Alliance for Learning: Higher Education Must Do Its Part

By Mark Pitsch — April 13, 1994 39 min read
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Kati Haycock recalls the time she was giving a speech to Kentucky educators charged with implementing the state’s breakthrough education-reform plan. She had been invited in her role as director of an initiative to bring K-12 districts and colleges and universities together in the spirit of collaboration.

After her talk, an elementary school principal sought her out and complained that faculty members in Kentucky’s colleges of education were bashing the state’s reform effort and failing to train teachers to understand the new way of thinking.

“That was two years ago, and that used to happen to me only periodically,’' Haycock recalls. “Now, it happens everywhere I go. There is clearly a growing anger among K-12 people over what they perceive as higher education’s being out to lunch, away from the [reform] table. They’re realizing they’re not going to succeed without help from higher education.’'

There is ample evidence that educators and policymakers intent on improving the nation’s schools have indeed become increasingly critical of colleges and universities for sitting on the sidelines. Even more vexing than the fact that higher education generally has not helped in the effort to bring about fundamental changes in the way public schools are organized and operated, they say, is that it has impeded precollegiate reform by failing to get its own house in order. The effect, many say, is that the two systems are actually working at cross-purposes.

For Patrick M. Callan, the executive director of the California Higher Education Policy Center in San Jose, higher education’s position is consistent with its longstanding resistance to change. It has always been behind the curve when it comes to social change, he says, pointing to higher education’s initial recalcitrance about embracing the G.I. Bill, which provided military personnel with money to attend college after World War II, and the civil-rights movement, which pressed the academy to open its doors to black students.

“Everyone’s favorite change is the change someone else has to make,’' Callan says. “I believe that we have the intellectual firepower, and we have the energy to address these problems, but all of the energy is being used for denial and in our own internecine warfare.’'

For Marc S. Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, higher education’s failure to participate in perhaps the most sustained domestic public-policy debate of the late 20th century represents the abdication of leadership in higher education.

“I think what we are in right now is the second of the two great transformations in education in this century,’' he says. “The first was at the turn of the century, the second is now. And what’s remarkable to me is that American higher education has not played a role. That astounds me. The academy has been wanting at every stage in the game.’'

Tucker and others note that few higher-education leaders consider school reform a critical issue facing their institutions. Not only are presidents and chancellors not paying enough attention to their schools of education and teacher training programs, most aren’t even focusing on the problems affecting undergraduate teaching and learning. Even if college and university executives have a personal interest in school reform, few are willing to tackle the subject in public and risk alienating their own faculty.

“I’m not optimistic about presidents having any influence that’s substantive in those universities,’' Tucker says. “I think they’re among the least powerful executives in the country. We’ve arranged the institutions so that faculties are accountable to themselves. That’s the definition of a university.’'

The complaints against higher education from the K-12 sector range from the poor training and continuing education of teachers to the lack of harmony between the curricula of the two systems; from the rigid admissions standards of institutions of higher learning to the declining academic rigor of a college education; from the disdain in which many academics hold precollegiate education to the lack of opportunities to work together on matters of mutual interest.

“Higher education’s historically patronizing attitude toward K-12 has created some resistance’’ among precollegiate educators, Callan says. “No one wants us to act like Santa Claus, showing up with a bag of goodies and asking about how we can help you do your job better.’'

Nevertheless, Callan and others believe that higher education must become involved in the K-12 reform effort and that K-12 reformers must find ways to make it comfortable for higher-education officials to do so.

At risk is no less than the success of the standards-and-assessment movement that has become the centerpiece of current school reform. New methods of assessment--portfolios and tests that demonstrate the acquisition of skills and knowledge rather than the memorization of facts--will require changes in university admissions policies. Curricular reforms that rely on integrated and collaborative learning will require education schools to revamp the way they train teachers. And, if the content and performance standards now being developed for schools are to work, colleges and universities must provide incentives for students to meet these high standards, and they must modify their own undergraduate programs to account for the changes in precollegiate education.

In January 1993, the National Governors’ Association convened 30 leaders from secondary schools, higher education, and education associations for a two-day conference in Vienna, Va., to discuss college-admissions standards and school reform. The N.G.A. had been hearing from K-12 reformers that college-admissions policies had been impeding reforms designed to develop new curricula and assessments.

