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Securing Atlanta's Future Thought Leadership

The Promise of ‘Cradle to Career’

By Rebecca Parshall, PhD

Childcare challenges. Illiteracy. Innumeracy. Low and inequitable rates of postsecondary attainment. Gaps between workforce supply and demand. Metro Atlanta’s challenges are not unique from the rest of our country, and they’ve only been exacerbated by the pandemic. When we stack them side by side, the disparities and challenges can feel overwhelming. Yet, placing these challenges along a continuum that honors their interconnectedness shows us precisely how we can work to improve each milestone. By taking a cradle to career approach, we’re able to understand how milestones build upon each other, where to learn from bright spots, and where to provide additional support and resources. Here’s how our five-county region is progressing

Source: GOSA; L4L 2021 Annual Report

While we need individual and organizational superheroes pouring their energy into each of these milestones, we would also be wise to reflect on the collective long view. Research confirms that collective impact holds promise to improve the experiences and life outcomes of our region’s children.

An honest examination of this data is the first step in building action plans. From there, we can identify bright spots–strategies that are working to improve outcomes in these key indicators, especially for our traditionally underserved students. And there are many bright spots across metro Atlanta!

In early literacy, we can support families and educators with literacy resources, children with vision care, and schools with arts-integrated and social-emotional learning curriculum. These proven strategies are already working in schools and homes across metro Atlanta; our shared goal is to expand their reach to more children. While literacy is commonly considered the foundation for all learning, a body of research shows that literacy and mathematics learning develop together, rather than in separate domains. This underscores the importance of taking a cradle to career view of children’s development; each milestone is interwoven with the other milestones. 

In addition to supporting educators to make connections between reading and math instruction, we can ensure middle grade math is engaging and rigorous through hands-on STEM learning. We know that middle schools that become STEM certified experience an average 12-point 8th grade math proficiency increase. Applying math in real projects and scenarios is powerful.  

Our region’s postsecondary enrollment is promising, at 68%, but the nearly 40-point gap between enrollment and completion, at 29%, is unconscionable. We can support our high school students transition into postsecondary with near-peer advisors, extra guidance from their mentor teachers, and in developing financial aid plans to pay for college. We must pair these college access bright spots with stronger academic preparation at every point leading up to high school graduation. 

Our collective challenges are great, but metro Atlanta’s potential to build more equitable systems is even greater. By examining challenges along a cradle to career continuum instead of in isolation, our region can work collectively to provide resources and interventions that support students as they move from one milestone to the next. 

If you’re a parent, or from a school, nonprofit, community organization, or business, and you’d like to support Learn4Life’s cradle to career approach, you can join our networks here: early literacy, math, postsecondary success. We’d love to have your voice at the table.

Rebecca Parshall is the Director of Strategy at Learn4Life. She spent the last several years researching collective impact strategies in regions that raised postsecondary outcomes for students of color for her doctoral dissertation.


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