||-- Five Key Issues: Governance --
Governance and the Connection Between Community, Higher Education and Schools
By Ira Harkavy
University of Pennsylvania
Through the school system, the character of which, in spite of itself, the university determines and in a large measure controls . . . through the school system every family in this entire broad land of ours is brought into touch with the university; for from it proceed the teachers or the teachers' teachers.
--William Rainey Harper, The University and Democracy, 1899
We have come to believe strongly, and elementary and secondary schools have come to believe, that they cannot reform without us. . . . This is not telling them how to do it, but both of us working together to fix what's wrong with our own education systems. . . . We prepare teachers for the public schools, and we admit their students. So it is our problem just as much as theirs. [emphasis added]
--Donald N. Langenberg, Chancellor, University System of Maryland, The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 20, 1998
The most obvious lessons from Boston University's experiences are that to be truly effective, reform plans must be comprehensive, touching all aspects of life.
--Lee D. Mitgang, "The Boston University-Chelsea Partnership," The Learning Connection, 2001
The modern university . . . [is] the central institution in post-industrial society. [emphasis added]
--Derek C. Bok, former President, Harvard University, Universities and the Future of America, 1990
It is my firm conviction that the great universities of the 21st century will be judged by their ability to help solve our most urgent social problems. [emphasis added]
--William R. Greiner, President, State University of New York, Buffalo, Universities and Community Schools, 1994
To be a great university, we must first be a great local university. [emphasis added]
--Shirley Strum Kenny, President, State University of New York, Stony Brook, New York Times, August, 18, 1999
My discussion of governance rests on two propositions: (1) Serious, significant, sustained, multi-sectoral community partnerships are a prerequisite for sustained school and systemwide educational reform. To put it another way, without meaningful multi-sectoral partnerships, there can be no meaningful educational reform. (2) Sustained, systemwide educational reform requires reforms in the educational system from pre-K through colleges and universities. Accordingly, higher educational institutions are essential partners in and an essential component of sustained systemwide educational reform.
The Connection Between Community, Higher Education and Schools
I should note at the outset that my focus on community partnerships and the central role of higher educational institutions in these partnerships is based on 16 years of work with public schools in Philadelphia (with a particular emphasis on West Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania's local geographic community) as well as with regional and national efforts to export and replicate this work. Soon after my colleagues and I developed the West Philadelphia Improvement Corps (WEPIC), Penn's major school reform project, it became clear to us that school change could not be accomplished by focusing only on schools and schooling. We increasingly realized that school and school-system change are intrinsically connected to community change and community mobilization, and that effective community change depends on transforming the local public schools into "good" public schools. Needless to say, that insight is not unique to us. Witness, for example, the extraordinary growth of the Coalition for Community Schools from five partner organizations in 1997 to over 160 today, including major educational, youth development, family support, and community development organizations.
What accounts for this increased and increasing recognition of the school-community connection? In part, it may be the result of frustration with the impacts of reform efforts that focus on the school and/or school system as the sole units of change. Certainly it is a reaction to the highly visible, morally troubling, increasingly savage inequalities between urban, largely minority schools, school systems, and communities, and the schools, school systems and communities of much of suburban America. The school-community connection is evident in the relationship between the multiple interrelated plagues--poverty, violence, ill health, broken families, unemployment, and drug and alcohol abuse--and academic failure.
Although obvious, the interactive impacts of community and school on each other have not been seriously, systemically addressed by either governmental policy or American higher educational institutions. A strategy needs to be developed that connects school and school system change to a process of democratic community change and development. The strategy should be directed toward tapping, integrating, mobilizing, and galvanizing the enormous untapped and unintegrated resources of communities, including colleges and universities, for the purpose of improving schooling and community life.
Higher educational institutions are, in my judgment, the strategic partner in systemwide reform. Simply put, the path toward effective democratic schooling and large-scale, significant, ongoing systemic change must run through American higher education, particularly the American research university. The research university's significance derives in part from its status as a particularly resource-rich and powerful local institution. More centrally, universities have become arguably the most influential institution in the world. In 1990, while president of Harvard, Derek Bok highlighted the growth in importance of universities since World War II:
All advanced nations depend increasingly on three critical elements: new discoveries, highly trained personnel, and expert knowledge. In America, universities are primarily responsible for supplying two of these three ingredients and are a major source of the third. That is why observers ranging from Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell to editorial writers from the Washington Post have described the modern university as the central institution in post-industrial society.1 [emphasis added]
Bok did not explicitly emphasize, however, what I regard as the most critical reason for higher education's leadership role. I think it axiomatic that the schooling system functions as the core subsystem--the strategic subsystem--of modern information societies. More than any other subsystem, it now influences the functioning of the societal system as a whole; this subsystem, on balance, has the greatest "multiplier" effects, direct and indirect, short- and long-term. I think it equally axiomatic that universities function as the primary shapers of the overall American schooling system. The powerful role of research universities stems not only from their enormous prestige and power--they serve, in effect, as the reference group that defines and shapes the entire schooling hierarchy--but also from their role in educating teachers. In short, what universities do and how they do it, and what they teach and how they teach have enormously complex, enormously far-reaching impacts on the entire schooling system and on society in general.
