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The Role of Colleges in School Improvement

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We believe that the nation's schools are critical to the vitality of our society. Over the past two decades, substantial progress has been made in improving access to our system of public education, and in improving the academic achievement of younger children. Our next task is to press for continuing gains in achievement, without sacrificing our accomplishments in educating all of our young people.

The American public has, as it should have, high expectations of the schools. Recent reports, including that of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, have crystallized a general conviction that the schools are not doing as well as they might, and that they need improvement. We agree, but we also emphasize that as a nation we ask a great many different things of our schools, and often fail to provide them with the resources to fulfill our expectations.

Responsibility for the well-being of the schools is not localized in society, but widely distributed. Government at all levels must assert a re-sponsibility: Federal support, as well as assistance from state and local government, will be essential for real improvement.

Similarly, universities must play an active role if we are to ensure excellence in a full-access system of primary and secondary schools. As university educators, we have a special concern for the centrality of academic objectives in the schools, and for the importance of teaching as an activity. We therefore welcome a role as partners and advocates for our colleagues in the public schools.

Help from the universities must derive from their institutional strengths and from their diversity. That help needs, furthermore, to be consistent over time: Episodic interventions, like volatile government support, will merely raise expectations and then leave them unfulfilled. The way in which each university can help will depend on its character and circumstances. Like schools, universities differ widely. Some have schools of education, others do not. Some have long histories of interaction with local schools, whereas others have little or no experience. For that reason it is impossible to write a prescription for our institutions' commitment to the schools. But each university should look to activities such as the following and choose those appropriate to its capabilities:

Strengthening existing affiliations with elementary and secondary schools, or initiating new ones;

Making improvements in educational practice through collaboration of university faculties with the schools;

Improving teacher-education programs, including opportunities for helping classroom teachers;

Providing opportunities for the continued professional development of superintendents, principals, and other school leaders;

Sponsoring special programs on campus for enriching the experience of students and of school personnel;

Emphasizing research programs that are aimed at deepening understanding of education and at the improvement of teaching and learning;

Encouraging institutional and faculty participation in collaborative curriculum-development projects;

Encouraging our own students to consider devoting part or all of their lives to teaching;

Emphasizing the importance of teaching in the schools by recognizing especially successful teachers, or in other ways;

Serving, where needed, as sources of advice in the shaping of public policies affecting education.

Although the responses of our institutions will vary according to their situation, our intention is firm that they will respond positively. Recognizing the central importance of the nation's schools, we further commit ourselves to assist, by personal advocacy, the cause of public education.

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