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Alliance for Learning: A Special Commentary Report

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Skepticism about higher education's ability--indeed, its willingness--to address the most pressing problems facing American society today is growing. But so, too, is concern about the consequences this nation faces if the academy refuses to recognize its shortcomings and fails to play to its strengths.

At stake, as a growing chorus of education leaders has chimed, is the nation's ability to compete in a global economy and its success in educating an informed and involved citizenry.

"An American Imperative,'' the report of the 16-member committee known as the Wingspread Group, sounded the alarm loud and clear a few months ago: Society must hold higher education to much higher expectations or risk national decline. "A disturbing and dangerous mismatch exists between what American society needs of higher education and what it is receiving,'' the report begins.

No challenge, perhaps, is more difficult--or offers more potential long-term benefits--than the Wingspread Group's call for higher education to reach beyond its own campuses to involve itself in restructuring education at all levels.

"We join others in calling for a simultaneous renewal of both higher education and the nation's K-12 schools,'' the report urges. "A serious, sustained dialogue should start by identifying shared needs and problems.''

As part of this special report, Education Week asked leading educators from a broad spectrum of interests and backgrounds to participate in such a dialogue--by exploring the role of higher education in the future of school reform. Accepting this challenge on the following pages are the president of one of the nation's most prestigious teacher education institutions, the former director of a highly touted experimental middle school, and several prominent scholars involved in school-college collaboration.

This special Commentary report was underwritten by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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