The societal, indeed global, reach of universities makes them particularly important partners in school system and community-wide reform. In this era of global information and communication, local school systems are powerfully affected by the larger national and global schooling systems. Local changes cannot be sustained if they remain only local and unconnected to broader national developments. Systemic change needs not only to be locally rooted and generated, but also to be part of a national/global movement for change. For that to occur, an agent is needed that can simultaneously function on the local, national and global levels. Universities are the preeminent local institutions (for they are embedded in their communities) and national/global institutions (for they operate with an increasingly interactive worldwide network).
Devolution, Higher Education-Assisted Community Schools, and Education Reform
For nearly a generation, John Gardner, arguably the leading spokesperson for the "New American Democratic, Cosmopolitan, Civic University," has been thinking and writing about organizational devolution and the university's potential role in it. For Gardner, a process of democratic neighborhood activity and change needs to be set in motion in order for ongoing positive developmental change to occur. My colleagues and I have conceptualized this process as entailing an effective "democratic devolution revolution," requiring much more than new forms of interaction among federal, state and local governments and at each level of government. New forms of interaction among the public, for-profit and nonprofit sectors are also mandatory. Government would function as a collaborating partner, effectively facilitating and helping to finance cooperation among all sectors of society to support and strengthen individuals, families and communities. The work of local institutions (colleges and universities, hospitals, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, unions, and businesses) would be adapted to the needs and resources of local communities. Given their enormous and varied (human, economic and political) resources and given their "place-based" nature (for it is difficult for them to move), higher educational institutions are significant partners in local coalitions working to produce school and community change.
If colleges and universities are to fulfill their potential and really contribute to a democratic devolution revolution, however, they must function very differently from the way they do now. To begin with, changes in "doing" will require colleges and universities to recognize that, as they now function, they constitute a major part of the problem, not a significant part of the solution. To become part of the solution, institutions of higher education must give full-hearted, full-minded devotion to the hard task of transforming themselves and becoming socially responsible, genuinely engaged civic universities. To do that well, they will have to change their institutional cultures and structures and develop a comprehensive, realistic strategy.
A major component of the strategy being developed by Penn (as well as by an increasing number of other higher educational institutions) focuses on the development of higher education-assisted community schools designed to help educate, engage, activate, and serve all members of the community in which the school is located. The strategy assumes that colleges and universities can help develop and maintain community schools that serve as focal points to create healthy urban environments, and that universities consider this task to be worthy because, among other reasons, they function best in such environments.
Somewhat more specifically, the strategy assumes that like colleges and universities, public schools can function as environment-changing institutions and become the strategic centers of broad-based partnerships that genuinely engage and coordinate a wide variety of community organizations and institutions. Public schools "belong" to all members of the community. They are particularly well suited, therefore, to function as neighborhood "hubs" or "nodes" around which local partnerships can be generated and formed. When they play that role, schools function as community institutions par excellence; they then provide a decentralized, democratic, community-based response to significant community problems and help young people learn better and at increasingly higher levels through action-oriented, collaborative, community-based problem solving.
Governance and the Connection Between Community, Higher Education and Schools
Governance issues are at the heart of partnerships between community, higher education and schools. For these partnerships to be significant, systemic and sustained, they need to develop governance structures that connect classrooms, schools and school districts, and that build from feeder patterns among schools (a high school and the elementary and middle schools that "send" their students to the high school). The partnerships also should, in my judgment, be democratic, mutually respectful, and mutually beneficial, vesting significant leadership in principals and teachers. Colleagues across the country have developed a higher education-assisted, staff-controlled and managed approach to community-higher education-school partnerships. (This approach is sharply divergent from the Boston University-Chelsea "university-dominated community school" described in The Learning Connection.) 2
For community schools no "one best system" is even conceivable, let alone workable; each community requires its own organizational and governance structures. Having said that, I can specify an approach to governance that is being put into practice by a number of higher education-school partnerships. Each community school has a community advisory board that both helps to identify strategic community problems that could serve as a focus of student learning and that assists the principal and teachers in advancing the school's instructional program. Although each community school has its own community advisory board, it is not by any means community controlled a la the Ocean Hill Brownsville School District in New York City in 1967-68. In any event, in higher education-assisted community schools (and in "conventional" schools) site-based professional educators must lead the effort and be at the core of the governance structure. Ideally, university students, faculty and staff, as well as community members assisting the teachers, would work under the direction of an assistant principal or teacher serving as an on-site coordinator. Graduate and/or undergraduate students functioning as liaisons with the higher educational institution would, in turn, assist the on-site coordinator.
For real change to occur, it must, of course, occur at the level of classroom practice in both the public school and in higher education. If there is no academic linkage between higher education and a public school, then there will be no sustainable partnership. Developing an integrated pre-K through 16 problem-solving curriculum must be a primary focus. To illustrate a project that has developed such a curriculum, I highlight the Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI) in West Philadelphia.
