School-College Links Seen as Fundamental To Education Reform

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An idea still in its infancy only a decade ago, partnerships between the nation's schools and its institutions of higher learning are just now coming of age, and will likely mature into an indispensable element of school reform during the 1990's, educators say.

Partnerships "are the vehicles that will drive more profound and fundamental change in American education," said Manuel Gomez, associate vice chancellor of the office of academic affairs at the University of California at Irvine. "It is an idea whose time has come."

Added Leo Lambert, a Syracuse University professor and dean and a leading researcher on school-college collaborations: "Some of the most pervasive problems that are confronting the American education system--K through graduate school--are problems that the individual sectors elementary, junior high, high school, college, and graduate school cannot tackle alone. We're starting to see these cross-sector conversations that are crossing the glass ceiling that once separated colleges and schools."

According to collaboration participants and researchers who have studied school-college partnerships, the collaboration movement has been gaining momentum since the early 1980's.

Motivated by the need to improve the academic preparation of incoming students and the desire to attract a more diverse student body, many colleges and universities embarked on partnerships with local schools with their own self-interest in mind.

Over the past several years, however, the number of collaborations has proliferated, fueled in part by influence exerted by community organizations, businesses, and philanthropies.

And, perhaps more significantly, observers say, is the fact that colleges and universities are working with elementary and secondary schools on a much broader range of problems and projects.

While it is true that many of today's collaborations continue to focus on student programs and services, they note, partnerships are increasingly tackling projects with more systemic school reforms in mind.

Pointing to the recent surge in the number of school-college collaborations, Franklin Wilbur, director of undergraduate studies at Syracuse University, said: "It wasn't just a nice thing to do. It wasn't just the right thing to do. But it was the thing we needed to do."

Nonetheless, some observers say, because the school-college collaboration movement has only recently begun to achieve a critical mass, it is difficult to gauge its impact.

"Frankly," said Louis S. Albert, vice president of the American Association of Higher Education, "I think the jury's still out."

"There are some critics out there that say if you reach 30 students here, 100 students there, or even 500 students... that's just a drop in the bucket," he said. "But there are others who say the changing climate it represents bodes well for [school-reform] efforts."

James Vivian, director of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, one of the nation's most highly touted school-college partnerships, said he worries that "we run the risk that there is a public perception that collaborations are widespread."

"If education doesn't improve," he added, "the perception will be that collaborations have failed."

Others worry that the high hopes held out for collaborations will not be realized if high-level university officials, most especially presidents, do not enthusiastically embrace the concept.

Said Kati Haycock, outgoing executive vice president of the Children's Defense Fund, university presidents "are going to have to come to the table [on education reform], but I don't know who's going to bring them there."

Partnerships on the Rise

Researchers and practitioners point to a number of indicators that they say underscore the increasing use of partnerships: . Two recent surveys found that 38 percent of private colleges and universities and 22 percent of state higher-education institutions are actively engaged in partnerships with elementary or secondary schools.

A total of 946 private colleges and universities responded to the survey conducted by the Foundation for Independent Higher Education and the National Institute of Independent Colleges and Universities; 360 institutions responded to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities survey. ('See Education Week, July 31, 1991 .) . The A.A.H.E. has established an office of school-college collaboration, which will help disseminate information on collaborations and administer a new, $1.5-million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to establish new partnerships. . A 1989 survey of school-college collaborations by Mr. Lambert and Mr. Wilbur found that 1,286 colleges and universities were engaged in partnerships, although they say the number is likely higher. Their survey, which resulted in a book on partnerships, noted that the number of partnerships had increased dramatically since 1984. . The A.A.H.E. has teamed up with the College Board during the past two summers to host conferences on collaboration, drawing hundreds of participants. The third annual conference is scheduled for next summer. . The New England Association of Schools and Colleges last year established an office of school-college relations-the first by an accrediting agency--and recently began publishing a newsletter on the topic. . The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, which provides mid-career teacher training, last year received a $2-million grant from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund to make the program permanent, the first such endowment for a partnership in the country. . The University of Houston's Texas Center for University School Partnerships, which was established last year, will hold a national conference next summer to coincide with the 1992 Republican National Convention.

A 1980's Phenomenon

Until the early 1970's, direct partnerships between schools and colleges generally were developed to give prospective teachers a place to cultivate their skills--a relationship that dates back to the 19th century. Many of the dozens of partnerships that emerged throughout the 1970's still exist and are considered among the most successful.

They include Syracuse University's Project Advance, a partnership in which high-school students are taught college courses by their high school teachers, and LaGuardia Community College's Middle College High School, a high school for at-risk students located on the community-college campus.

But many more of the collaborations established during the 1970's failed.

Many of the early partnerships were the result of individual firebrands who believed that higher education was obligated to reach into elementary and secondary schools and provide needed assistance.

"Many of us were in the business before it was trendy," said Mr. Wilbur, administrator of Project Advance.

In 1982, school-college collaborations gained national attention in education circles when the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching helped organize the country's first national conference of state school superintendents and college and university presidents.

A second conference was held a year later to mark the Carnegie Foundation's publication of an 83-page report that noted the upsurge in the number and diversity of collaborations.

Add to that the release of "A Nation At Risk," the 1983 report that served as a rallying cry for the need to improve the nation's schools, and many college and university officials were ready to explore the creation of partnerships.