At the very time “secondary schools are rejecting old distinctions among core classroom subjects and are moving away from traditional curricula and graduation requirements in order to improve student achievement,’' N.G.A. consultant Mary J. Houghton says in a report on the conference, “most colleges and universities are continuing to evaluate applicants on the basis of conventional admission criteria.’'

“The trend at colleges over the past decade has been to reinforce and raise admission requirements based on core courses and Carnegie units,’' she adds, concluding that the two systems are working at odds.

Indeed, higher-education officials are wary of the move toward content standards and performance assessments.

James B. Appleberry, the president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, says public colleges and universities, because they receive state tax dollars, need objective admissions criteria--class ranks, grade-point averages, and standardized-test scores, among them--to determine a student’s eligibility. Portfolios and performance assessments are too subjective, he adds.

Others simply say such assessments are “a fad.’'

“People think it will solve lots of problems. I don’t. I would lead the battle if I did,’' Lee R. Kerschner, the interim president of California State University at Stanislaus, says in the N.G.A. report. “This discussion about outcomes assessment may be useful. It may help public schools do a better job. But so many other issues are far more important.’'

Moreover, academics question the validity and reliability of performance-based assessments.

“There is no predictive validity to portfolio assessment yet,’' says David A. Longanecker, the U.S. Education Department’s assistant secretary for postsecondary education and a former state higher-education executive director in Colorado and Minnesota. “You need some shorthand method that is reasonably reliable, and performance assessment is not. A, B, C, D, F is.’'

While he concedes that “performance assessment has a tremendous future,’' Longanecker contends that most “of the teachers who are conducting portfolio assessment these days know nothing about assessment.’'

Critics say the attitude projected by Longanecker and Appleberry is typical of higher-education officials who cling to present assessment practices despite their proven shortcomings and are unwilling to accept the possibility that performance and portfolio assessment might be at least as good. Instead of carping, critics ask, why don’t leaders in higher education acknowledge the new assessment movement and work with school reformers at all levels to make the assessments as reliable as possible. That way, they say, both systems would be moving on the same track.

Moreover, they say, assessments that demonstrate whether students have actually attained proficiency in a certain subject would be far preferable to cryptic letter grades and norm-referenced standardized-test scores that frequently tell little, if anything, about a student’s proficiency. Such an assessment system would reduce redundancies between higher education and secondary schools, as well as the need for postsecondary remediation.

“This is one of those issues where each party has a lot to share,’' Haycock, the director of the American Association for Higher Education’s K-16 project, says.

The mismatch between K-12 and postsecondary education is also evident on the issue of standards. A central premise of the school-reform movement is that all students can and should learn more than is demanded at present. This, in turn, has led to efforts to specify what students should know and be able to do in commonly taught subjects, often known as “content standards.’'

With financial assistance from the federal government and private foundations, teachers and scholars are now working to craft such standards in at least seven academic disciplines.

Although members of college and university faculties are serving on some of the standards-setting panels, higher education itself has paid little attention to the standards movement. Indeed, critics charge, higher education is not even paying much attention to its own academic standards, opening it to charges that many institutions are little more than glorified high schools with soft courses, grade inflation, and no way of measuring student achievement. Even pop culture is noticing: “Doonesbury’’ creator Garry Trudeau has skewered universities in a series of cartoon strips about a ponytailed fraternity member suing a professor over a B+ grade.

“It’s gotten to the point where each person should be issued a college diploma [at birth] instead of a birth certificate,’' says Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. College “is sort of a place that says to anybody who’s over 18 and breathing and has some educational problem, ‘Come here and bring your tuition.’''

Shanker and many of his colleagues applaud the effort to raise standards among elementary and secondary schools. But they say that movement will not succeed without active collaboration by higher education, that colleges and universities must add some stakes to the school-reform movement by adjusting their entrance requirements.

Higher education’s admissions standards have always had a strong influence on high school curricula and graduation requirements.

“Kids understand incentives,’' says Robert Schwartz, the director of education programs for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “This for me is the make-it-or-break-it question around school reform.’'

According to Columbia University scholar Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the 1920’s required colleges and universities to establish admissions standards according to units of instruction time in order to be admitted to Carnegie’s pension system--now known as T.I.A.A.-CREF. What became known as the “Carnegie unit’’ led to similar graduation requirements for high schools.