Developed from an undergraduate seminar first taught by Professor Francis Johnston (former chair of Penn's anthropology department) in 1990, UNI has evolved into a multi-faceted program that connects Penn undergraduate courses with courses in an elementary, a middle, and a high school in West Philadelphia, creating a pre-K through 16 curriculum. UNI's goals are:
Operating daily in Drew Elementary, Turner Middle, and University City High Schools, UNI involves 1,000 students in grades K-12. UNI has developed and implemented a curriculum that teaches core subjects (math, social studies, language arts) through entrepreneurial projects, peer and community health promotion, and community gardening. These include:
- to create and sustain an interdisciplinary pre-K through 16 curriculum that focuses on improving community health;
- to work with university faculty and public school teachers to effectively engage students as agents of school and community change; and
- to improve the nutritional and health status of public school students, their families and the local community.
To connect and integrate colleges and universities on an ongoing, meaningful basis will require creating this kind of academic linkage across all levels of schooling. This process can be strongly advanced through forming site-based curriculum development workshops led by teachers and university faculty with participation from students and community members.
- fruit and vegetable stands at Drew and Turner;
- school gardens at Drew, Turner, and University City High School (UCHS);
- community fitness program for parents and community members at UCHS;
- urban agriculture and microbusiness development at UCHS; and
- interdisciplinary curricula at Drew, Turner and UCHS.
Course and curriculum development workshops and the strengthening of local classroom practice are necessary, but hardly sufficient, components of a strategy aimed at pre-K through 16 reform. Good work done in local classrooms, of course, must be connected to organizations that can take innovations to scale. Broad-based, local coalitions of schools, universities, faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, for-profit firms, and government agencies need to be formed so that planning and implementation can occur across many schools in a given geographical area. In West Philadelphia, for example, Penn is a lead partner of a large-scale coalition compromised of principals from West Philadelphia public schools; representatives from nonprofit institutions (such as Philadelphia Zoo, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Drexel University), from small to large for-profit firms (such as White Dog Cafe, Institute for Scientific Information and Aramark), and from community groups; and political leaders (such as city council members, state House and Senate members, and representatives from various city departments, including the mayor's office). The coalition, which works directly with school district administrators responsible for West Philadelphia, focuses on improving professional development, curriculum development, and school-to-career opportunities; expanding services for children and their families; coordinating and leveraging resources; and advocating for 25 West Philadelphia public schools.
For district-wide change to occur in large urban school districts, each college and university in the city would need to make a major priority the integration and improvement of the overall schooling system in its "home community"--that is, the community in which it is located and the schooling system and community ecological system that it can most directly and most powerfully affect. A city-wide coalition of community-higher education-school partnerships would, in turn, need to be formed to work with the school district to promote systematic pre-K through 16 educational reform. Such coalitions are increasingly being created. In the greater Philadelphia area, for example, 42 higher educational institutions comprise the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND), a consortium which works both to engage colleges and universities with their local schools and communities, and to coordinate and integrate programs. Beginning in the fall of 2001, PHENND plans to make higher education-public school partnerships its highest priority for systemic educational reform.
Advancing the Connections Between Community, Higher Education and Schools Through Implementing "The Noah Principle"
At a two-day education summit convened by Fortune magazine in 1988, Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. (then President of American Express, now chairman and chief executive officer of IBM) called for the adoption of "that famous Noah Principle": "No more prizes for predicting rain. Prizes only for building the arks."3 The severe, worsening, alarming conditions in America's urban schools and communities require government, foundations, and institutions of higher education to immediately, systematically, and collaboratively implement the Noah Principle. In short, doing the right thing must replace describing what is wrong or predicting what is likely to happen as the standard of excellent performance.
To help speed the application of the Noah Principle, I conclude with the following suggestions:
The above suggestions are, at best, merely a starting point for discussion. My (utopian) hope is that those attending this conference will develop concrete plans that lead to significant multi-sector partnerships, greater collaboration across the pre-K through 16 schooling system, and more effective, more democratic schools and communities. I look forward to learning from and with you as we work hard to build, launch and sail "the [new schooling] arks."
- Government at all levels should provide support to broad-based, local coalitions designed to develop and sustain partnerships between communities, higher education and schools for pre-K through 16 educational reform.
- Government at all levels should create multi-agency commissions designed to advance and implement partnerships between communities, higher education and schools.
- Governors and state legislatures should develop strategies and programs to promote regional consortia of higher educational institutions to significantly and effectively improve schooling and community life.
- State governments should award prestigious "Triangle Awards" (to coin a term) to outstanding community-higher education-school partnerships.
- National associations, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association, and the Education Commission of the States, should convene a distinguished panel to recommend both short- and long-term strategies to effectively engage colleges and universities and their local schools and communities.
- National associations, including those cited above, should focus their national meetings, workshops, and publications on developing strategies to increase higher education's strategic contribution to schools, communities and democracy.
1 Derek C. Bok, Universities and the Future of America (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,
1990), p. 3.
2 Lee D. Mitgang, "The Boston University-Chelsea Partnership," in Gene I. Maeroff, Patrick
M. Callan, and Michael D. Usdan (editors), The Learning Connection: New Partnerships Between
Schools and Colleges (New York: Teachers College Press, 2001), pp. 11-19.