Bill Crim and Jennifer Blatz: Building a civic infrastructure for Utah children

Promise Partnership paves the way for better educational outcomes.

More kids are better off in the Salt Lake City region because the Promise Partnership has built a civic infrastructure to support children in reaching their full potential from cradle to career. Like the roads and bridges, civic infrastructure holds a community together.

The Promise Partnership was formed in 2014 to address the racial and income disparities that limit opportunity for kids in the greater Salt Lake area. Bringing together leaders from schools and school districts, nonprofits and for-profits, city and state systems, the Promise Partnership built the civic infrastructure that is improving cradle-to-career outcomes and closing disparity gaps across the region.

At the start high-quality preschool was scarce and what did exist was expensive or had access limited by federal requirements. And because Utah did not have a kindergarten readiness assessment, there was not a shared understanding of how early childhood interventions were preparing children for school.

The Promise Partnership created the first education-focused pay-for-success project that reduced government risk while creating a proof of concept. They demonstrated that high-quality preschool prepares kids living in poverty for kindergarten. This led to an ongoing state allocation for public and private preschool providers. Today, there is ongoing state appropriation for high-quality preschool for up to 3,000 children.

A longitudinal analysis by Brigham Young University confirmed that these programs have positive and lasting effects on academic and social-emotional outcomes for historically marginalized students. The Promise Partnership also catalyzed a standard, universal kindergarten readiness assessment. Today, Utah has a growing preschool system that measures itself by the degree to which it readies students for kindergarten not on proxy measures.

Next, community schools are improving student outcomes. Among Granite School District community schools, third-grade math proficiency improved by eight percentage points for all students and nine percentage points for students of color over a two-year period, compared to a two-percentage-point loss at similar schools outside of the Promise Partnership.

A network of nearly 50 schools’ outcomes-focused community schools are supporting children, cradle to career. The newly passed Early Literacy Bill will support community schools to improve third grade reading proficiency rates from less than 50% to over 70% across the state over the next five years.

Finally, the Promise Partnership challenged the practice of placing just some students in accelerated courses. Research shows that tracking students begins at an early age and segregates students along race and ethnic lines. This leads to disparate outcomes.

At one Promise high school, a group of teachers decided to “de-track” 9th- and 10th-grade grade students. Now all students are required to take advanced placement and honors courses, creating opportunity and shifting mindsets for students, parents, teachers and the school district.

This work has led to a partnership with the higher education sector to create pathways to high-wage careers that start in high school and enable students to graduate with a diploma and a certificate or associate degree in 13 years.

These results prove that systems can be transformed to produce better and more equitable results. And as systems get better results, these changes stick and become institutionalized. This is what systems transformation looks like in a community. Other communities can learn from Salt Lake’s promising results as they continue to invest in civic infrastructure to improve cradle-to-career outcomes for kids.

Bill Crim

Bill Crim is the president and CEO of the Promise Partnership/United Way of Salt Lake.

Jennifer Blatz

Jennifer Blatz is the president and CEO of StriveTogether.