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Independent Colleges Seek To Bolster Reform Movement, School Partnerships

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WASHINGTON--About two dozen organizations from across the nation that represent independent colleges and universities have pledged "to make an institutional commitment to help the nation improve its educational system" and to bolster partnerships between their institutions and elementary and secondary schools.

Noting that the six national education goals adopted by President Bush and the nation's governors paid scant attention to higher education, the resolution also called on the President, the Congress, the governors, and state legislators to include higher education "in any statement of education goals."

Drafted by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and presented here last week at a summit on independent higher education, the resolution is intended to draw attention to efforts now under way at the postsecondary level to influence education reform.

The signers of the document also hope it will serve notice to postsecondary leaders that they need to assume a role in helping the nation achieve the education goals.

"We know that education is a continuum, it just is. Where do our students come from? K-12," said Richard F. Rosser, NAICC'S executive director. "We wanted to become a part of this national effort."

Series of Efforts

The resolution is the latest in a series of recent moves on the part of postsecondary educators to take a larger part in school reform.

The American Association for Higher Education recently embarked on an effort to stimulate reform. The association also has taken a lead in encouraging partnerships between schools and postsecondary institutions.

And last month, Carolynn ReidWallace, the Education Department's assistant secretary for postsecondary education, told reporters that she had assembled a group of department officials to work with representatives of higher education to spur reform of the academy. This summer, she said, the so-called "21st Century Committee" will release its recommendations.

Mr. Roosser said the NAICU resolution will now be forwarded to school presidents and trustees, who will be urged to implement it.

"It's quite clear to many of us that if you don't think of the whole system, we'll never reach those goals," he said.

Added Thomas H. Kean, president of Drew University and, as governor of New Jersey in the 1980's a leading proponent of education reform, "We simply can't avoid school reform. In one way or another, we will suffer if we ignore schools."

Praise From Alexander

Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, speaking at the summit, said independent colleges and universities already are providing a sterling example for education reform.

Institutional autonomy and diversity, a commitment to excellence, professional teaching standards, and the ability of federal financial aid to follow students to any public or private school of their choice have made American higher education the best in the world, Mr. Alexander said. Now, he added, "we suggest we apply to elementary and secondary education what is in practice in higher education."

The Secretary encouraged the independent college and university representatives to assist states in changing curriculum, to work with their communities in solving problems facing families, and to help school districts develop new schools.

Almost Half Engaged

A report issued by NAICU at the summit indicated that many institutions have already taken the resolution and Mr. Alexander's suggestions to heart.

Of 454 independent institutions responding to a NAICU survey, 43 percent said they are "participating in a communitywide strategy for achieving the national education goals."

Among the efforts noted in the survey, institutions reported operating preschools, elementary schools, and secondary schools; engaging in K-12 curricular reform; enhancing teacher-education programs; and offering assistance to at-risk secondary students.

Neil Rudenstein, president of Harvard University, however, warned that higher-education institutions should not be expected to transform education alone.

"There's only so much we can do," he said. "Unless the community, family, and social conditions are right, schools and universities aren't going to be able to reach those goals."

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