The foundation, which had taken as its mission the improvement of American education as a way to “furnish standards for a democracy,’' as Lagemann writes, followed that up with a call for standardized testing as another criterion for college admissions. Again, high schools followed suit by urging their students to take the standardized tests. Both admissions methods prevail today in high schools and higher-education institutions alike.

“Colleges and universities provide a major part of the incentive for elementary and secondary schools,’' Shanker says. “And that is a perfect illustration that whatever state colleges and universities set up becomes the standard that high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools are geared to meet.’'

Consequently, some see the standards-setting movement as the perfect K-12 reform vehicle in which higher education should take an interest. And, they suggest, that might prompt colleges and universities to undertake a little reform themselves--like establishing content and performance standards for what undergraduates should know and be able to do, paying more attention to cognitive research on how students learn, and developing assessments that better measure student achievement during the undergraduate years. Ultimately, observers say, the K-12 school-reform effort will make itself felt on the campus, whether or not higher education welcomes it.

As one former Oregon state education official notes: “In the past, higher education has pretty much dictated, for those students who wanted to go to college, what they need in terms of course requirements. And that has dictated the K-12 curriculum. Now, we are asking what we want our students to know and be able to do for the 21st century, and have higher education work with that.’'

But most K-12 reformers are pessimistic. They feel that higher education is “in denial’’ about growing public impatience with rising tuitions and the lack of efficiency and accountability on campuses. If higher education is unable or unwilling to recognize the need to change, then it is not likely to understand why the schools are changing and the stake it has in their success.

Marc Tucker, for one, believes that U.S. colleges and universities cling to the notion that they are the best in the world, and invoke that claim whenever outsiders rattle the postsecondary cage. But while that distinction applies to the nation’s graduate and research universities, he says, it is not true of most undergraduate education.

“The message that goes out to American high school kids is that it makes absolutely no difference how well you do because it doesn’t matter,’' Tucker says. “That is a national tragedy, and one in which higher education is more than complicit. If they are unhappy with the quality of the incoming students, they have no one but themselves to blame.’'

“You would think that in an era when for the first time in our history we are debating what our standards should be, we would come to grips with what a liberal education is,’' he adds. “You would think that higher education, which considers itself a repository of a liberal education, would jump into the fray.’'

So far, it hasn’t. But soon it may have to.

The long-held belief in the intrinsic value of a college education is beginning to be questioned. As college tuitions rise and the competition for state funds increases, Americans are demanding more proof that higher education is worth the expenditure.

For example, a recent study notes that, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest level of proficiency, only 8 percent of college graduates were at level 5 in working with documents; only 10 percent in working with prose; and only 12 percent in quantitative skills. The study declares that 56.3 percent of “American-born, four-year-college graduates are unable consistently to perform simple tasks, such as calculating the change from $3 after buying a 60-cent bowl of soup and a $1.95 sandwich. Tasks such as these should not be insuperable for people with 16 years of education.’'

The report also excoriates colleges for weeding out students rather than cultivating them, noting that half fail to earn a degree within five years.

Negative information like that helped precipitate the crisis in precollegiate education a dozen years ago. Now, it is eroding confidence in higher education. And the doubts are likely to multiply because there is no way to determine the academic contributions that higher education makes to a student, no way to measure the “value added.’' This has provoked calls for a higher-education measurement similar to the National Assessment of Educational Progress or the National Adult Literacy Survey.

“If you had [a college-level NAEP], you could really drive not only higher education, but a K-16 reform effort,’' Ms. Haycock says.

More than any other count in the reformers’ indictment against colleges and universities is their shortcomings in training teachers for the nation’s schools. If universities showed the same disregard for the education of physicians or lawyers or architects that they do for teachers, critics charge, their programs would be shut down.

In a 1991 special Education Week report, Kenneth I. Peatross, the executive secretary of the Minnesota Board of Teaching, said: “There’s a lot of tension about the fact that teacher preparation is not in tune with practice, that, somehow, preparation is not keeping abreast of the advances that are being made in teaching and learning; that veteran teachers are out there floundering around and learning on the job; and that teacher education is blithely going along preparing people for 1950.’' Despite a lot of reform rhetoric by education school officials, not much has changed since then.