'A Delicate Infrastructure'

At U.C.-Irvine, for example, Mr. Gomez said, university officials became concerned during the early 1980's that the number of minority enrollees had declined and that the academic preparation of the students who did matriculate had deteriorated.

Meanwhile, he said, elementary and secondary-school officials in the Santa Ana Unified School District recognized the call for improvement within their schools and noted that, over the years, the makeup of the student body had shifted to majority minority.

In crafting a partnership that now includes California State University at Fullerton and Rancho Santiago Community College and that is serving as the model for a partnership in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the Compton section of Los Angeles, Mr. Gomez said the district and the university "have constructed a delicate infrastructure that sustains ongoing cooperation."

In 1987, 37 college and university presidents met to discuss the future of education and agreed that they needed information on how to work more closely with schools.

Leftover Carnegie Foundation dollars earmarked for that meeting were used to underwrite the first A.A.H.E./College Board conference on school-college collaborations in 1990.

In the past couple of years, observers agree, the pace of activity on the school-college collaboration front has quickened.

"Every time we took a turn we met people who were very inspiring who we very much wanted to work with, and we recognized that we hadn't scratched the surface of how university resources can be used in partnerships," Mr. Albert of the A.A.H.E. said.

An Evangelical Movement

To a person, those involved in the school-college collaboration movement praise partnerships as an ideal way to improve education. Why? Because, they say, partnerships work.

LaGuardia's Middle College High School has been in operation since 1974. Despite its at-risk population, the school boasts a graduation rate of 90 percent, compared with 54 percent for the New York City school system as a whole.

About 70 percent of Middle College students go on to college.

"It is a movement that will grow because it is very pragmatic," said Janet Lieberman, assistant to the president of LaGuardia and founder of Middle College High.

Partnerships "work and are essentially very efficient ways to share resources," she added. Others give similar testimonials. Nancy Carriuolo, director of the New England accrediting association's school-college relations office, said: "It's sort of like an evangelical movement. Once you get committed, once you realize how powerful this is and how it can affect education, people sort of become personal spokesmen."

Four Islands of Partnerships

In their book, Linking America's Schools and Colleges, Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Lambert describe four types of partnerships: . Programs and services for students, including programs for at-risk students, college courses for high school students, and programs of accelerated study for gifted students. . Programs and services for educators, including in-service training and staff development, teacher-education centers, school-college faculty exchanges, and leadership and management programs for teachers and administrators. . Curriculum-development and assessment projects. . Programs to promote the sharing of educational resources, such as the use of tutors and adopt-a-school programs.

According to Mr. Wilbur and other observers, the growth in collaborations has occurred across all institutions of higher education.

They range from tiny Juniata College's "Chemistry Van" to Ohio State University's Early Mathematics Placement Testing program.

At Juniata in Huntingdon, Pa., the van is stocked with chemistry supplies and equipment and then travels to 25 rural Pennsylvania schools in six counties to make state-of-the-art instruction possible. Under the Ohio State program, 11th graders' mathematics skills are tested so that deficiencies can be corrected by high-school graduation. Eighty percent of Ohio schools use the program.

Interest in Urban Areas

While collaborations are present in all geographic areas, Mr. Wilbur said, urban centers with large numbers of low-income and disadvantaged students are prime settings for partnerships.

"I don't think you could go into an urban center and not see dozens of creative programs that were not even in people's psyches several years ago," he said.

Marguerite Ross Barnett, the president of the University of Houston who has been involved with school-college collaborations at various universities over the past decade, said an increasing number of urban-university presidents are taking an interest in developing local partnerships.

"We realize that those have to be our students if we are to help our country have a diverse workplace in the 21st century," she said.

The University of Houston's partnership center, or TCUSP, is designed to draw scholars from across the nation to expand research in all areas of school reform, as well as to disseminate information on Texas school-reform efforts; coordinate teacher-training efforts; and develop math, science, and literacy programs for grades K-12.

After only one year, 100 Texas schools and 37 universities from around the country have signed on with TCUSP.

Ms. Barnett warned, however, that colleges and universities can only do so much.

"If there's a danger for universities, the danger is over- promising," she said. "Universities can't change school districts. Universities can assist parents, civil leaders, and school leaders that want to change school districts."

Evaluation Needed

Because school-college partnerships are a relatively new phenomenon, little comprehensive research and evaluation has been conducted.

Mr. Wilbur said, for example, that there is no record of the partnerships that have been disbanded over the past 20 years.

In particular, said Meredith Ludwig, the AASCU researcher who conducted that organization's survey, long-term research is needed to see if partnerships have had an impact on school reform.

Likewise, say those involved in the movement, it is difficult to predict what direction school-college collaborations will take in the future.

Still, most observers maintain that education reform will foster more partnerships; that an increasing number of collaborations will focus on systematic change within schools; and that more partnerships will look for way to become involved earlier with students. Some also see greater involvement on the part of businesses, and some envision increased participation on the part of philanthropies.

As Carol Stoel, who runs the A.A.H.E.'S office of school-college collaboration and who will oversee the distribution of Pew grant dollars, put it in describing the programs to receive Pew funding:

"We are not interested in setting up a few projects around the country, but rather, we are trying to help in a larger way the emphasis on school-college collaboration and student achievement."

Vol. 11, Issue 02, Pages 1, 12-13

Published in Print: September 11, 1991, as School-College Links Seen as Fundamental To Education Reform
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