University-School Collaboration in Historical Perspective

by Vito Perrone

On Common Ground begins with the premise that colleges, universities and schools should be in collaboration. And, in fact, there are many good examples of collaboration which I will comment upon. Nonetheless, even with the large public policy and popular media rhetoric about the need for a seamless web, higher levels of reciprocity between colleges, universities, and schools, significant collaborative exchange is not yet common enough.

I am often asked, in this regard, Why aren't more high school students doing more of their academic work in the colleges and universities? Why isn't there a more formal connection between the ways writing is taught in the high schools and in the colleges and universities? Why do the purposes for historical, scientific and literary studies differ so greatly across levels? Why is there so little conversation between high school and college/university teachers of history, literature, mathematics and science about curriculum and pedagogy? The disconnectedness between schools and colleges-the isolation, lack of mutuality, different expectations and discourse-is too common. And it is enormously wasteful.

Fortunately, the climate for moving beyond where we are now is improving. Fresh possibilities for closer relationships and greater flexibility seem possible on a larger scale. Before considering the possibilities and potential difficulties, however, I believe it would be useful to gain some historical perspective-to examine some of the larger landscape. Our contemporary disconnectedness, as you will note, has not always defined the relationship.

In 19th Century America, for example, there was a blurring of the lines between secondary schools and colleges and universities-in large measure because of the formative nature of these institutions. The University of Michigan's 19th Century history is particularly interesting in relation to school-university connectedness. The original conception of the University of Michigan, rooted in Judge Augustus Woodward's System of Universal Science, called for the University to be a complete territory-wide system of education to include "colleges, academies, schools, libraries, museums, athenaeums, botanical gardens, laboratories, and other useful literary and scientific institutions" (Dunbar, p. 281).

How much more inclusive could one get? Even as I admit to the complexities inherent in Woodward's formulation, I am attracted to his basic understandings of the inter-connectedness of knowledge and the importance of diversity in relation to the sources for learning, as well as his acknowledgment that learning needs to be conceptualized for a lifetime and not for a particular period of time. While Woodward's grand conception was abandoned by 1827 as impractical, the University was still viewed, for decades later, as the critical base out of which a cohesive state system of public education would be constructed.

In 1837, under the leadership of John D. Pierce, Michigan's first Superintendent for Public Instruction, a state system of education was carefully articulated. The University of Michigan was not only viewed as the capstone of this system; it was expected, in addition, to assume a connecting role to elementary and secondary schools by establishing mediating branches-essentially multipurpose secondary academies­throughout the state. Pierce wrote in this regard that each of the proposed branches would occupy "the middle ground, being connected on the one hand with the primary schools by the establishment of a department ... for the education of teachers and on the other, with the University itself, by the establishment ... of a preparatory course ... thus being equally designed for the benefit of the University and [local communities]" (Dunbar, p. 401). Now all of Pierce's hopes didn't materialize but the roots-as well as the intentions-of mutuality were clear enough. It was a vision of common purposes that had counterparts across the United States.

In 1879 the University of Michigan reaffirmed, this time internally, its commitment to interact with the schools by establishing a pioneering chair in the Science and Art of Teaching. In announcing the chair and its importance to the University, President William Angell made clear the University's intent to recapture some of Pierce's hopes. From this modest beginning emerged an experimental University high school, a system of school accreditation and field services, and a fully elaborated school of education.

The University of North Dakota, where I spent many years, is also fairly representative of this nineteenth century collaborative spirit. Founded in 1883 at a time when there were virtually no secondary schools in the Dakota Territory, the University was forced to provide for its first twelve students a two-year preparatory program. It wasn't until 1904 over twenty years later-that the preparatory school, which generally enrolled more students than the collegiate programs, was closed. The same faculty taught across the two levels. Shared purposes and curriculum continuity existed. Students went from Greek and Latin programs in the preparatory school directly to more advanced Greek and Latin programs in the college. The same was true in other academic fields.

