Leadership Council Notes

Change Networks Changing Systems

May 31, 2019

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What is Raise DC?

 Raise DC brings together committed stakeholders from across sectors to change mindsets and actions with the aim of building better, more equitable systems for DC’s young people.

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As a partnership of more than 250 organizations, we agree on a common set of citywide goals and are working to put resources toward them in a consistent way. Our backbone staff’s role is to coordinate and unify the many organizations, agencies, and businesses throughout the District that have efforts in place to improve education to make greater change – known as collective impact.

Raise DC’s work isn’t flashy. We aren’t going to produce the programs in which graduating students think to – or even know to – call out Raise DC. And that’s OK with us. Our partnership’s work is about acting behind the scenes to address persistent opportunity gaps and change systems so they can operate how they are meant to – equitably for every young person in our city, regardless of zip code, race, or ability. We believe that every child and youth is capable of thriving, given the opportunity. Each of us has a role to play in ensuring this success.

At Raise DC, we start small but dream big. Our staff and Change Networks begin by planning and testing out programs and interventions on a small scale before expanding them, but we are ultimately aiming to build trust and accountability among partners involved to create broader buy-in, discover opportunities we can align and scale, change behaviors, and eventually, transform systems that influence our five high-level goals. As partners in this movement, we seek to build a DC in which every young person’s value is recognized, and they are afforded every opportunity to succeed.


 Raise DC’s Change Networks are where much of this work occurs. Our Change Networks are working groups comprised of community-based organizations, school leaders, and government agency partners who meet monthly or bimonthly to act on data that shows inequities.

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Relying on national data, local research, and insights from the community, our Change Networks develop strategies to combat opportunity gaps and other barriers; test them out; look at the effectiveness of the strategies for students in the most under-resourced areas; then tweak, scale, or change course – a process known as continuous improvement. Change Networks are led by two or three co-chairs from various sectors. We’re proud to count more than 70 organizations and agencies among our active Networks.

Raise DC’s backbone staff facilitates the conversations, plans deeper strategy meetings with Change Network co-chairs, provides access to requested data (when possible), guides members through the continuous improvement process, and connects with the right people to make the work happen between each meeting.

We have four active Change Networks currently:

  • 9th Grade Counts Network: Supporting the transition from middle school to high school and through students’ freshman year
  • Early Grade Change Network: Launching today (May 31), this group will initially focus on early grade literacy from kindergarten through 2nd grade


When we talk about “changing systems,” we mean that we are seeking to improve or rebuild the education, economic, and workforce systems in ways that truly support all young people. Many of these systems were created in a way that prolongs white supremacy and disadvantages black and brown folks, so transforming them takes time.

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Changing systems requires, as The Waters of Systems Change states, “looking beyond any single organization to understand the system by identifying all of the actors that touch the issue they seek to address. One must then go further to explore the relationships among these actors, the distribution of power, the norms and constraints in which they operate, and the attitudes and assumptions that influence decisions. These are the conditions that significantly impede or enable social change...shifting the conditions that are holding the problem in place.”

Raise DC follows the theory of action put forth by StriveTogether, our national collective impact partner, to work toward changing systems. The following tenets are true of a community that is changing systems:

  • Shared community vision:
    • Organizations, institutions, and the community are aligning their work to support one vision
    • Partners are communicating in ways that demonstrate their shared accountability for results
  • Evidence-based decision-making:
    • Student-level data is accessible, disaggregated, and used by partners regularly to inform actions
  • Collaborative action:
    • Partners are using local and national data to continuously improve and create strategies that target inequities
    • Community members are involved in helping to develop solutions to improve educational outcomes
  • Investment and sustainability:
    • Both public and private dollars are targeted toward data-driven strategies that work
    • Sustainability of backbone staff enables their support of and influence over the successful implementation of emerging strategies
    • Policies – both public and private organizations throughout the city are changing to support the improvement of educational outcomes

Systems change is a process that takes, time, trust, accountability, and momentum to truly work, and each of our incremental improvements places a dent in the original, inequitable systems.


 This month, we’re sharing pieces of our work – some of which is already familiar to you – in shorter blurbs to highlight how these examples may scale up toward changing systems. Among our Change Networks, we have been employing a race equity lens by pushing for disaggregated data, so we can better understand inequities and be more targeted about how we approach them. With the assistance of an outside consultant, we will be able to make more explicit commitments toward equity in our work later this year.

Bridge to High School Data Exchange

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Success in 9th grade is a critical milestone to ensuring students successfully graduate from high school. Raise DC’s 9th Grade Counts Network (9GCN) and OSSE worked together to create an initiative called the Bridge to High School Data Exchange in 2016. This year, 95% of public middle schools and high schools in DC are sharing data on students who are transitioning to 9th grade, so high schools that receive these students can support them into and through their 9th grade year. Now in its fourth year, the Data Exchange has supported the middle-to-high school transition for more than 15,000 young people in DCPS and public charter schools. Among the schools represented in the Bridge to High School Data Exchange, 51% of students fall within the UPSFF definition of “at risk.” OSSE has ensured the sustainability of the program by hiring a full-time staff member in 2018 who now oversees the school recruitment (which just ended in early May for this year), data sharing, and implementation.

