing system managed by UNC Charlotte’s Institute for Social Capital allows us to examine the progress of young people served by United Way agencies: their academic progress, their attendance, and the number of school suspensions. These measures are all important benchmarks related to high school completion. This week, United Way announced the Year 2 data for Mecklenburg County children served by the 16 agencies, with these key findings:

• United Way agencies are reaching the children most in need of support – those in the highest-poverty neighborhoods, attending the lowest-performing schools and facing the greatest income-disparity gap.

• Compared to the year before receiving agency services, the majority of children either improved or remained stable in reading and math, attendance and behavior.

• Attendance and behavior continue to be areas of concern – there is a higher than typical rate of chronic absenteeism, and 24 percent of students had been suspended from school at least once in the year of record.

Those interested in more data detail can find it on United Way’s website.

The Collective Impact reports will be richer each year, with new information on high school completion rates, promotion to the next grade and report card grades. And as part of its partnership with the Collective Impact agencies, United Way is recruiting and training tutors in literacy programs through Project 1000 and is providing shared professional development for agency personnel and volunteers.

The Collective Impact model of philanthropy requires a common agenda, a shared measurement system, trust, and encouragement of agencies to do what they do best toward the common goal. Collective Impact requires us to commit to working together for the long haul and to keep learning and improving in our community effort.

We are most fortunate that Charlotte’s nonprofits, United Way’s generous donors and major foundations are willing to all contribute to the effort. Our gifts to United Way are being used collaboratively to move the needle in improving outcomes for our community neighbors. Together we are united in doing big and important work for the common good. 

A United Way board member from 2010-2014, Mary Lynne Calhoun retired as Dean of the College of Education at UNC Charlotte last year. She continues to work with United Way on the graduation initiative.

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