Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Nancy L. Zimpher Headshot

Education Leaders Strive to Increase Academic Achievement

Posted: Updated:

In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama issued a challenge: are we willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed? But I don't believe it's a question of will; it's a question of how.

Educators, civic leaders and government are already working -- quite hard -- to raise test scores and graduation rates. Collaboration is where we fail -- rallying all stakeholders around a common effort to achieve these goals. The sad truth of this collective failure is that all of our individual efforts come up short. Despite our best intentions, the improvements needed to better educate our children and students remain out of reach.

Education must be seen as a continuum, from cradle to career -- or, as the president said on Tuesday, "from the day they're born until the last job they take." We call this the Education Pipeline, and for the most part, educators in the U.S. have failed to own our mutual responsibility in maintaining it.

It is a myth that one person or group can fix education by themselves, no matter how visionary or passionate. Only by working together -- public and private institutions of higher education, state education departments, school districts, elected officials, civic, philanthropic and corporate leaders -- will we see results.

We must set aside traditional territorial finger-pointing and share expectations and evidence-based interventions. At the same time, we need the courage to hold each other accountable by evaluating our progress and, at regular intervals, present it in a transparent manner for all to see. And, given the state of our economy, the price tag of our efforts must be affordable.

This may sound like a fantasy -- generating real, large-scale change at little to no cost -- but it's already happening in places like Cincinnati, Houston and Richmond and will soon take shape in New York, Boston and other cities across the country. I'm talking about cradle-to-career networks -- innovative regional partnerships where all involved are pursuing a mutual goal to effectively educate students at every level.

Next week, education and community leaders from across the country will convene in Washington DC to launch these partnerships. This network will be modeled after Strive Together, which I helped create in 2006, and is currently doing remarkable work in public school districts in greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

The purpose of Strive is not solely to increase academic achievement, but to also increase kindergarten preparedness and college graduation rates. And we have been successful. At Cincinnati's public schools, 8th grade math scores have gone up 15 percent and college enrollment has increased by 10 percent. At Northern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati, graduation rates for students from the local urban area high schools have increased by 10 and 7 percent respectively. There have been additional improvements in the number of preschool children prepared for kindergarten, fourth-grade reading and math scores and high school graduation rates. Strive results have been so compelling that nine regions across the country have signed on to replicate or adapt the program.

That's exactly what we are doing here in New York. As the chancellor of the largest public institution of higher learning in the country, I believe it is SUNY's civic duty to step out of the traditional university role and answer this challenge. SUNY is establishing a series of systemic and sustainable regional education networks that will bring together partners who, like those in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, have signed on to strengthen the education pipeline from cradle to career.

We will begin in Albany by collaborating with the City School District, several of our regional SUNY campuses, local government and not-for-profit organizations like the Albany Education Family Alliance and the United Way. Simultaneously, SUNY will begin to develop collaborative programs in Buffalo, Brooklyn and in Harlem, where SUNY has engaged in a new neighborhood collaborative to turn-around four struggling public schools -- impacting more than 2,000 students.

Someone has to take the lead on this critical national discussion, and I believe that higher education has a deep responsibility and great capacity to do just that.

So, yes, Mr. President -- we are willing. But only together are we able.