Download the
full report in
PDF format
Front Page
Executive Summary

The Case Study for Georgia
The Case Study for Oregon
The Case Study for New York
The Case Study for Florida

home   about us   news   reports   crosstalk   search   links    

Page 2 of 2

  Executive Summary

This report is based on findings from Partnerships for Student Success (PSS), a four-state study that analyzed K-16 educational governance and policies at the state level, such as organizational structures, leadership, finance, curricula and assessment, accountability, and data systems.1 An underlying belief of PSS is that changes in statewide governance policies and structures can enable deep, classroom-level effects. The focus of the research is on students who attend "broad access" postsecondary institutions (colleges and universities with relaxed admission criteria); approximately 80% of college students enroll in these kinds of institutions. A central question driving the PSS research concerns whether particular kinds of governance structures are more effective than others in using policy levers to facilitate and maintain K-16 reforms. This attention to governance structures is particularly relevant now, when some states are looking toward the development of K-16 commissions and other possible ways to connect their educational systems.

The findings in this research report move the K-16 agenda forward by proposing a set of state policy levers that can be used to create meaningful changes for students. In addition, this report identifies the role of other factors-such as leadership and state culture and history-in implementing and sustaining K-16 reforms within states. The findings of this research demonstrate the real challenges-and opportunities-that states face as they seek to improve transitions between high school and college. This report provides state leaders with real-world policy choices, showing the kinds of steps several states have taken, and the implications of these policy decisions over time. The report also offers recommendations to help states transform ad hoc approaches into sustained action and institutionalized, long-term K-16 reforms. Every state needs to increase the percentage of students who complete high school and finish some form of postsecondary education; existing governance structures and policies cannot meet this overwhelming need. For most states, these structures and policies must be revised in significant ways.

This work spurred the development of a forthcoming publication by the authors, entitled Claiming Common Ground, based on all of their work in the field, including The Learning Connection, Gathering Momentum, and Stanford University's Bridge Project and the related book, From High School to College. The Governance Divide, as the title suggests, focuses on state governance mechanisms that can help students' readiness for, and success in, postsecondary education. Claiming Common Ground goes a step further, making the case for why such work is a state and national imperative.

Currently, K-12 and postsecondary education exist in separate worlds in the United States. Policies for each system of education are typically created in isolation from each other-even though, in contrast to the past, most students eventually move from one system to the other. Students in K-12 rarely know what to expect when they enter college, nor do they have a clear sense of how to prepare for that next step. Particularly now, in the 21st century, when more students must complete some postsecondary education to have an economically secure life, the need for improved transitions from high school to college is urgent. This need for some postsecondary education extends beyond individual aspirations. In this global economy, businesses and communities-and our nation as a whole-must have residents who have achieved educational success beyond high school.

It is good public policy to make sure our education systems better suit students' needs and aspirations-and our country's needs. America's high school students have higher aspirations for their own education than ever before. Over 90% of high school seniors in the United States plan to attend college (including two- and four-year colleges), and about 70% of high school graduates actually do go to college within two years of graduating.2 Measuring Up 2004, a report card focusing on higher education, demonstrated that students' aspirations are continuing to rise, yet college opportunity has not increased, particularly for traditionally under-represented student groups, whose numbers are growing.3 These educational aspirations extend across income, racial, and ethnic groups and are grounded in economic reality. In 2000, the median annual earnings for workers ages 25 and over with a high school diploma were $24,267, compared to $26,693 for those with an associate's degree and $40,314 for those with a bachelor's degree.4

Despite their high aspirations, many students are not well prepared for college, and too few complete their college programs. Nationally, 63% of students in two-year colleges and 40% of those in four-year institutions take some remedial education.5 About half of first-year students at community colleges do not continue on for a second year. Approximately a quarter of first-year students at four-year colleges do not stay for their second year.6

State policies send important signals to students about what they need to know and be able to do, to educators about what is important, and to researchers and policymakers about issues such as student needs. States have created disjointed systems with separate standards, governing entities, and policies. As a result, they have also created unnecessary and detrimental barriers between high school and college-barriers that undermine students' aspirations and their abilities to succeed.


Policy Levers States Can Use to Create Change

Our research found that there are four policy levers that are particularly promising for states interested in creating sustained K-16 reform: assessments and curricula, finance, data systems, and accountability.

    Alignment of Courses and Assessments. States need to make sure that what students are asked to know and do in high school is connected to postsecondary expectations-both in coursework and assessments. Currently, students in most states graduate from high school under one set of standards and face a disconnected and different set of expectations in college. Many students enter college unable to perform college-level work.

