Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Higher Achievement

Higher Achievement, an education non-profit in Washington, D.C. successfully strategizes to help the program meet the needs of its students called “scholars,” while continuing to grow and expand its services.  I worked in Higher Achievement’s development team that raises funds and guides the organization’s budget planning.  In our weekly meetings, I saw firsthand the effort they made to tie their three and five year budget projections to their mission and growth plans as was described in Using the Balanced Scorecard as a Strategic Management System by Kaplan and Norton.  The program has received nation wide recognition and as a result, receives many petitions from school districts that would like to host a new site in their city.  Higher Achievement first determines that adequate support from parents and potential volunteers exist before expanding to new areas.

Higher Achievement currently operates a 5 million dollar budget with headquarters in Washington, D.C. and site centers in Baltimore, Maryland; Richmond, Virginia; and a new site here in Pittsburgh.  The program works by providing middle school students from vulnerable backgrounds with supplementary academic training after school and during the summer, which is known to contribute to the achievement gap.  During the school year, Higher Achievement pairs tutors with 2-3 middle school students to work through a math, literature or elective lecture.  Tutors are volunteers who commit two hours per week to teach a lesson plan they download before each meeting.  The curricula are set to meet state standards and incorporate social justice themes and use relevant real world examples.

Two other processes Higher Achievement has implanted well are communicating and linking their vision and making use of feedback and learning.   Higher Achievement works to provide disadvantaged middle school students with the tools they need to enter a top high school prepared.  The focus on middle students is based on research that shows this critical age is the last best hope to turning students’ lives around.  Every member of the Higher Achievement team values this mission—from its CEO to the summer teachers and parents—each continually articulates how their work contributes to the mission and frequently hears how their participation is appreciated.  A recognition that evaluation and feedback is critical to forming a program that is achieving at high levels, Higher Achievement has implemented a performance-tied pay system wherein promotions and salaries are tied to individual goals.  The program has also hired a research team to carry out an objective assessment of the organization.  The feedback they receive will be used to make changes to its program model.

Just as Johnson, Christensen, and Kagermann described in Reinventing Your Business Model, Higher Achievement has been very responsive to shifting needs in the non-profit world.  First, it has launched a social media campaign—using Twitter, FaceBook and Tumblr—to keep mentors, parents and potential donors in touch with news.  Second, the organization has created a position focused on monitoring policy developments and making policy recommendations based on the program’s model to congressmen.  This position serves as an advocate for the program and the communities it serves.  While the non-profit is a direct service organization, it can help to influence policy by sharing their program evaluation results and data with policymakers weighing education policy reforms.

1.     Higher Achievement Inc. site, accessed November 2, 2011
2.     Kaplan, Robert S. and Norton, David P.  Using the Balanced Scorecard as a Strategic Management System. Harvard Business Review. July-August 2007.
3.     Johnson, Mark W., Christensen, Clayton M. and Kagermann, Henning. Reinventing Your Business Model. Harvard Business Review. December 2008.

-- Posted by Bernice Ramirez

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