A visual of how this work has already begun to play out and how it could lead to practice changes:

As one example of schools using this data to act, Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School uses the Bridge to High School information to empower incoming 9th graders with data on their areas of strength and opportunity for improvement. This data is used to guide student-level goal-setting and is revisited mid-year so youth can reflect on their own individual growth.

While the Bridge to High School Data Exchange continues to evolve and deepen our partners’ exploration of practice change, we hope to work alongside our allies at DCPS and OSSE to quantify both short- and long-term results of the efforts. In lieu of a true 9th-to-10th grade promotion indicator (based on adjusted cohort), we’ve used an imperfect proxy calculation based on publicly available 9th and 10th grade enrollment rates to analyze trends. These proxy calculations focused us toward the contributing indicator goal of increasing the percentage of 9th graders who promote to 10th grade from 69% in school year 2015-2016 to 82% for school year 2019-2020. At the Change Network level, we hope to examine results attributed to practice changes that have been influenced by available Bridge to High School student-level data.

The 9GCN’s work within the last year has focused on deepening access to the data through local education agencies to ensure principals, counselors, teachers, and, in some examples, even students, are able to understand and use the student-level data. Various partners are using strategic trials to explore practice changes that allow stakeholders to act on data; for example, by pulling Bridge to High School data into Qlik and driving student engagement activities in real-time. As interventions show promising evidence of impact on student outcomes, 9GCN leverages its accumulated relationships, trust, and influence to encourage replication with other partner local education agencies. Over time, we see the potential to influence practice at a scale that moves 9th grade promotion rates citywide, and evolves to also influence overall school culture, which, in turn, can support further student outcome improvements beyond 9th-to-10th grade promotion, ultimately scaling to support increases in high school graduation rates.

Summer Texting Platform


National data suggests that students (especially first-generation students and students with lower incomes) who receive guided nudges about important enrollment information enroll in college, persist to their second year, and graduate at greater levels than those who do not receive this support. Studies have shown that guiding college students considered high-risk to these resources can increase enrollment by 10% and ultimate degree completion by more than 30%. Acting on data that suggests that ¼ of high school graduates who have been accepted to college in DC do not ultimately enroll, Raise DC supported the DC College Access Program (DC-CAP) and American University in creating a summer text message platform to reach thousands of these DC students, as well as those who had completed their first year of college.

Through 115,000 individual text messages that reached more than 3,500 youth, recipients got reminders about registration deadlines, housing information, and more, and they were able to text specific questions back to a team of graduate students. American University and DC-CAP continued the program through the past school year and will be ramping up efforts again this summer with the same cohort of students to increase persistence, as well as offering support for a new cohort enrolling in college. Interventions such as this can eventually lead to higher persistence rates, which national data shows is a key predictor of eventual on-time postsecondary graduation. This work also built trust among Postsecondary Access and Completion Change Network members to share data through a project called College Trends, the availability and use of which can build stronger postsecondary systems. Data from College Trends, which has recently been analyzed by an external consultant, is being returned to participating schools this week, and results will be available to share with the Leadership Council next month.

Reconnection Work Group

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Historically, our Disconnected Youth Change Network (DYCN) focused its energy around policy and achieved success through supporting the passage of transportation subsidies for Kids Ride Free, the establishment of a State Diploma, and the emergence of DC’s ReEngagement Center. Now, the Change Network is shifting its focus to more individual and aligned programmatic actions that can support disconnected youth. While our partners at OSSE have been working on a forthcoming report that analyzes citywide reconnection rates disaggregated by key sub-groups (such as race, gender, at-risk status, and specific cohorts), the latest publicly available data has shown the ReEngagement Center supported 205 students re-enrolling in education in fiscal year 2017, which is a stick rate of 57%.  

DYCN members have realized that in order to effectively develop strategies, they need timely data that tells them where inequities exist. In a space where data is scarce, our newly established reconnection data work group – comprised of data leads from organizations also represented in DYCN – is acting on this. The work group is identifying indicators; building trust to share disaggregated data that can point to inequities; and will, alongside DYCN, create and test strategies that eventually can influence rates of young people reconnecting to school. This data work group model, if effective, will be spread to Raise DC’s other Change Networks, as well.

Early Grade Change Network launch


Local data shows gaps in foundational literacy benchmarks for 3rd graders by geography, race, and gender. Currently, only 31% of 3rd grade students are meeting or exceeding expectations in English-Language Arts on the latest PARCC assessment. DC practitioners recognize the importance of children gaining the foundational skills to read not only in the early grades, but throughout their lives.

Acting on this data, Raise DC launched its Early Grade Change Network today – DC’s first collaborative, cross-sector working group linked to citywide 3rd grade literacy rates. Members will be focused on exploring existing early grade data and agreeing upon other organization-level data to share so they can establish a set of strategies to test in promoting stronger 3rd grade outcomes. The Change Network will work alongside our government partners at OSSE and the Office of Out of School Time and other outside community-based partners to align this critical work. While yet to be determined, the agreed-upon strategies will target kindergarten through 2nd grade years of school to influence higher literacy rates, which can then positively influence citywide middle and high school outcomes.


We believe that as Raise DC’s approach evolves, we will be able to share more results-focused strategies that are driven by data. All four of our active Change Networks have met this week or will meet next week, so we look forward to going more in-depth on emerging strategies in our next update. We will also share opportunities for the Leadership Council to be involved in this work as planning elicits specific strategies.