News: Collaboration & Partnerships

New Must-Read Guide Provides Roadmap to Improving District, CAO Advising Practices

Thursday, June 25, 2020  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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Sure, you’ve seen consulting reports before. Click on them, skim them, and file them away. But Bellwether Education Partners has a new report out, “Postsecondary Advising: Characteristics and Conditions for Expanding Access,” that you will want to bookmark and will likely return to again and again until its pages are well-worn and dog-eared from use. That’s especially true of the three short tipsheets for college access organizations, districts, and funders.

The report’s big assets are how tactical and digestible it is. Its findings come from more than 60 discussions with stakeholders in the field, some of them NCAN members. The report “describes key aspects of the current advising landscape, outlines six conditions that must be in place to expand advising, and identifies concrete actions that districts, CAOs, and funders can each take toward that goal of providing quality advising that meets the needs of all students.”

This idea of enabling conditions is an important one for improving postsecondary advising practices. Bellwether suggests that “to meet the needs of all students, districts must develop postsecondary advising systems that have five characteristics.” These characteristics are:

  • Equitable
  • High-quality
  • Measurable
  • Aligned to college and career, and
  • Financially sustainable

Page 7 of the report includes a particularly helpful rubric using those five characteristics that helps districts place themselves on a continuum from absent to ad hoc to systemic to exemplary. Through their interviews, Bellwether found that although many districts have moved from absent to ad hoc there are still relatively few exemplary school districts across the country with all of these characteristics in their postsecondary advising systems.

By page 28, the report pivots to the six conditions for success identified by Bellwether’s research. These conditions’ summaries are included below, but the each is examined in great depth in the report.

  • Case for Change: There is broad support for postsecondary success as a unifying purpose of the core work of K-12.
  • Vision and Milestones: There is a shared district vision for postsecondary outcomes and a strategy to achieve the key milestones that students must reach to successfully navigate postsecondary pathways.
  • Data and Platforms: Data are used to understand student needs — prioritizing milestones and which student needs to address — and to track student outcomes.
  • Supports – Content, Coverage, and Delivery: There is an intentional and strategic use of internal and external supports and resources to maximize coverage.
  • Coordination & Continuous Improvement: Partnerships, staffing models, and roles are defined to optimize the provision of services, reducing duplication and ensuring coordination.
  • Resources: Adequate and sustainable financial resources are identified and secured.

The recommendations for the field section is as robust as the rest of the presentation. Bellwether suggests in part that:

  • Districts already undertaking advising work should focus on improving effectiveness and sustainability.
  • In districts with no advising work underway, the most important first step is to establish the Case for Change.
  • The nature of district-CAO partnerships should evolve, in particular with regard to cost effectiveness.
    • The recommendation here also notes “The role of CAOs will need to focus more on (1) leading innovation and development of advising best practices, (2) building district capacity, and (3) more strategically partnering across CAOs to reduce duplication of effort and inefficiency.”

The report is well-aligned with our interests here at NCAN. For the past two academic years, we’ve supported the To & Through Advising Challenge with 20 school districts and community partners across the country. More broadly, our members across the country, school districts and college access organizations alike, have long been working to advance the enabling conditions identified by the report.

This useful resource from Bellwether is very much worth a read for all NCAN members. In many ways it provides a road map to expanding school district and college access organization partnerships, making postsecondary advising systems more robust, and changing the way school districts do business around this key topic for students’ futures.

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