In This Challenge There is Real Opportunity

By Sherry H. Penney in collaboration with William Dandridge

In the years ahead, K­12, as it is commonly called, will have more and more in common with post­secondary institutions. Both already feel and will continue to feel the effects of change. Both will therefore need to undertake more truly collaborative efforts than ever before.

For several reasons the rate of change over the next 5­10 years is bound to accelerate:

1) Taxpayers appear less and less willing to pay the cost of education, or to continue a commitment to financial aid for students at the post­secondary level.

2) New technology is changing the ways in which we teach and students learn. It will become an ever more useful and necessary tool in student learning.

3) The population has already changed radically­into a rainbow of White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian faces. Data from our own city and campus reflect this. In 1990, African­Americans comprised 24 percent of its population; Latinos, 10.4 percent; and Asians, about 5.3 percent. Haitian and Southeast Asian communities have developed in the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain and Brighton. The total minority enrollment at UMass Boston has increased in the last six years from approximately 17 percent to 27.5 percent, almost one third of our student body. In Fall, 1993, minority students comprised 43.8 percent of all new freshmen and 25.2 percent of new transfers.

4) Education in schools and universities will be less bound to the traditional academic calendars and more global in its focus.

5) Both sectors then will see greater emphasis upon learning than upon teaching. There will be less lecturing and more collaboration and cooperative learning. More internships will be created, and there will be more focus on the transition from school to career. There will be a greater need at both levels to develop leaders.

Because of changes in our society, the importance of education will be heightened at the same time that the taxpayer seems more unwilling to shoulder its costs. If K­12 and post­secondary education are to meet these challenges, they must find more and better ways to collaborate and to cooperate. That is, to me, the solution, the opportunity within the challenge.

Most institutions of higher education, of course, can already provide an impressive list of programs and services they offer to local schools. Since the late 1950s, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of university­sponsored programs for elementary/secondary students and teachers. Major funding from the U. S. Office of Education, the National Science Foundation, and major private foundations such as Ford, Kellogg, and Pew, has provided generous support for these programs. The question we must now answer is, have we made a difference for the children in those programs? We will be called to do greater reporting and develop accountability measures. The quest for more accountability provides us a much­needed opportunity to re­examine the assumptions and methods that have shaped the programs. We can now build on the lessons of the many programs and experiments that have made a measurable and significant difference, and phase out activities that no longer have a clear purpose and a successful conclusion.

The challenge is to create a coherent and well­coordinated framework that engages teachers and university faculty, and schools and institutions of higher education in a shared vision about how they together can address the educational needs of all the nation's children and young people. At the heart of this work must be a set of new understandings about schools and about the role of universities in that relationship. As I reflect on my own experiences in higher education and in school­college collaboration, I find some important lessons which can guide us in the future.

During my years as Associate Provost at Yale, 1976­1982, I worked closely with the Yale­New Haven Teachers Institute. It was an excellent example of collaboration between university faculty and New Haven teachers. Clearly, the seminars were exciting to both, the evaluations were more than positive, and the effect on the teachers themselves and the curriculum was profound. The Yale faculty were engaged with teachers in positive ways. Another example at Yale is Dr. James Comer's project, which also shows the impact a major university and its faculty can have on a city and its schools.

At the SUNY system, as Vice Chancellor for Academic Programs, Policy, and Planning for a 64 campus system of 380,000 students, I coordinated the work of a Chancellor's Task Force on Teacher Education and was involved regularly with the schools of education, their deans and their faculties. Like Yale, the SUNY campuses were each involved in their cities and communities in substantial ways, working with teachers and schools.

After coming to the University of Massachusetts Boston as Chancellor in 1988, I began to work with my co­author, who was the Dean of our Graduate College of Education. I found a number of exciting initiatives undertaken with the Boston Public Schools. As a commuter campus we serve many of the same families that use the Boston Public Schools. Our campus goal has been to create pathways to enable children and adults to pursue their educational dreams as far as their talents will allow. While many of our programs were started to serve specific populations, over the past five years we have worked to create a unified network that maximizes our human and fiscal resources. Our array of programs­over 30­serves gifted and talented students as well as those with learning difficulties. The approach is to connect youngsters to the appropriate support program and then move them to the next level.