A report issued last July by the Education Commission of the States notes that most states allocate funding to their public college teacher-education programs on a per-student basis, not on the basis of any relationship to the state’s reform goals or achievement objectives.

“Institutions have balked at a closer relationship with the schools because of the costs and faculty loads involving campus responsibilities,’' says the report, “A Shared Vision: Policy Recommendations Linking Teacher Education to School Reform.’'

“Hence,’' it says, “many universities hire graduate assistants or part-time staff to visit student-teachers and work with cooperating teachers, while regular faculty teach campus classes, do research, and write.’'

John I. Goodlad, a professor of education at the University of Washington, has called for a “simultaneous renewal’’ of teaching and teacher education, with schools and colleges working hand in hand.

But the E.C.S. report observes: “Undertaking ‘simultaneous renewal’ is seen as disruptive ... and too costly. Critics counter by claiming that in most cases teacher education programs are really ‘cash cows’ or income producers for the universities. College and university governing boards and administrators are often unaware of or aloof to state goals for improving elementary and secondary education.’'

Despite such indifference, in no other area is the fate of school reform more directly linked to colleges and universities than in teacher preparation. Successful learning in the elementary and secondary school depends heavily on well-prepared, professional teachers. By recruiting the best students available and providing them with the tools they will need to help all children achieve to their highest levels, some observers point out, higher education would be investing wisely in its own future.

In fact, what exists are fragmented teacher training programs that have the least status of any university programs, the least support from the administration, and a structure that rewards research--much of which is mediocre--not teaching.

“The place where we’re softest,’' says David Imig, the executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, “is institutional policies--changing promotion and tenure.’'

Moreover, those promotion and tenure policies reflect how faculty get ahead throughout the university, leading to tension between research and teaching that calls into question what aspiring teachers are learning about teaching in their classes in other disciplines.

What is needed, says J. Ivan Legg, the provost at Memphis State University, is not the abolition of tenure, which he says allows professors to excel and be creative, but rather a refocusing of the faculty on teaching and learning. He sees the need to stem the proliferation of substandard research that tends to flow not only from the majority of education schools but from other areas of the academy as well.

“We’re seeing too much second-class research published in second-class journals that will never get read,’' the provost says. “We need to keep that first level of research, but also give rewards for academic involvement in K-12.’'

Reflecting the status of teacher education on the nation’s campuses, Arthur Wise, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, points out that only about 500 of the nearly 1,300 education schools are willing to be scrutinized according to NCATE’s high standards.

Those standards focus on such areas as faculty, resources, what students are taught, the relationship between what they are taught and the world of practice, and what and how students learn.

“That’s one barometer of the readiness of that world to change,’' Wise says.

Another will come this year, when the new president of the A.A.C.T.E., Richard Wisniewski, the dean of the college of education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, will challenge its members to become accredited by NCATE or have their status reduced to associate members. Such a challenge is the best way to bring education schools closer to the teaching front lines, Wisniewski said in a recent address to the A.A.C.T.E.

Wise also notes that education schools are the only professional schools in which national accreditation is optional. Similarly, most states provide alternate routes to licensure that enable people to enter the classroom who have never completed teacher education programs. The same would never be true for doctors or lawyers.

“I think this is both a product and a symbol of the low status of teacher education in this country,’' he says.

Even education schools that have moved to improve the quality of their programs often fail to calibrate them to the changes that are taking place in public schools.

Michael Kirst, a Stanford University professor of education, says that a recent survey conducted by his department found that none of the five teacher education programs studied in California, including Stanford’s, was training new teachers according to the state curricular frameworks that have been mandated in California’s elementary and secondary schools.

“It means that higher education pours out teachers who are trained to teach the old ways and the same students when we’re trying to push new ways of teaching and the teaching of a diverse population of students,’' Mr. Kirst says.
What makes higher education’s disregard of school reform especially puzzling is that colleges and universities have a strong vested interest in the success of K-12 students: Well more than half of America’s high school graduates eventually become college students.

For years, professors and administrators have complained about the preparation level of incoming college students. Organizations representing colleges and universities have issued reports on the increasing need for remediation in college and the high cost of providing it. State lawmakers have questioned the efficiency of providing duplicate courses on two levels.