In addition to this direct campus and curricular linkage, the University became also the center of an emerging system of secondary schools across the state. University faculty in the various subject fields worked with secondary teachers on curriculum and assessment practices and were deeply involved in the preparation of new teachers. In fact, the University President, Webster Merrifield, was the State Inspector of High Schools from 1891-1909, a task he took seriously (Geiger, p. 114). In this role, he was responsible for developing curricular standards and graduation requirements for high schools. Not surprisingly, Webster Merrifield was honored at his retirement in 1912 as the "father of secondary schools" in North Dakota. The linkages were real. The stories of the University of Michigan and the University of North Dakota and their connections to schools in their respective states demonstrate a direction in which the universities were first organized and then a wide range of relationships were established with schools. The reverse direction was also true in North Dakota, Michigan and elsewhere. For example, the 19th Century Normal Schools, first begun in Concord, Vermont in 1823 and then rapidly part of the educational landscape across the United States, as the Common School Movement took shape in the 1840s, were essentially secondary schools whose purposes gradually expanded. Ultimately, they became the state colleges and universities of our nation. But their involvement with the schools remained their defining character well into the 1930s.

It needs to be noted that much in what I have described in the foregoing accounts can be found also in the nineteenth century histories of such universities as Harvard, Wisconsin, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Illinois, to mention only a few. Harvard, for example, was deeply involved in curriculum development with and for the schools, believing that the movement from high school to college should be more natural, the connections useful. The Harvard curriculum for high schools was an important effort to raise the quality of high school education. My overall point in the foregoing, and I acknowledge brief, accounting was to establish that interactions between colleges, universities and schools were relatively common and consciously pursued. I will continue with an element of this historical review because I want to convey an important message about the substance of some of the earlier exchange.

The life and work of John Dewey provide a particularly illustrative starting point. Shortly after reaching Chicago, after a formative decade at the University of Michigan, Dewey began putting some of his educational thought into action in a school which he and his wife, Alice, organized. This endeavor resulted in a body of powerful literature produced by Dewey that was influential in his day and continues even now to possess considerable meaning; literature produced by others in the school, such as Ella Flagg Young, Katherine Camp Mayhew and Anna Camp Edwards, that has for many years influenced school practice constructively; and practical experience in university-school collaboration which provided excellent examples of how to integrate university faculty, especially in more traditional arts and science fields, into the life of a school. Moreover, the Dewey School clearly furnished constructive models of inquiring into questions of curriculum, teaching and learning. What emerges for me-and I commend in relation to this aspect of Dewey's work a re- reading of The Child and the Curriculum (1902), School and Society (1899), and The Dewey School (1936) in particular-is the validity and importance of educational settings where university scholars and classroom teachers can consider together a range of theoretical and practical formulations about teaching and learning.

Dewey's efforts at Chicago, and, for that matter, much of the work that characterized the related progressive movement in American education, contributed to what I have come to label as an important reciprocity of authority, an essential aspect of school-university collaboration that is critical if current interests in connectedness are to be realized at the highest levels possible. Progressive philosophy encouraged, for example, teachers to become close observers of children and young people, materials and their uses, and instructional practices. Many teachers became enormously articulate about education matters, easily the equals of the pedagogical scholars in the colleges and universities. The school college collaborations that resulted had a quality of reciprocity that made for equality. The agendas, the purposes, the conditions were mutually derived. I am convinced that some of the projects that pass for educational research these days, emanating principally from the universities and often entangling teachers in the name of collaboration, would have been rejected as simple-minded and wasteful by these powerful school people.

While there is a large historical literature that could be examined as a way of understanding issues of reciprocity, a particular reference I often suggest to those who wish to think more about university- school collaboration is Lucy Sprague Mitchell's Our Children and Our Schools (1950). Essentially the record of a very large effort linking Bank Street, then a group of teachers who believed in the need for a "give and take between research and practice," and the New York Public Schools, it documents well the collaborative experience. It gives important attention to the relationships that were built-a binding together of those within and outside of school classrooms, of the practitioner-researcher and the external scholar-researcher.

