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Improving Early Childhood Education in Houston, Texas

FSG worked with Early Matters to accelerate its progress on early childhood education in Houston, Texas, by helping the coalition clarify its goals, solidify processes and structures to accomplish the work, and ensure voices from across the community were at the table using the collective impact model.

In 2013, the majority of children living in Houston were not ready for kindergarten. The 38 percent of children living in poverty were significantly less likely to graduate from high school than their peers. Early Matters, an education-focused collective impact initiative of more than 100 community leaders, formed in response to this data.

Launched in 2014 by the business and community leaders at the Greater Houston Partnership, Early Matters was initially focused on policy change in pre-K issues at the state level. Beyond policy, the coalition was interested in a holistic approach to early childhood education, focusing on the roles of poverty, health, and family stress in supporting child brain development and ultimately school readiness and success. 

In 2015, the Houston Endowment engaged FSG on behalf of Early Matters to help expand its work beyond policy into other forms of systems change, clarify goals and indicators for the initiative, create processes and formalize its working group structures, and ensure that a diverse group of stakeholders was actively involved. Through FSG’s work with Early Matters, the initiative:

I was extremely pleased with FSG and the team; they were creative and innovative... They also really broadened and deepened our community outreach by involving segments of the community who were not previously involved. They got penetration in the community, and that was truly impressive to watch.

Jim Postl, Chair, Early Matters

  • Connected data analysis to coalition decision-making. FSG analyzed data from 50 school districts and 45 charter schools in the Greater Houston area and broke it down by district, race, ethnicity, and economic background. Thirty-five percent of economically disadvantaged children were reading below grade level in 3rd grade, while 29 percent of economically advantaged children were reading above grade level by 3rd grade. Knowing that students are 4 times more likely to drop out of school if they are not reading at grade level by 3rd grade, and after seeing the data this way, the coalition’s next move became clear. Early Matters decided to focus on closing this gap and determined that its objective would be to ensure that all students in the Greater Houston area can read at or above grade level by the end of 3rd grade.
  • Engaged members of the community in the 4th largest metro area in the U.S. The next task was to work with people who interact with young children, such as parents, school officials, social service providers, pediatricians, faith-based entities, and other community members, to determine how Early Matters could best meet the needs of these community members to support children on their way to 3rd  grade. Given Houston’s vibrant and diverse community, Early Matters sought out voices from different economic, racial, and cultural groups to better understand the experiences of families across the region. These voices continued to be heard in strategy development, including testing phone apps with parents and using their feedback to select one for promotion.
  • Created structures and facilitating processes across a large and diverse coalition. Using community conversations and best practices from around the country as guidance, FSG helped form 5 working groups focused on different aspects of the early childhood experience, including family support, healthcare, early education settings, K-3rd grade, and policy and regulatory change. FSG and Early Matters also established the administrative home of the backbone function at the United Way of Greater Houston, hiring and coaching new staff to support the growing, multi-faceted work of the coalition. Early Matters also secured grants from 3 local funders to support the backbone, a sign of the broad-based commitment to a new, collaborative approach around Houston to early childhood outcomes.                                                            

Today, Early Matters continues to make progress toward its 10-year goal: by 2025, ensuring all children in the Greater Houston area are reading at grade level in 3rd grade.

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About Early Matters
Early Matters is a broad-based coalition of business, civic, education, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations and volunteers working together to raise awareness about the importance of high-quality early education and to make a strong case for increased investment in this critical, high-return area. It is now part of Good Reason Houston.

About Houston Endowment
Houston Endowment is a private philanthropic institution that enhances the vibrancy of Greater Houston and advances equity of opportunity for the people who live here.