In this time of momentous decisions about school re-openings and re-entry, coherent policy solutions require trust, communication, and deep engagement with partners from outside the K12 system. Panelists Paolo DeMaria, Karen Pittman, and Rey Saldaña expressed these ideas on July 16th in the second of Aspen Education’s five webinars built on our publication Recovery & Renewal: Principles for Advancing Public Education Post Crisis. The panelists expressed confidence that cross-agency and community-wide solutions to education challenges are possible, but stressed the human dimensions of systemic change — breaking down silos and ways of working that keep the status quo in place — are as important as how the system is designed. Incoherence across policy silos squanders scarce resources and forces families to navigate complex bureaucracies and to miss out on opportunities they deserve.
TOP, left to right: Ross Wiener, Executive Director, Aspen Institute Education & Society Program; Rey Saldaña, President & CEO, Communities In Schools. BOTTOM, left to right: Paolo DeMaria, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ohio State; Karen Pittman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Forum for Youth Investment
Forging coherence is an act of leadership. Panelists described the key attributes they associate with coherence:
- Organize action explicitly against a cross-division, cross-agency vision of success
- Authentically engage all the people involved
- Break down silos in data to spark and support collaboration
The opportunity — the obligation — to achieve more equitable outcomes through participatory design seems very real in this moment. Sure, admonitions to “stay in your lane” often stifle cross-agency collaboration. And identifying trusted partners who have both credibility and capacity is challenging in a system built for risk management more than innovation. Coherence can become bureaucracy run amuck, if done without an equity lens and absent the voice and agency of all concerned. But meeting acute needs and urgent demands within constrained resources demands coherence in strategy and approach.
“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”
With the Broadway hit Hamilton streaming this month, perhaps it’s no surprise that the panelists struck a note not unlike the underlying themes of the popular musical: Who tells the story, and who is in the room where it happens, matters tremendously. We were struck by the frank acknowledgment of who holds power and who is invited to the table when trying to create policies that work together. It’s one thing to know it does matter who pays for the critical navigators who help students, or which federal revenue streams get braided thanks to leaders who exert pressure to change eligibility requirements. It’s something else to deliver on that promise through partnerships and shared accountability for outcomes.
Fortunately, there are models to follow and resources to get started:
- Aspen Institute, Council of Chief State School Officers, and Education First offer resources through the Coherence Lab Fellowship
- The Forum for Youth Investment offers multiple resources for communities, school districts, and states including a Children’s Cabinet Playbook and the Readiness Project for creating equitable learning environments.
- The Ohio Department of Education strategic plan models a coherent approach built through a participatory process.
- The Communities In Schools model of integrated student supports provides an example of how school-based staff can help families navigate a complicated system.
- Denver has created data-forward models for monitoring and improving the status of children and mapping fiscal resources.
Coherence involves better coordination between government agencies, braiding funding streams so families are served comprehensively with all the dollars targeted toward their success, and getting outside the school system into the ecosystem of community partners and organizations that understand the culture and stories of the students we hope to serve.
“What Comes Next?”
Inspired by this view of cohering around equity as well as efficiency, Aspen Institute’s Education & Society Program is releasing a new paper highlighting How Governor and Mayors Can Support Schools to Support Students. Tactics for state and local leaders are organized around three strategies:
- Fostering cross-agency and community partner collaboration.
- Fully leveraging federal funds and streamlining eligibility and reimbursement.
- Identifying additional human capital to support students and teachers.
Governors and mayors have been the driving force in pandemic response. They can now use the powers of their office to support schools as they re-open (whatever form that takes). This is the time to begin a conversation about coherence that has equitable student outcomes at the center.