But beyond the rhetoric, there has been little action. To prove that they recognize their self-interest, their obligation to community, and their investment in the public trust, college officials point to individual collaborations and partnerships that dot the higher-education landscape: A school of education has adopted a local high school; a distinguished science professor is consulting with science teachers in the public schools; the academic vice president’s office sponsors a summer institute that brings high school students to campus for a weeklong stay.

College officials offer such partnerships as evidence of their interest in making the schools better. But critics, while acknowledging the value of some partnerships, say they are tantamount to the early adopt-a-school involvement of the business community in education reform--more show than substance. Moreover, these marginal efforts mask the lack of systematic, universitywide involvement with the feeder system to their institutions.

“As a person who works with elementary and secondary, I don’t know how to influence higher education,’' Stanford’s Kirst says. “We don’t have connections with people who work in policy there. We can throw bricks from outside the house, but we can’t get inside the house.’'

Partnerships and collaborations, he says, are simple “side issues [that] obscure’’ the more dire need for substantive systemic reform in both K-12 and higher education.

If enlightened self-interest is not enough to prompt colleges and universities to become engaged in school reform, state pressure may be.

Because three out of four college-bound public school students attend taxpayer-supported colleges and universities, it would be reasonable to view the two systems as linked and to make the case that they have an obligation to do as much as they can for the public in the most economical and efficient way. That means working together to increase efficiency by sharing resources, insuring smooth articulation, and maintaining simple communications. It also means, some say, that public higher-education institutions have an obligation to the taxpayers to become active players in school reform.

That is a valid argument, says Legg of Memphis State, because, after all, “we are using public money.’'

Governors and lawmakers, who have led the way in school reform for nearly a dozen years, are frustrated by the fact that public higher education is not helping and may be hindering the effort to improve K-12 education. In some states, they have begun to confront the issue.

When the Kentucky legislature passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990, it also passed a resolution that calls on public universities in the state to upgrade their teacher training and professional-development efforts.

While the state resolution has no real teeth--the institutions are not threatened with the loss of financial support, for example, if they do not comply--it is having some impact, says Robert Sexton, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a citizens'-advocacy group that is monitoring the implementation of KERA.

A state task force is working on articulation issues, he says, and individual higher-education institutions are re-examining their missions.

For example, the Prichard Committee is working with Georgetown College, a small liberal-arts institution, to revamp its curriculum so that it is more in line with K-12 curricular reforms, and the University of Kentucky in Lexington has established an Institute for Education Reform in its education school and has named an academic vice president for school reform.

“It’s been slow, but we’ve seen lots of action in the past couple of years,’' Sexton says. “Here, because the reform program has been so dominant in the news, the message has gotten through.’'

What the institutions still need to do, he says, is pay more attention to the quality of instruction by professors across the campus, get more teacher education students into real classrooms, and add ongoing professional-development programs to education schools.

Other states are considering ways of tying higher-education funding to evidence of assistance to K-12. The Denver-based Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education has already suggested as much for its member states, and Colorado appears to have listened. Gov. Roy Romer earlier this year signed a bill that requires all future spending increases on higher education above the fiscal 1994 level of $410 million to go to five priorities; coordination with K-12 education is among them.

The legislature is now considering a proposal that would provide $250,000 in fiscal 1995 to universities that, through a competitive grant process, demonstrate their ties to K-12. Another $600,000 is proposed for another priority--productivity--that involves more faculty contact with undergraduates through teaching and advising, and the reduction of administrative costs.

“Lots of our constituents are starting to look at this K-16 link or this seamless system,’' says Julie Bell, the education-program director with the National Conference of State Legislatures. (See related story, page 10.)

Higher-education leaders worry, however, about these developments. Not only will these mandatory links to school reform impair the autonomy of the academy, they say, but they could saddle universities with tasks outside their mission, just as legislative mandates have done with public schools.

Nonetheless, with limited amounts of money available, states have been shifting resources into elementary and secondary education and making higher education fight for every penny.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1980 and 1990, the national index for elementary and secondary education--which reflects monies raised to educate the average student relative to the taxpayer’s ability to pay--rose from 21.5 to 25.0. During the same period, that index for higher education fell from 26.5 to 23.4.

