|| Five Key Issues
With that, the participants moved into the detailed work of the meeting: five roundtables on equity, governance, standards, teachers, and sustaining community, led respectively by Kati Haycock, Ira Harkavy, Michael Kirst, Arturo Pacheco, and Wendy Puriefoy. These five experts had developed background papers for the conference (see appendix).
Participants at each roundtable were given free rein to pick each other's brains--to explore issues, test out ideas and work on possible solutions. These ideas were to form grist for the mill for "role-alike" sessions toward the end of the meeting. These sessions provided a period when state superintendents, governor's policy advisors, state higher education executive officers, and legislative chairs responsible for either public schools or higher education could get together with their counterparts from other states to think through what they had heard.
When thinking about strengthening connections and collaboration between K-12 and higher education, states can start by considering the equity implications. The simple truth is that race and class are too easily correlated with student success, up and down the education continuum. Many students enter elementary school disadvantaged, and the achievement and attainment gaps grow as they progress through high school and enter college. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicate that 17-year-old minority students demonstrate achievement levels similar to 13-year-old white students. That is to say, 12th grade African-American and Latino youth are achieving at what would be considered 8th grade levels for whites.
How can American communities believe they have an equitable system in the face of evidence that in well-to-do districts close to 100% of the math and science faculty are fully certified, while in most inner-city schools most math and science faculty are teaching out of field? Little wonder that the proportion of low-income and minority youth attending college is so low. The best teachers should be in classrooms with the greatest need. Perhaps the school calendar needs to be modified as well, to provide more time for learning.
This roundtable focused on the need for stringent accountability systems linked to standards, and on system reform in place of remediating students after-the-fact on postsecondary campuses. Encouraging models include the Texas decision to make a college prep curriculum the "default" curriculum for all high school students; the implementation of rigorous assessments in Massachusetts; Oregon's standards-based reform and its use in admissions decisions; and the decision in Oklahoma to require the core program by American College Testing (ACT) as the standard, required curriculum for all high school students.
But start with the obvious: Many students begin school behind the curve and drop farther behind as they move through the system. Schools and colleges should cooperate to rectify this.
Education reform must encompass K-16 or else it will fail; this was the flat assertion in this roundtable. School and higher education systems need the attention of a broad reform effort that considers higher education to be both a subject of reform and a force for change.
In many cities, major universities are the largest local employer. Universities, as the "most powerful institution in modern society," are critical to change at the local, national and global levels. Strategies should include:
These are solid ideas, grounded in the notion that new learning partnerships are critical, in part because many of the problems in K-12 are the indirect product of the higher education system.
- connecting higher education and its research to communities and their problems;
- understanding that schools are neighborhood hubs--healthy communities require good schools and good schools need healthy communities;
- working locally and on the ground, not nationally and in the ether;
- engaging higher education in a partnership for school and community reform;
- working democratically to avoid charges of elitism; and
- worrying about long-term sustainability.
This energetic roundtable agreed with several of the conclusions spelled out by Michael Kirst. The disconnect between K-12 and higher education revolves around several issues. Inequitable access to college prep courses in core subjects closes off opportunities for a lot of students, many of whom don't know what is required for college admission. Grade inflation has limited the utility of grades as predictors of college success. Yet assessment systems in K-12 and higher education differ, and most high school end-of-course assessments play little role in admissions decisions. Finally, the lack of early and high-quality college counseling for all, combined with widespread "senioritis" in the final year, mean that many students are poorly prepared for college. Once these students are accepted into and attend college, they find that they need remedial coursework to succeed.
In some communities, many students are the first in their family to complete high school. Participants agreed that this is a huge accomplishment in these neighborhoods and should not be deprecated. Indeed, if K-16 is discussed as simply a means of preparing more people for college, it will encounter trouble. There are many different routes to campus, including military service, work, and union and employer-sponsored training. What needs to be driven home is that the best preparation for the complexities of the modern workplace also turns out to be the best preparation for college-level work.
What's the secret to resolving the standards muddle? If states raise standards and nothing else, they are likely to drive many students out of school. But if they raise standards while simultaneously enhancing support for students and for teachers--everyone wins.
The traditional image of teacher preparation programs is out of date. That image depicted a four-year stint on a college campus for would-be teachers, course content taught by the arts and sciences faculty while pedagogy was guided by the education department, and a few weeks of "practicum" in a school tacked on to the end. Today's very different program is likely to be part of a university/school partnership (K-16). It emphasizes frequent student placements, often in professional development schools. And it jointly engages not only school personnel with the university's education program, but the education department with the other academic units in the university.
It is important to understand that the history of the reform of teacher education and of school reform have been separate. In addition, the dichotomy between
content and pedagogy--between schools of education and arts and science faculty--is false. Content and pedagogy are intertwined. And as the reform movement of K-16 develops, it must insist on the moral dimension and value of teaching--and on the importance of schools in a democratic society.
With regard to policy on teaching and partnerships, four points seem important:
- States should insist on school-college collaboration in teacher preparation, and reward it.
- K-12 standards should be incorporated into teacher training programs.
- States need more robust measures of testing to capture good teaching.
- Teacher compensation is inadequate and needs to be addressed.
The plenary panel and participants in the roundtables applauded the growing numbers of colleges and universities that are descending from their "ivory towers" to engage in community building. Institutions like Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and the University of Pennsylvania are proactively engaged in laudable efforts to revivify their neighborhoods and improve elementary and secondary education in the surrounding areas.1 These institutions, unlike too many of their counterparts in higher education, are not aloof from their surroundings. They provide examples of the important roles universities can play in community building.
The discussion was supportive of the notion that state policymakers should provide fiscal and related incentives to higher education institutions that roll up their sleeves and negate the town-and-gown dichotomy that is, unfortunately, all too common and so harmful in many communities. Colleges and universities must be prodded and pushed to accept the imperative of strengthening their neighborhoods and schools for reasons of self-interest as well as altruism.
Grist for the Mill
The plenary panel and these roundtables provided grist for the mill and stimulated thought in the "role-alike" sessions that followed. Each of these five sessions focused on one of the groups in attendance: the "chiefs" (state school superintendents), the governors' policy advisors, the higher education legislative chairs, the K-12 legislative chairs, and the state higher education executive officers. Although the tone and focus of each session reflected the distinct role of the participants, some common themes emerged:
- Different states are at quite different places in the evolution of these issues. A few have already integrated high school graduation and college admissions standards; a handful are still debating statewide standards.
- State agencies and entities created in the horse-and-buggy era cannot be permitted to block K-12 and higher education partnerships.
- States can point to many success stories--for example, standards, K-16 councils, presidents sitting in on review processes for teacher education, dual enrollment options, proficiency-based admissions processes, reformed teacher education programs, and mandated ACT and 4" X 4" (four core courses for each of four years) core curricula for high school.
- In some states, particularly sparsely populated plains states, the idea that everyone needs a high school education to prepare them for college is viewed as elitist.
- Rural schools pose special challenges--for example, teacher recruitment and the capacity to offer advanced mathematics and science courses.
- In some states, legislative committees are split by education level; in others, a single committee handles everything. Little consensus exists on which is better.
- Legislative chairs are becoming accustomed to the idea of K-16 or P-16 (preschool through college graduation) approaches, but they are unclear about their role and they sense a need for better inter-committee communication.
All in all, as individuals within the state teams thought about their roles, they realized that a new agenda to improve the learning connection offers significant new possibilities--and opens up significant new challenges.