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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Commit! Aims to Improve Education in Dallas Region

Courtesy of Flicker
Logo provided by Asil Yassine, Commit! analyst

Logo provided by Asil Yassine, Commit! analyst (Courtesy of Flicker)

By 2030, 60 percent of the Dallas workforce is expected to require a post-secondary degree. And yet, only 13 percent of students in the Dallas region have college ready test scores. Worse, the high school dropout rate in Dallas County is 19 percent.

A new, independent nonprofit organization called Commit! is researching ways to address these numbers. Commit! is an organization aimed at supporting education in the region by aggregating data to help find strategies that could improve outcomes and college readiness.

It also considers itself a backbone organization that supports the efforts of teachers and administrators by trying to give them the resources they need to be more effective.

“We aren’t dictating what anybody does. We’re just trying to use the data to surface up what hopefully works,” Todd Williams, executive director and founder, said.

Commit! hopes to move more students in Dallas county schools successfully across what the organization calls the “Cradle to Career Continuum”: kindergarten readiness; fourth grade reading and math; eighth grade science and math; PSAT, SAT and ACT scores; high school graduation rates; post-secondary enrollment; and post-secondary retention and graduation rates. The continuum creates a schedule of milestones students should pass successfully in order to be successful college graduates.

The data is aggregated to avoid pointing fingers at school districts according to Alan Cohen, a Commit! associate. Its employees hope this will build greater trust within partnerships.

Commit! has identified some key indicators students need to pass in order to prepare for college. Two areas the organization will pay special attention to are kindergarten readiness and third grade literacy.

According to Marnie Glaser, director of early childhood, the greatest brain development occurs from ages 0 to 3. Around 3 years of age, the brain starts eliminating brain cells and neurons that aren’t being used. With proper stimulation, the brain cells can make connections and avoid being eliminated. Since almost 50 percent of children may not have experienced care outside of the home and enough brain stimulation before kindergarten, Glaser said it makes the teacher’s job very difficult.

Third grade literacy is crucial, according to Cohen, because third grade is the time where students are expected to know how to read.

“If you don’t learn to read, you can’t read to learn,” Cohen said.

Kindergarten readiness and third grade literacy are also critical benchmarks that are highly correlated with dropout rates and declining high school graduation rates, according Glaser.

“They set the foundation for the rest of learning that occurs on the continuum,” Glaser said.

The idea for Commit! was sparked in the fall of 2011 by Williams and the organization became incorporated in February. It was originally only Williams and his laptop. In March, Commit! hired its first full-time staff member. Williams’ main passion is to address the large difference public education made in his wife’s life and his own.

Williams, a Bryan Adams High School alumnus, quit his prior job to focus on public education in 2009. Williams has sat on school boards, the DISD Citizens Budget Review Commission, and was on the board of Austin College for 12 years.

“You get a sense that there’s obviously significant leaks in the pipeline when trying to move as many children from 0 to 22 to prepare for successful careers,” Williams said.

Commit!, located in the Old Parkland campus, tracks data from Dallas county, which includes 15 local school districts; about 800,000 students from early childhood to grade 12, 21 institutions of higher education, including seven community colleges and 14 universities; and 1,500 early childhood providers, according to Jonathan Feinstein, Commit! director of community engagement.

Partners include the Dallas Independent School District, Highland Park Independent School District, Grand Prairie Independent School District, Dallas Community College District and Uplift Education, according to Feinstein. The partners not only share data but also some of the practices behind that data, such as test scores and whether or not students arrive to their schools ahead or behind their peers academically.

Uplift Education is the only charter network partnered with Commit! at this time, according to Feinstein. Uplift students have a track record of 100 percent college acceptance rate and 7,500 students according to Deborah Bigham, Uplift chief development officer.

“Obviously if kindergartners come to us better prepared that is a shorter gap to get them college ready,” Bigham said.

Although the organization started this year, it hopes to accomplish a lot in the region. However, the group’s success largely depends on the community.

“At the end of the day, whether we are eight people or 12 people we aren’t going to change education in Dallas County by ourselves,” Feinstein said.

Commit! expects to be around for years to come. Williams said the effort could take ten or more years.

“We’re encouraged, but again it takes time. The oldest employee besides me is six months old,” Williams said.

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