|| Moving Forward
This was a results-oriented meeting. The participants went beyond exploring the issues and talking about the problems; they also worked on proposals to address some of these challenges once they return home.
What became apparent, as the 14 state teams turned in their reports, was that states already committed to a K-16 (or even a P-20) approach were determined to stay the course. (A single representative from a 15th state, Minnesota, also attended the conference and worked with other state teams in the development of their plans.) Several of these states, such as Maryland and Oregon, are already considered flagships in the K-16 movement. They want to sustain their momentum and solidify what is already in place.
But a number of state teams were introduced to the concept of K-16 at this meeting. Understandably, most of the participants from these states felt the need to explore the issue back home. Delegates from states such as Iowa, Missouri and Washington were interested in convening state roundtables to take soundings with key constituencies.
The Maryland Story: Taking the Vision Statewide
Donald Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, imparted some of the lessons he had learned in five years of successful collaboration. American university chancellors, he noted, are normally proud of the fact that their title derives from the same etymological root as the term that gave the English a title known as "Lord High Chancellor." They rather like the idea that this exalted official has, since the time of Edward II in the 14th century, been the highest judicial officer in England, superior in rank to all peers except princes of the blood and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and keeper of both the official seal and "of his majesty's conscience." But few of them understand that the chancellor was also responsible as the "custodian of infants, lunatics and idiots." All in all, a pithy description of the heights and depths of academic leadership.
For five years, Langenberg has served as one of the rotating chairs of Maryland's K-16 Partnership for Teaching and Learning, a voluntary alliance of the Maryland Department of Education, the state Higher Education Commission, and the University System of Maryland.
Begun in 1995, the partnership focused on the state's first school reform agenda, in place since the 1980s and known as the MSPAP--the Maryland Student Performance Assessment Program. By 1995, the state's Department of Education was working on high school standards for school and student performance and looked to the state's academics for help in defining standards in key subject areas. Subsequently, the partnership ventured into:
- developing about a dozen end-of-course examinations through the high school senior year--which will be applied to the high school class of 2007;
- obtaining agreement from high school writing teachers and university faculty in English composition about standards for first-year college writing;
- redesigning teacher training programs vigorously, including improving standards for professional development schools that involved obtaining agreement from school superintendents and education faculty about the nature of the schools in which many prospective teachers gain their experience; and
- developing an associate of arts degree in teaching so that community colleges can help remedy the shortfall in teachers expected in Maryland (and around the nation) in coming years.
Langenberg offered several lessons learned or, as he put it wryly, "opinions formed" from his experiences. First, a project involving a handful of faculty is not a collaboration. To be truly effective, the scale has to be statewide. Next, there's the challenge of scale in terms of time. No one is quite sure how long it will take to fully reform K-12, but it's probably on the order of 20 to 25 years. Persistence is essential.
Next, it's the teachers, dummy. As a recent report from the National Alliance of Business makes clear, it is time to make teaching a profession. Teachers are not treated like professionals. They are not supported like professionals. They are not rewarded as professionals. "And, in turn, they don't act like professionals." Improved induction, better mentoring, and more time for professional growth are all important. Career ladders should help. Teachers deserve more control of their own work and they also deserve more pay. Recent data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicate that the United States ranks 22nd out of 26 nations in terms of how well teachers are paid relative to salaries within each country.
Finally, what is needed is a community with an agenda. If it's broad enough and deep enough, it will survive changes in leadership. That agenda should involve higher standards, assessment and concern for the conditions of teaching. "If that agenda is there, it doesn't matter what you call it. And what you are really after is a seamless system."
A seamless system. So the conference ended where it had begun--with a call for seamless learning connections to improve teaching and learning from kindergarten through college graduation. The evidence from this meeting shows that we have a long way to go, but the evidence is equally clear that, as Patrick Callan of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education noted in bringing the conference to a close: we have also come a fair distance.