    Finance. State education finance systems must become K-16; this includes the legislative committees and staff functions that oversee finance and budgetary decisions. State finance structures are lagging behind other areas in existing K-16 reform. If education finance can span education systems, it has the potential to drive change in many other policy arenas as well.

    Data Systems. States must create high-quality data systems that span the K-16 continuum. K-16 data systems should identify good practices, diagnose problems, provide information about all education levels, provide students with diagnostic information to help them prepare better, assess and improve achievement, and track individual students over time across levels.7 Without such systems, it is impossible to assess needs effectively, understand where the problems are, gain traction for changes needed, and evaluate reforms.

    Accountability. States need to connect their accountability systems to span K-12 and postsecondary education. Currently, accountability systems are usually designed for either K-12 or postsecondary education without much attention to the interface between the two. Accountability systems need to reflect, better, the reality of students' educational paths.

As states seek to engage in K-16 reforms, it is important that each state does so with an understanding of its culture and history. For this reason, a one-size-fits-all model will not work in developing K-16 reforms. Nonetheless, the culture and history of a state do not create insurmountable barriers to the establishment of such reforms.

Establishing and empowering organizational structures that can transcend the barriers between educational sectors is essential in promoting K-16 reforms. These bodies should be charged with specific responsibilities, provided with the requisite resources, empowered with enough influence and authority to make real change, and held accountable for performance. State agency collaboration-both in terms of the content of work and the organizational structures supporting that work-is essential, and having components of K-16 reform in statute appears to be useful but not sufficient for creating change.8

Leadership at the state level is of crucial importance in establishing a vision and sustaining long-term change. These initiatives must be collaborative; it is not possible for a governor, postsecondary education system, or K-12 system to drive these efforts alone. Also, it is important to consider and implement broad-based and deeply embedded incentives to promote collaboration across sectors. The policy levers described above-particularly in the areas of finance and accountability-provide examples of such incentive structures.

We caution state education leaders that convening a commission and holding cross-system discussions may be helpful, but are not sufficient for creating meaningful and lasting K-16 reform. At the end of the day, the litmus test will not be the establishment of commissions or panels. To be lasting and effective, the deliberations must be anchored in policy and finance reform, and those policies must drive the type of governance structure that is needed.

K-16 reform cuts into the heart of major education issues and needs currently confronting this nation: the ability of students to complete K-12 and finish some form of postsecondary education, and the ability of states to provide students with a clear and consistent set of policies and programs. The findings in this report demonstrate the real opportunities-and challenges-that states face as they seek to improve transitions between high school and college. These findings focus on actions and reforms that have the potential to effect change in every classroom in a state. As the findings reveal, the responsibility for reform cannot be carried by one sector, but rather must be shared across systems to reach common ground, focusing on improving K-12 and postsecondary education for all students.

1 The case study reports for the four states-Florida, Georgia, New York, and Oregon-are available on the National Center's Web site at

2 Education Trust, "Ticket to Nowhere: The Gap Between Leaving High School and Entering College and High Performance Jobs," in Thinking K-16 3:2 (Washington, DC: Fall 1999).

3 National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Measuring Up 2004: The National Report Card on Higher Education (San Jose, CA: 2004).

4 U.S. Bureau of the Census, "CPS Annual Demographic Survey," Supplement, March 2001. Available online at

5 U.S. Department of Education. The Condition of Education (Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2001).

6 For completion rates see C. Adelman, Lessons of a Generation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994). For other statistics on completion and remediation, see U.S. Department of Education, The Condition of Education (Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2001); U.S. Department of Education, Projections of Education Statistics to 2011 (Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2001); U.S. Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics: 2000 (Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2001); and American Council on Education, Access and Persistence (Washington, DC: American Council on Education, 2002).

7 Hans P. L'Orange, "Data and Accountability Systems: From Kindergarten Through College," in Richard Kazis et al. (eds.), Double the Numbers: Increasing Postsecondary Credentials for Underrepresented Youth, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2004), p. 166.

8 For example, Georgia passed legislation mandating that a statewide P-16 council meet on a regular basis. This worked under former Governor Barnes, but council has not met under Governor Perdue.


E-Mail this link to a friend.
Enter your friend's e-mail address:

National Center logo
© 2005 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

HOME | about us | center news | reports & papers | national crosstalk | search | links | contact

site managed by NETView Communications