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Volume XI, Number 1, Spring 2005
Issue Topic: Complementary Learning
Ask the Expert
HFRP asked Dr. Hector Garza, president of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP), to describe what he looks for when evaluating educational partnerships and their work. While the evaluation design used by NCCEP spans programming, partnership development, strategic planning, and academic outcomes, Dr. Garza shared lessons that can be of use for educators engaged in or establishing K–16 education partnerships. Here, based on his organization’s evaluation of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s ENLACE initiative, he describes seven factors related to the importance of planning, leadership, and partnership development.
Engaging Latino Communities for Education—ENLACE—is a multiyear K–16 initiative funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to help increase the number of Latino students earning high school and college degrees. Thirteen ENLACE sites in seven states¹ are working to narrow the achievement gap between Latinos and other students by improving college preparation, access, retention, and rates of graduation.
In Spanish, the word enlace means to link or to weave. The ENLACE initiative reflects this concept by making partnerships a cornerstone of its work. Community-based partnerships are seen as an essential vehicle for achieving the programmatic and policy changes that can transform education and benefit Latino students. ENLACE partners can include institutions of higher education, elementary and secondary schools, community-based organizations, local businesses, local public agencies, and parents or parent organizations.
We at the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships came to the ENLACE evaluation with a rich background in how to evaluate partnership work. We knew, from our experience and research, that our country has not done well in getting different educational sectors to collaborate, to coordinate programs, and to cooperate with one another to improve educational programs, policies, and practices. Our experience evaluating the ENLACE initiative has added to our knowledge base on what it takes to build effective partnerships to promote college access for Latino students. When evaluating partnerships, we look for seven factors or outcomes, which are described below.
1. Institutional Partners That Link to the Goal
The number of partners in a partnership is not a measure of success. Rather, the more important question is who is in the partnership and what role does each partner play in terms of accomplishing the overall goal. Many can put together great groups of stakeholders, with everyone “at the table.” But sometimes we focus so much on the number of people represented that we miss the boat in terms of the real goal, the work of the partnership. While acknowledging the importance of having the right partners at the table, we emphasize the need first to identify what the partnership will do to meet the established goals, and then to decide who to invite to become a partner.
ENLACE partnerships almost always include K–12 and postsecondary educators. For purposes of sustainability, we recommend that partnerships also include businesses. In addition, we find that the involvement of community- community-based organizations is an important outside lever that helps push schools and institutions to change. In evaluating ENLACE partnerships, we examine who is represented, why they are represented, the role they play, and their level of effectiveness.
2. Evolving Structure and Partners
We also look at how the partnership's structure and membership change over time. We expect the partnership to evolve; if we do not see changes, we suspect something is wrong. Some partners, such as educators, often have a hard time with the ebb and flow of partnership work. However, to create change within a partnership, flexibility must be exercised—effective partnerships require the trust and confidence that will allow partners to come and go as needed.
3. Leadership in Key Positions
When examining a partnership, it is important to consider its leadership and whether that person or group is in the best position to lead effectively and with adequate authority. The answer is not always obvious. We used to think that individuals at the most senior level should be leading partnerships. For example, in educational partnerships, if the university president or superintendent were at the table, we would assume that problems would get solved more quickly and efficiently. But we discovered that while engaging leadership at that level is important, often these leaders are too busy to become engaged in a sustained and committed way, to get truly involved in the work of leading.
With this type of partnership it is critical to have as leader an upper or mid-level manager who also has the ear of the university president or superintendent. Since that person tends to have more time for managing very complicated and messy partnership work, he or she becomes the expert and gets to know the partners well. As a result, that individual is able to keep momentum and energy going and provide the glue needed for the partnership to accomplish its work. At the same time, that individual serves a key role in informing the president or superintendent about what decisions he or she needs to make in order for the partnership's work to be implemented successfully.
4. Inclusive Decision Making
We also look to see whether the partnership is working as a team to make critical decisions. We find that partners very quickly become disenfranchised, disengaged, and uninterested if they feel the same individuals are always making all of the decisions. For example, based on their history, community-based organizations tend to feel distrust in partnerships with educational institutions; while they are at the table, they do not feel like equal partners. Ensuring that the partnership stresses communication and decision making on equal footing is extremely important.
5. Appropriate Governance Structure
A partnership's governance structure also matters. While it is difficult to point to any single governance structure as the “right” model—that depends on the partnership's goal—determining whether the governance structure is working is an important factor in evaluating a partnership and its work and corresponding outcomes. We used to put together governance structures that were very democratic, where everyone came together and had their say. But, ultimately, there was very little order, and progress was slow. While inclusiveness is important, the governance structure of any partnership must be examined to determine whether it functions effectively for the purpose at hand.
For ENLACE, different partnership styles and structures have emerged, again depending on the partnership's goal. One model, called the cooperative service provider model, uses a pyramid structure. Higher education is at the top and assumes an important driving role—not because higher education is the most critical partner, but because the partnership's goal is to improve access to postsecondary education institutions. K–12 is in the middle of the pyramid, and community-based organizations comprise the supporting bottom layer.
Another model is called professional collaboration and features higher education, K–12, and community-based organizations all working together, but with intentional points of strategic intersection. A third model is called community-based collaboration and is more community driven. In this case, higher education and K–12 are intimately involved, but the community-based organization drives the work. This is a more grassroots model where community-based organizations are proactive in helping educational institutions reach out to communities in more constructive ways.
6. Mutually Beneficial Interactions
Partnerships, especially those with diverse partners, should feature mutually beneficial relationships. Partners should interact in ways that benefit individuals and their organizations, as well as contribute to the partnership's overall goal. In Latino communities, for example, community-based organizations—which traditionally assume an educational role, often leading after school or mentoring programs—are often challenged with finding adequately trained or credentialed individuals to staff programs. In ENLACE partnerships, the benefit of bringing K–12 and postsecondary educators together with community-based organizations is that educators can contribute to professional development or to training staff and empowering parents and other community leaders.
By way of example, a university, for instance, can propose to a community-based organization a partnership where graduate students at the university would go and help in the organization's after school program. Partnerships should feature this type of strategic intersection.
7. Decision Making Based on Data
Finally, we look to see that partnerships are using data to make strategic decisions and wise investments. In all partnerships, assessment and evaluation are important—not only to measure impact but also to help ensure that partnerships are both sustainable and strategic in reaching their program goals.
We encourage ENLACE grantees to use data not only to improve programs, policies, and practices but also to create messages that will build the public and political will to sustain the effort long-term. Data are critically important in all partnership work, and, to the extent possible, should be at the center of all decision making.
Dr. Garza can be reached at the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, 1400 20th Street, NW, Suite G-1, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 202-530-1135. Email: hector_garza @edpartnerships.org.
¹ New York, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Illinois.
Julia Coffman, Consultant, HFRP