The N.C.S.L. has reported that, between fiscal years 1991 and 1992, state spending on public schools increased by 8.9 percent, while spending on higher education rose by 2.2 percent. Between fiscal 1992 and 1993, public school spending increased by 4.3 percent, while higher-education spending decreased by 0.2 percent. Only between fiscal 1993 and 1994 has that trend abated, with higher education actually receiving a slightly bigger increase--2.8 percent--than the schools--1.6 percent.

In the meantime, many state legislatures, responding to concerns over the balance between the time spent on faculty research and teaching, are contemplating bills that would regulate weekly teaching loads for professors at public institutions.

Meanwhile, corporate support, while by no means shrinking for higher education, has been increasing for schools. A recent survey of 230 corporate foundations by the Council for Aid to Education, for example, found the effectiveness of K-12 education reform was the topic of greatest interest. The efficiency and effectiveness of higher education ranked eighth. The philanthropic community’s increased giving to school-reform efforts, observers say, reflects a real societal need as well as a recognition that K-12 reformers are addressing that need. Higher-education officials are not.

Clearly, a strong message is being sent, but it’s not yet clear that it’s being received.

While reformers and the states are pressuring higher education to play a more active role in school reform, it is also under increasing pressure to re-examine itself.

Last December, more than 10 years after A Nation at Risk set in motion the most intense wave of school-reform activity in this century, higher education received its own wake-up call with a pithy little report titled “An American Imperative: Higher Expectations for Higher Education.’'

“An American Imperative,’' the product of a 16-member panel chaired by former U.S. Secretary of Labor William E. Brock, calls on higher-education executives and faculty members to re-examine what is being taught on that level and how; the mission of colleges and universities, collectively and individually; and the higher-education system’s role vis-Áa-vis elementary and secondary schools.

The 167-page document is much less caustic than its K-12 counterpart, and it is too early to tell what kind of influence, if any, it might have. In fact, some observers say it is too soft to generate any substantive discussion of the reform issues facing higher education.

As “An American Imperative’’ suggests, however, higher education is facing the kind of public demand for change and accountability that swept through the elementary and secondary schools after the release of A Nation at Risk.

Rising tuitions have prompted parents and students to take a closer look at exactly what they are getting for their money. It has also led to concern over access. A 1993 report issued by the California Higher Education Policy Center notes that 67 percent of Californians, and 55 percent of those across the nation surveyed, believe a college education is harder to get now than it was 10 years ago. And 73 percent of Californians, and 66 percent of the nation, believe a college education will be harder to get 10 years from now.

Moreover, scandals related to athletic programs and research projects have tarnished the ivory-tower image at a time when higher-education officials are striving to convince the public of academe’s special place in, and unique value to, the larger society.

In recent speeches, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley has been warning college and university leaders that the public will demand more accountability and higher academic and performance standards. He implored higher education to pay attention to the K-12 reform movement in his first “state of education’’ speech in February, and noted that “we are at the threshold of a new and important public dialogue, one only now beginning to emerge on the meaning of accountability and standards in higher education.’'

College officials know that they must reform the academy and, specifically, that academic reform is the issue, says Robert Zemsky, the director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania. They just don’t know how to get the discussion going about faculty roles, the nature and structure of the curriculum, and how to do more things with less money, adds Zemsky, who also serves as the chairman of the Pew Higher Education Roundtable.

Last November, the Pew forum held a meeting in St. Louis to discuss the future of higher education. Meeting planners expected 125 officials to attend; more than 650 expressed interest in attending, but only 400 could be accommodated. Clearly, there is interest. The question is, Will there be action?

The St. Louis meeting focused on restructuring the campus and the issues of cost, access, and quality, and the difference between radical and significant change. Participants acknowledged feeling pressure from parents and students, state legislatures, and the public. Several institutions reported on their efforts to make their institutions more efficient, more responsive to parents and students, and more accountable for the use of tax dollars.

Zemsky assured the participants that the only thing they’ve done wrong is fail to anticipate how external pressures might affect them. He urged them to pay attention to three outside factors: the job market, public attitudes, and the policymaking arena.

He later explained why he did not include school reform in that list: “It’s not clear to us that those who are in charge of K-12 reform exactly have that game under control. We’re just not sure they know what they’re doing yet, [and] the last thing you want to get involved in is someone else’s nightmare.’'

