Bright Spots

States leaders can create policies that make a difference for their young people. These examples highlight both states showing impressive improvements and states with opportunities to accelerate outcomes for young people.

Success factors

When some of these factors are in place, bright spots begin to develop. When states marshal all of them in an aligned, strategic way, we will begin to see transformation.


There must be a vision for what a state wants to achieve, from governors or other key policy makers.


Leadership vision must be backed by a clear policy agenda, based on evidence, that is adopted and implemented.


As policy is being implemented, aligned supports – including funding – are provided to increase the chances for success.

Strategic Alignment

Intentional coordination is made across policy and funding to better connect work in Early childhood, K12, Postsecondary, and Workforce.

Stakeholder Engagement

Efforts to improve student success are backed by stakeholders with a vested interest in improved outcomes (parents, students, the business community, advocates, philanthropies).

Sustained Commitment

Improving access to opportunity for all young people requires efforts to be sustained, often over many years and across political administrations.

Bright spot states

Colorado: Increasing FAFSA Completion

Colorado has an opportunity to put more than 10,000 additional students on track for postsecondary opportunities by focusing on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion.

North Carolina: Reengaging Adult Learners

By focusing on reengaging adult learners, North Carolina can help thousands more individuals earn a college degree. More than 1.1 million North Carolinians have at least some college but no two- or four-year degree. These can become degree holders with the right supports.

Tennessee: Improving Transfer Pathways

Tennessee can improve baccalaureate completion gaps by strengthening its postsecondary transfer pathways. The fall 2014 cohort of community colleges had nearly 14,000 first-time, full-time students. Only about 4,900 of those students completed an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years. That means that about 9,100 members of that cohort, or 65%, did not graduate. Strengthening transfer pathways in Tennessee can help thousands of students complete their degrees.

Texas: Assessment Data Advances Learning

Policy built using outcome data can help the more than 2.6 million students who failed the statewide STAAR®exam in 2021. But these Texas students can still get back on track through targeted interventions that rely on outcome data. HB 4545, a new state law, promises targeted interventions for the students who did not pass.  Using outcome data, like STAAR results, helps to direct and refine policy where support is most needed.

California: Accelerating Hispanic Attainment

California’s strategic policy alignment and targeted stakeholder engagement and support has led to strong, steady progress in closing attainment gaps, especially for Hispanic students. In fourth-grade reading, a nine percentage point increase from 2011 to 2019 means that about 24,000 more Hispanic students each year meet proficiency standards statewide. 

Florida: Closing Opportunity Gaps

Florida’s strong leadership and sustained commitment to policy goals over time has led to impressive gains in reading and math proficiency and an increase of 23,000 on-time high school graduations each year – with a 16 percentage point gain in Black student graduation between 2014 and 2018.

Mississippi: Improving Literacy and Numeracy

A sustained commitment to improving education through policy, educator supports, and strategic alignment of goals around literacy has led to nation-leading gains in reading and math proficiency between 2011 and 2019 in a state where about half of public-school students are Black. 

Oregon: Strategic Alignment

Oregon boasted the highest increase in high school graduation rates across all 50 states between 2014 and 2018, thanks to sustained attention from state leaders to the education pipeline from eighth grade through college graduation. The state produces the equivalent of 3,000 additional graduates each year and has made substantial improvements in college attainment rates thanks to committed leadership with innovative policy and funding strategies. 

Virginia: Growing at the Top

Virginia has capitalized on a strategic alignment of leadership, funding, and policy implementation to boost its college graduation rates from already-lofty levels. Between 2014 and 2018, 42,000 additional adults between the ages of 25 and 34 obtained bachelor’s degrees or higher, 10,000 of which were Black adults.