Strive Together: Lessons from Dallas


In our last post, we described a national Strive Together movement that is gathering momentum from our largest cities to our smallest towns. Strive networks organize a total community effort around closing educational opportunity gaps and improving performance from cradle-to-career, increasing post-secondary attainment and workforce readiness. This strategy is big-hearted but also hard-headed; it relies heavily on data and evidence-tested intervention, “everybody-in’’ partnerships between public, private and non-profit organizations, and pushing for results and measurable outcomes.

More than a dozen Minnesotans, representing Strive Together efforts from the Twin Cities and smaller communities from Itasca County to Austin, were in attendance at the national Strive Together convening in Dallas this week. Here are key takeaways we gleaned:

Business likes a comprehensive approach. Minnesota’s Target Corporation was a leading sponsor of the Strive Together conference in Dallas, as was the MetLife Foundation and United Way groups, typically led by business and corporate types, are often the backbone organizations for Strive networks. Reba Dominski, director of community relations for Target, told the attendees that “strong businesses and strong communities are inextricably linked.”

Strive really is a movement. A national map of emerging or fully developed Strive Together communities shows coast-to-coast representation, including many of the largest metropolitan areas and communities. Texas, New York, California and Minnesota are particularly well represented.

It’s harder than it looks. Strive Together efforts have started up in dozens of communities but a recurrent theme throughout the convening was that no part of the process is easy. National leaders talked about “failing forward,” learning from mistakes, and persevering in the face of apathy or pushback. A key concern I heard was that the movement needs more authentic engagement from the parents and students, low-income communities it serves, to be considered an actual movement.

Next come “proof points.” The theme of this year’s conference was “Raising the Bar Together’’ and the compelling need to produce “proof points’’ that show tangible progress in student achievement where communities are beginning to implement the Theory of Action..

Look for “proof’’ outside of the standardized test pudding. Although academic performance improvements lie at the core of the hard-headed Strive strategy, the organization is exploring how to incorporate social and emotional learning in to the Strive framework. A plenary presentation featured an intriguing discussion around new research and a report showing how social and emotional competencies can outweigh academic performance in life and work.

The Strive Together model fits very closely with our own recommended strategy at Growth & Justice for comprehensive, evidence-tested investments that dramatically reduce the racical and income gaps and boost post-secondary attainment and workforce readiness. Work this important and complex will never be easy. But it’s encouraging to see this philosophy flouish and become a national movement. And we’ll be doing everything we can to build this movement from border to border in the North Star State.