Appleberry of AASCU agrees. “Some people have started asking, ‘Well, where’s higher education?’ That’s scapegoating. They don’t want to be in the same situation as the elementary and secondary people were: expected to solve all of these social problems without the authority, responsibility, or funding to do it.’'

Moreover, Zemsky maintains, many higher-education officials do not see themselves in the same business as public schools. This is most clearly reflected in the teacher education schools, he says.

“People in higher education don’t know what’s happened in K-12--good, bad, or indifferent,’' Mr. Zemsky says. “We sort of sit there like catchers and wish that the pitcher would throw a better pitch.’'

Other higher-education leaders are wary of becoming involved in school reform because they fear it will compromise quality on the campus. They point to the demand for greater access in the 1960’s, a demand that prompted colleges to water down their admissions standards and enroll students who were not adequately prepared, which in turn gave rise to the need for remedial courses.

“Protecting standards given diminishing resources and pressure to admit more people is a very important issue right now,’' says Linda Ray Pratt, a University of Nebraska professor of poetry and the president of the American Association of University Professors. “On the one hand, the public wants teachers to uphold standards, and, on the other hand, they want to brow-beat teachers to pass Johnny and Jill when Johnny and Jill don’t know anything.’'

In the final analysis, Zemsky believes, the most formidable barrier preventing colleges and universities from coming to the reform table may well be their own financial self-interest, which, he says, requires them to pay more attention to the needs of American employers than to the nation’s schools.

“They don’t have to reject the schools, they just have to pay attention to the adult learner,’' he says. “I don’t think that’s right, but that’s where we are. There’s just no doubt in my mind that the labor market is driving higher education exclusively and to the exclusion of everything else.’'

Despite the generally negative picture, there are some bright spots. A number of higher-education institutions are working one on one with K-12 educators, schools, and districts to mutual benefit. Perhaps most encouraging is the increasing level of engagement among urban universities and community colleges with the needs of K-12 students and schools.

By 1991-92, for example, three-fourths of community colleges reported to the federal government that they had begun to develop technical-preparation programs for students. Such programs typically merge the last two years of high school with the first two years of postsecondary education into a coherent program of study that leads to an associate’s degree or a certificate in a career field.

“When you are thin, and you have no reserves, you have to adapt to the circumstances around you in order to survive,’' says Judith Ramaley, the president of Portland State University. Three years ago, Portland State clarified its mission and distinguished itself from other campuses in the Oregon system, declaring itself dedicated to the urban community and environment it resides in.

That required the university to redefine its curriculum, faculty roles and teaching, and its mission in the city. Moreover, it put Portland State in a better position for when state budget cuts were made in the following years as a result of a debilitating property-tax-limitation measure approved in 1990.

“We designed our way ahead of the ax,’' Ms. Ramaley says, noting that Portland State in recent years has pared 75 faculty positions and 13 percent of its support staff.

By paying attention to the schools, the university has kept classes student-centered, embarked on some collaborative and integrated learning, and based its curriculum on students’ interests.

There are also examples of states and higher-education institutions working with secondary schools to develop alternative admissions standards, or at least to engage in discussions of how the two systems can work together. Despite the uncertainties surrounding portfolios and performance-based assessments, these discussions suggest that some higher-education officials are open to the new ideas sweeping through elementary and secondary schools.

“I think people are really responsive when you put it in front of them,’' says Sharon Lloyd Clark, the director of Brown University’s Institute on Secondary Education and the director of the admissions project for the Coalition of Essential Schools, a K-12 reform project.

She acknowledges that some people resist the changes, but adds, “Most of the folks I’ve heard from say, ‘show me,’ and that’s all we can do.’' She believes that higher education will become involved if its officials are “comfortable with the rigor of the standards.’'

A handful of states are working on making college-admissions standards compatible with the standards-and-assessment movement now under way in precollegiate education. And, because they are on the cutting edge, they are doing so without models.

Officials of the University of Wisconsin system are working with eight high schools that are restructuring their curriculum. The schools are defining what their students should know in certain subjects and then determining how to assess the students’ knowledge of those subjects.

Higher-education officials are developing a pilot project with the schools that will guarantee college admission to students who demonstrate competencies in such subjects as English, science, mathematics, a foreign language, and social science. Measures of achievement in the five areas will be combined into one standard that will simplify the admissions process for higher-education institutions, a move that some officials have noted is essential to keeping costs down.