Why go through this addition to the historical journey? Quite simply, I wanted to make as clear as possible the belief that collaboration, however conceptualized, should, at its best, lead to greater empowerment of those in the schools, enabling them, among other things, to be more equal partners in the struggle for high quality educational programs, in the writing of critical educational literature, in decision-making about what kinds of educational research are necessary in relation to teaching practice, and in the determination of what kinds of collaboration would be most useful.

Historically, the Child Study Movement, introduced as a major focus for pedagogical study at Johns Hopkins in 1896 and the University of Chicago in 1898, becoming a national movement in the early decades of the twentieth century, was built around the forgoing formulation (Brandt, 1980; Cremin, 1962). Teachers a the elementary and secondary levels were encouraged to be documentors of children's learning and their teaching practices, being able in the process to be active contributors to knowledge and the developing field of educational psychology. Many teachers and university professors were in ongoing conversations about matters of teaching and learning. The intellectual exchange for those participating was by all accounts invigorating. John Dewey's belief that teachers needed to be students of teaching, persons capable of reflection on their practice, independent in thought and confident as decision makers, related closely to the Child Study Movement and was carefully nurtured in the pre-World War II period through university-school collaborative structures.

Efforts to reestablish such school-university collaboration related to intellectual exchange, pedagogical practice and what is often termed teacher research are currently emerging. The Bay Area writing project, along with its affiliated ventures such as the Urban Sites Writing Research project, is one such direction. It brings teachers and university faculty together around an active writing agenda. While the expectation is that students in the schools will be better served through this interchange, the professional growth of teachers, the reciprocity of exchange is the real story. The work of the English Composition Board at the University of Michigan has had a similar outreach dimension. Its work has produced a wonderful community of readers of writing to emerge in a large number of schools.

Another long-standing effort of consequence is the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute which annually brings teachers and Yale faculty together around a series of seminars which focus on new scholarship in various academic fields as well as ways of bringing this scholarship into classrooms. The expertise of both university faculty and elementary and secondary teachers is critical to making this effort a success. This Yale related activity is being emulated at many institutions across the country with similar results. The University of Minnesota College of Arts and Science is now in its third year of doing so. And Harvard will host its first Teachers Institute, modeled fully on the Yale experience, in the spring of 1994.

Another outgrowth of this kind of exchange is the American Council of Learned Societies' Project which brings together classroom teachers in the humanities with university humanities scholars to explore jointly the intellectual traditions of the various humanities' fields and work together on humanities curriculum. ACLS Projects exist currently at Harvard, the University of Colorado, the University of Minnesota, the University of California at San Diego, and the University of California at Los Angeles. The foregoing examples, of course, just barely touch the surface of what is developing.

The kinds of efforts I have just outlined lead to high levels of mutuality. They represent directions we need to foster on a larger scale. But a number of other kinds of interchanges also exist. There are, for example, a multitude of fairly standard programs in which high school students take a portion of their academic or technical coursework in post secondary institutions such as community colleges and universities. The State of Minnesota, among others, has encouraged such directions. For the most part, however, these efforts do not result in very much communication among teachers across the two levels, generally being defined narrowly as programs aimed at benefiting students exclusively.

There are also programs such as Simon Rock (Bard College) where high school students begin full-time college level work in what would normally be their tenth or eleventh grades of high school. Simon Rock has attempted to share with secondary schools the ways students respond to academic course work, the approaches faculty there are taking to curriculum, skill development, and the like, but the impact seems not to be high, the reports remote from the discourse of most secondary school educators. This is unfortunate because the Simon Rock experiment has much to offer secondary schools in regard to the broad issues surrounding expectations.

There are also a number of minority recruitment­support programs related to the health fields at the University of Alabama, the City University of New York, and the University of North Dakota, among others, in which students are identified in the schools as ninth graders and are the recipients of a variety of collegiate experiences aimed at encouraging their interests in science, mathematics and study skills. While these efforts make some important connections to the general interest in student transitions across the upper levels of schooling, they don't seem to generate much fresh discussion about teaching and learning or curriculum in the schools themselves.

