The staff of Advance Innovative Education (AIE) held an all-day retreat at the home of CEO Kristy Hebert on the Monday before Thanksgiving 2009. Sitting around Hebert’s dining room table, the six-member group set out to develop a “social impact model” that would explain how the organization’s work and strategies can contribute to improving student achievement in schools and districts across Louisiana.
In the course of their discussions, Hebert and her colleagues identified a range of root causes such as poverty that contribute to Louisiana’s stubbornly low education rankings. According to Program Director Carrie Peña, the root cause they selected as a focus of their work (and as an area in which AIE could conceivably have an impact) was insufficient human capital in the educational system.
“We look at our schools and we see that the people who need to be there for these children are either not there or they are not performing up to standard,” Peña explained.
Based in Baton Rouge, AIE operates a number of innovative programs that seek to advance student learning in Louisiana. The organization’s work recently got a major boost when AIE received a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in support of its program providing an alternative pathway to principal certification. AIE also runs programs that support mid-career professionals to become teachers, that help schools and school districts explore new ways of engaging parents, and that build new partnerships between education and business leaders.
Accountability as the Key
Through their participation in the Social Innovators Institute, AIE’s staff members explored how to expand their programs to even more schools and school districts on a fee-for-service basis. As they considered how to build and grow a successful social venture in the years ahead, they kept coming back to the same issue: accountability for results.
“If we are looking at root causes and at strategies for making schools and school districts more successful, then we are going to have to show how our work is contributing to making things better,” said Hebert.
Hebert said one of the key takeaways from her participation in the institute was the need for a rigorous approach to measure performance. Based on their work on the social impact model, AIE’s staff developed a business plan that served as the organization’s capstone project for the institute. In addition to laying out AIE’s program goals and vision, the plan offered a range of indicators and performance measures that AIE and its clients can use to judge the ultimate impact of the organization’s work.
“We’ll be looking at how many teachers or principals we trained and how many families we worked with, and how that affected overall school performance scores, graduation rates and more,” said Hebert.
AIE is so committed to attaching measurable outcomes to its work that it is contemplating pay-for-performance contracts with clients. As Hebert explained, the organization might get a bonus if its work results in a specified increase in school performance scores among the schools it’s working with.
“There is a lot of talk right now about rewarding teachers and schools for strong performance, and we want to model that in our work,” Hebert said.
Vision for the Future
AIE’s vision is for Louisiana to place in the top 10 percent of educationally performing states. Right now, with the state at or near the bottom, this may appear to be less a vision than a mirage. But with strong planning and a renewed focus on accountability and results, AIE hopes to play an important part in turning the vision into a reality.