If you’re a school or city leader in almost any municipality in America, you’re confronting entrenched achievement gaps that consign lower-income, English learning, or minority students to poorer outcomes. Your city has any number of programs to support families, and any number of initiatives to support students. But the gaps remain.
Over the last two years, six cities from across the country have participated in an experiment to find out what it really takes to close those gaps — an experiment based on the recognition that schools alone can’t do it. Leaders from these six cities have reorganized and aligned their municipal structures to address the multifaceted challenges that cement the correlation between socioeconomic status and educational achievement.
In a report that takes stock of what they’ve learned, the Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is sharing some of the key lessons for a successful citywide campaign to prioritize educational equity. As the report cautions, the work is not easy, not always orderly, and not of short duration. But there are broad takeaways that can help other cities launch a similar community effort.
All Children, By All Means
The six cities who’ve joined the experiment — Louisville, Kentucky; Oakland, California; Providence, Rhode Island; and Salem, Somerville, and Newton in Massachusetts — comprise the first cohort of a consortium called By All Means, which provided the framing philosophy and guidance, city-specific consulting help, and a broad professional community for reflection and collaboration beyond city lines.
>>Read the full By All Means report and case studies of each city's experience.
Each of the six cities explored equity gaps in distinct and context-specific ways, making changes — some more successful than others, some just beginning to bear fruit, some that will need a generation to assess — and building connections among city agencies, the school districts, nonprofits, and residents. Among the issues they tackled: access to preschool and to college, improving behavioral health services, expanding access to personalized learning, and creating universal summer and afterschool programming. Here are the lessons that have emerged thus far.
Whole-City Education Reform: Key Lessons
Mayoral Leadership is Critical
To fuel a collaborative, citywide education effort, cities need the political clout that comes from mayoral involvement, the report concludes. Each By All Means city launched or revitalized a “children’s cabinet” to spearhead its initiatives, and cabinet members pointed to the mayors as being the most crucial factor in their success — signaling the work’s priority and bringing senior executives to the table.
Children’s Cabinets Need Real Authority
“Setting up a children’s cabinet and calling it to meet is — with mayoral leadership — relatively straightforward,” the report states. “Creating a cabinet with the right members and a clear plan that enables cross-agency work is much harder.” Each city in the By All Means consortium formed a cabinet that was chaired by the mayor, co-chaired by the superintendent or another city leader, and included representation from health and social services and other government and community organizations.