The Boston desegregation case of the mid-70s brought an interesting history of collaboration when each college and university in the Boston area was assigned by the court a school, or set of schools, to work with. The expectation was that these collaborations would result in better schools. With just a few exceptions, however, these efforts struggled for the initial five years, in part because of the post-desegregation confusion which existed in Boston, but also because most of the colleges had so little experience with any long- term relationship with a school. An interchange that has fueled considerable discussion is Boston University's recent agreement to run the Chelsea School system. By bringing the resources of many parts of Boston University to bear on the needs of the schools, some general improvement has occurred. It is currently a bit one-sided but the potential for a collaborative spirit to emerge exists. In the current climate of "Charter Schools" we will likely see more schools developed with these kinds of close ties to colleges and universities.

There are also some teacher exchange programs in existence- essentially visiting teachers and scholars. By having university faculty teaching on occasion in the schools and teachers from the schools teaching in the colleges and universities, more commonalities of understanding are possible, a base for constructive discourse established. These kinds of exchange activities were more common in the 1960s and early 70s than in the past decade but the possibilities are large and need to be reformulated.

The Teacher Center movement across the country has also served as an excellent vehicle for promoting school-university collaboration. The Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Massachusetts Boston has served this teacher-center function, drawing heavily on University resources broadly in such areas as multicultural and bilingual education as well as in "writing across the curriculum." In North Dakota, there are now nine regional teacher centers with the University of North Dakota serving as the coordinating-collaborative agent, providing a large array of human and curriculum resources. Each of the state's public colleges and universities is connected to at least one of the centers.

There is also a long tradition of curriculum development activity with potent school-university connections. The major curriculum efforts of the 1960s-ESS, PSCS, BSS, and Project Social Studies, among others-had their origins in these linkages. And the current computer activities associated with Logo, Seymour Papert's work described so well in Mindstorms (1981), grew out of several MIT-school collaborations. Even as collaborative exchange is increasing, however, we are far short of what existed at the turn of the century. The need to move forward, to a more solid common ground, is absolutely essential-not just for the health of the schools but for the health of the colleges and universities as well.

Before closing, I should comment briefly on some of what I have learned over many years of working closely with university-school collaborations-issues which must be considered. At the university level, there has to be an institutional commitment to such a direction, one that provides time, accepts a broader than usual view of scholarship, comes to value conversation and inquiry-related teaching and learning, acknowledges the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, understands the necessity of long- term involvements, and affirms mutuality, a parity of authority. At the school level, similar commitments are needed. Time is more difficult to control in the schools but it needs to be considered. Greater teacher autonomy is also necessary as is support from principals. An openness to dialogue, alternative structures, greater diversity of materials and schedules is also needed to sustain a collaboration over time that is empowering for teachers and students alike.

Collaborations that focus on the technical aspects of education- teaching grammar, introducing computer programming, developing SAT preparation courses-aren't very interesting or productive over the long run. Those which make connections to critical social and intellectual issues have more potential; for example, considering ways of assuring higher levels of communication skills and literacy writ large for minority, and low income students, bringing a school- wide focus to writing, linking more effectively school curriculum with community resources, trying to understand how various students enter the world of reading or come to understand the logic of mathematics, or assisting teachers in documenting growth, reflecting on pedagogy, materials, and curriculum content or identifying critical barriers to learning.

Now I realize that I have covered a vast terrain. My major point, what I want to leave with, is that our separateness is in many ways a scandal, a serious waste of human and fiscal resources. But we are capable of doing better. The history as well as current practices have some high moments to inspire us.


Brandt, R. (1980). The Child Study Movement. Charlottesville, VA: The University of Virginia School of Education.

Cremin, L. (1962). The Transformation of the School. New York: Vintage Press.

Dewey, J. (1956). The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1902)

Dewey, J. (1956). School and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1899)

Dunbar, W.F. (1965). Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State. Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans.

Geiger, L. (1958). University of the Northern Plains: A History of the University of North Dakota. Grand Forks, ND: University of North Dakota Press.

Mayhew, K. & Edwards, A.C. (1966). The Dewey School: The Laboratory School at The University of Chicago. New York: Atherton. (Original work published 1936)

Mitchell, L.S. (1950). Our Children and Our Schools. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms. New York: Basic Books.

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