10/02/2012 07:03 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2012

Zip Codes Don't Need to Determine a Kid's Academic Achievement

We have been successful too because Americans have known that one's status at birth was not a permanent station in life. You might not be able to control your circumstances but you could control your response to your circumstances. And your greatest ally in doing so was a quality education. Let me ask you, though, today, when I can look at your zip code and can tell whether you are going to get a good education -- can I really say that it doesn't matter where you came from -- it matters where you are going.

-- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 29, 2012

When Secretary Rice uttered those words deep into her convention speech, calling education the civil rights issue of our day, my thoughts turned to Tuesday mornings, and why we can't stay on the sidelines any longer.

On Tuesdays, I join a bevy of my colleagues and others in Cincinnati and fan out into classrooms in the Cincinnati Public School District as tutors and see themes in her speech played out on the ground. For me, the theme manifests itself in Josh (not his real name), a 10-year-old who lives in one of those zip codes, and whose future we have to change if we want to fulfill the promise of America of which Rice speaks.

Josh has reading challenges, so he and I practice for about 40 minutes. We slog through about five, painstaking pages before our time is up. But, he is smiling. This week was better than the previous one. And, we will repeat this week after week during the school year until improvement happens.

What we do every Tuesday is a granular manifestation of the work of the Strive Partnership, where members of education, nonprofit, community, civic, and philanthropic sectors are working together to help kids like Josh get the tools they need to succeed from birth through post-secondary education into a meaningful career. Today, it's reading, but it could be any of a number of wraparound support services, from health to mentoring to housing.

This work we do on the ground every week is no accident. Our tasks are informed by data that tell us which kids need help the most and in what areas, meaning our work is targeted and as efficient as possible. Peter Goodman's June piece, "On Education, Strive Partnership Offers Useful Template," presented a compelling argument for seeing this kind of work move forward based on results such as improvements in reading, math, high school graduation and other upward trends.

Today, led by Managing Director Jeff Edmondson, the Strive cradle to career network is spearheading the growth of this work nationally. Edmondson said many communities have multiple tables of cross-sector leaders coming together to rally around an individual piece of the education pipeline such as early childhood learning or college access. However, the civic infrastructure asks communities to create a single table with executive leaders representing different interests to support practitioners that are willing to use data to lift up and scale what works.

Success is no magic bullet, and it takes lots of hard work. My hat is off to the more than 70 communities in the United States who are actively engaged in this work with the assistance of the Strive Network.

More than 400 dedicated leaders from those communities were in Milwaukee last week at Strive's annual convening, which explored how communities building a cradle to career civic infrastructure can use data more effectively to improve academic achievement.

This can be wonkish and unsexy stuff, but it is one of the cornerstones necessary to help make those Tuesday mornings as meaningful as possible to Josh and his peers. And, if we are successful, we can begin to alter the perceptions of zip codes as a predictor of a kid's education success.

Byron McCauley, a former columnist and editorial page editor for Gannett and Advance publications, is senior director of public relations at KnowledgeWorks, a social enterprise in Cincinnati, Ohio that develops and implements innovative education initiatives, including Strive.