The Oregonian: Cradle to Career makes 'massive' effort to tackle school failure in Multnomah County
By Bill Graves, The Oregonian
(Portland, Ore.) March 15, 2012 - About 40 business, education and community leaders gathered this morning at Portland State University for a progress report on an ambitious effort to track and help every Multnomah County child find school success and a career.
PSU helped launch the Cradle to Career initiative more than two years ago as leaders began to come to grips with the breath-taking scale of school failure in Multnomah County.
The county's on-time high school graduation rate is 59 percent for Portland Public Schools, 46 percent for Reynolds School District and even worse for minority groups. For Native Americans, for example, the graduation rate falls as low as 31 percent in Portland and 14 percent in the Parkrose School District.
"Our truth is that we have a collective future in our children," said Nichole Maher, executive director of the Native American Youth & Family Center. "Our failing at this level, it impacts our whole community."
The Portland School Foundation changed its name to All Hands Raised to serve all six school districts in the county and help lead the Cradle to Career initiative, modeled after a similar effort in Cincinnati. So far the initiative – which involves hundreds of public and private education, business and nonprofit leaders – has set three priorities:
– Eliminate disparities.
– Link community and family supports to children and their school success.
– Ensure all students enter schools prepared to learn.
Dan Ryan, chief executive officer of All Hands Raised, said the initiative requires leaders to set aside their egos and sometimes make uncomfortable changes in the way they do things.
"If there isn't conflict," he said, "we are not going to do anything that matters."
The initiative already has started supporting specific actions such as Ninth Grade Counts, which identifies high school freshmen who are missing days or failing classes and steers them to extra help or summer school.
"The data is painful," said Ryan. "Sometimes we forget there is a kid associated with every number."
Carole Smith, superintendent of Portland schools, called Cradle to Career a "massive" and "revolutionary" initiative.
"We are trying to understand every kid by name and what is happening to them," she said.
Randy Hitz, dean of the PSU graduate school of education, said teachers in an elementary school, no matter how good, are more effective when they work together.
"This is about the same thing at a higher level," he said. "That is what this is about: collective impact."
PSU, the state's largest university with nearly 30,000 students, depends heavily on Multnomah County districts producing a healthy flow of well-prepared high school graduates.
"This is so important to our future as a region," said PSU President Wim Wiewel.
– Bill Graves