“The K-12 representatives on our task forces convinced us they can do this,’' says Nancy Kaufman, a special assistant to the system’s senior vice president. “The most convincing thing to me was one person said, ‘You trust us to give you grades now, why wouldn’t you trust us in certifying competencies.’ It made sense.’'

Ms. Kaufman says she is surprised by how well university faculty who participate on the task forces are buying into the proposal. The trickier part, she says, is to persuade the same faculty members to use their experiences to re-examine what they do in their own classrooms and departments.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, higher-education leaders are doing the same thing, only on a more widespread basis. Their proficiencies would be applicable for students from a range of high schools throughout the state.

“The K-12 system has really been goading higher education to change, and goading is the right word,’' says David T. Conley, the director of the proficiency-based admissions-standards project with the Oregon state system of higher education. “And we recognize the need to do this.’'

The K-12 goaders received a boost when the Oregon legislature insisted that the state’s higher-education system involve itself in the reform movement in that state.

And the University of Houston and the Houston Independent School District are jointly planning the creation of a new school scheduled to be opened in the fall. Drawing on the latest ideas in the education-reform movement, the school will include an interdisciplinary, hands-on curriculum; cooperative-learning projects; shared-decisionmaking management; and an administrative hierarchy based on an instructional leader and lead teachers. Prominent school reformers, such as Howard Gardner, Michelle Fine, Asa Hilliard, and Magdalene Lampert, are among the education specialists who have consulted with the planners.

“For all of us, it’s a little like going through the shadow of death so that we can come out alive,’' recalls Diane Mancus, a clinical professor working on the project. Noting that participants have been “a little touchy,’' she adds, “But on the other hand, you know you’re doing something right and innovative when everybody gets a little nervous.’'

Despite the bumps along the road, the school is still expected to open on schedule.

There is also some evidence of progress in teacher education. A recent A.A.C.T.E. annual report notes that nearly one-half of the 84 member institutions surveyed have established partner schools. In those schools, students are able to hone their skills, faculty members and schoolteachers work jointly in conducting research-and-development projects, and professors are assigned to teach.

A majority of member institutions have also placed public school teachers in positions in their education schools, often because of contracts or agreements they have made with local districts.

And at the University of Southern California, Guilbert Hentschke, the dean of the education school, has embarked on a course of completely revamping the school.

While it continues its traditional program of working with the predominantly white, predominantly suburban young people who’ve entered college right out of high school, the program over the past few years has recruited teachers’ aides working in the Los Angeles Unified School District and surrounding systems.

By taking in aides at U.S.C. or getting them enrolled at partner institutions in the area, Hentschke says the program is retaining more education students than the traditional program, training students who already know the school population, and focusing on what schools need most.

“We’re more tied to practice because that’s where we think the interesting research questions are,’' he remarks.

Asked whether the part of the education school that works with the teachers’ aides is more important than the traditional school, Hentschke says, “Vastly so. ... It doesn’t make the other program unimportant, but it kind of does.’'

About 150 mostly Latino teachers’ aides are currently enrolled in the U.S.C. graduate school, while about 180 are in the traditional program. Hentschke expects the numbers to gradually shift in the direction of the former.

“For a place like U.S.C., there’s no reason for teacher education to exist,’' he says, noting that the program doesn’t produce large numbers of teachers. “So, if you have it, there must be a reason. ... We can set an example.’'

The efforts of some colleges and universities notwithstanding, it is clear that most members of the academy do not see a need to reform and restructure higher education and that fewer still see the need to become involved in school reform. It is not even clear that the majority of presidents, deans, or faculty members recognize higher education’s historical and symbiotic relationship with K-12, or their own self-interest in improving the academic preparation of elementary and secondary school students.

That does not bode well for school reform. Indeed, many believe it is unlikely that the systemic overhaul of precollegiate education can succeed unless higher education seriously addresses those crucial areas where the interests of both parts of the system intersect, especially teacher preparation and standards and assessments.

Marc Tucker is more determined that the school-reform effort will succeed. A “new system will be developed,’' he says, “in bits and pieces--with the encouragement and participation of higher education, with neutrality on the part of higher education, or with the active opposition of higher education.’'

A version of this article appeared in the April 13, 1994 edition of Education Week as Alliance for Learning: Higher Education Must Do Its Part


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