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College & Workforce Readiness

K-12 and Higher Education Often Fail to Collaborate Effectively, Survey Says

By Caralee J. Adams — February 10, 2014 3 min read
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College and K-12 administrators know they need to work together to move the dial on student achievement, yet a new report shows many acknowledge they are not collaborating effectively.

Only about one-third of superintendents and postsecondary leaders they say work together extremely or very effectively, it finds.

Hart Research Associates and edBridge Partners conducted a telephone survey last fall of 104 public school district superintendents and 101 public and private two- and four-year college university system leaders, based on a national sample. Working with American Association of State College and Universities and American Association of School Administrators, the findings were compiled in a recent report, The Collaborative Imperative.

Among the highlights:

  • Most district superintendents (90 percent) and college system heads (80 percent) say that collaboration between the two sectors is extremely or very important.
  • Just 33 percent of superintendents and 34 percent of postsecondary leaders say they are actually collaborating extremely or very effectively.
  • When it comes to priorities for collaboration, 28 percent of district leaders and 22 percent of college leaders say the alignment of K-12 and higher education programs of study are most important, while 18 percent of leaders from districts and 30 percent from colleges feel student services to ease the transition from high school to college should be the focus of their work together.
  • Higher education leaders were more likely to cite budget constraints as a barrier to collaboration, while districts said there were so many challenges facing them that it was difficult to make collaboration a priority.

Cultural Differences

Those working to build bridges with the two education sectors acknowledge the challenges. Many states are struggling with resources to support cross-sector collaboration and there are definite cultural differences, said Jacqueline King, the director of higher education collaboration for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is one of two state coalitions developing tests aligned with the common core. Governance structures vary by education sector, as well, creating potential friction.

“K-12 is much more top-down than higher ed and decisions can be made more quickly,” King said in an interview. “This can be frustrating to K-12 to have higher ed people want to talk [issues]t to death.” College administrators often feel that K-12 doesn’t understand that they “can’t snap fingers and make things happen,” she adds. However, hard work and communication can lead to deeper relationships between the sectors.

Callie Riley, a senior policy associate at PARCC, says educators at every level have a role in implementing the new Common Core State Standards and raising college- and career-expectations.

“It’s the lynchpin,” says Riley of K-12 and postsecondary collaboration. “We can develop the best standards and implement them in K-12, but without re-imagining the first-year college course to look at those expectations, then we haven’t answered the question: To what end?”

Time, Resources Are Barriers

The report recognizes the barriers of time and resources in building relationships, but offers hope.

“Although not insurmountable, these barriers especially require fresh and innovative thinking about how resources can be marshaled or pooled if we are serious about functioning as a coherent educational system, rather than separate sectors,” the report said. “We especially recognize the promise of regional collaboration, organized among schools and colleges who share students and teachers in common and who, therefore, have clear connections to shared outcomes and compelling overlapping interests.”

The recent survey come on the heels of another by the Center for Education Policy last fall that highlighted the struggle with cooperation between education sectors in implementing the Common Core State Standards.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.