One of the early campus initiatives was the Institute for Teaching and Learning. This Institute engaged children and teachers in issues that concern them in their schools and neighborhoods. Teachers shared responsibility for leadership. Successful programs now include our Urban Scholars Program, an after­school and summer program working with young people in the Boston Schools at the high school age to introduce them to the idea of attending college and to prepare them to do so. One outstanding success in this program is a young woman from Dorchester's Jeremiah Burke High School. After completing Urban Scholars at UMass Boston, she went on to Wellesley and Brown University. She has now returned to UMass Boston as a member of the faculty in the English Department. Patricia Powell is the author of two novels. Me Dying Trial recalls her childhood in Jamaica; A Small Gathering of Bones is a reflection on AIDS. Professor Powell's development is clear evidence that the Urban Scholars is a collaborative program that works.

A second example is our Guaranteed Admissions Program, with three Boston inner­city high schools, to work with 9th graders. We provide tutoring and support systems to guarantee them admission to UMass Boston if they meet the terms of a contract they sign with us in the 9th grade. We have also raised scholarship funds to assist them on admission. A third example is Another Course to College, which allows high school students to take courses on the Boston campus.

These are all successful programs, although they are quite different from the Yale­New Haven Teachers Institute. We have a similar program through our Massachusetts Teachers' Academy. The Academy convenes teachers from across the state who represent elementary, middle and high schools in urban, suburban and rural communities to share their insights into best practices and the development of new curricula. The academy is sponsored by the Massachusetts Field Center for Teaching and Learning, which is part of our Graduate College of Education. In all these programs, we have learned and continue to learn several lessons:

First, schools must be viewed as places where new knowledge is created rather than where consumers of information are developed for universities. We must find ways to tap into and preserve the rich experience base of the nation's teachers. We must find ways to capture their insights about the teaching/learning process, and preserve those that work best for children.

Second, University faculty and school based practitioners must share equally the responsibility, the risks and the rewards of working together on behalf of children. We, too, suffer from the failure of the schools.

Third, as the school reform and restructuring processes gain momentum, schools of education and arts and sciences will have to reconsider their curricula. We must certainly train students in the new technologies. Already many schools are ahead of higher education in their use of and access to computers. This also means we must pay increased attention to the professional development needs of our faculties.

Fourth, universities need to create both support structures and philosophical contexts for their school initiatives. Through promoting collaboration among a campus's different initiatives, a university can maximize the collective investment, and build a community of colleagues that share this interest and involvement with the schools.

Fifth, university reward systems will need to be reordered to give appropriate recognition to work in schools. Faculty who spend time working in schools are too often "punished" when they are considered for promotion and tenure. The institution may also be punished even further if this work is not seen as producing post­ secondary teachers and administrators. Working in schools on issues of change is energy intensive, but it does not immediately produce information for scholarly publication. We must find ways to assess this work over time, so that we properly consider it in making professional judgments about faculty members. We must also find ways to count this as real work, so that university participating faculty­and their institutions­are not punished in funding decisions.

Sixth, because campuses may support these efforts with their own operating funds, and because trustees will exert increasing pressure to justify allocations of resources, better indicators must be developed to help a campus assess the quality of its work and gauge the benefits of its investment.

As we move into the future, an important part of my vision will be to build on these lessons from the past, but also to make working with the schools and the "seamless web of education" a goal of the entire University community. We have recognized at UMass Boston that working with the schools is not simply the responsibility of the Graduate College of Education. We have efforts in collaboration with the schools throughout the University. Our College of Nursing has provided health and nutrition information to the schools. The College of Management has been in exploratory discussions with school administrators in areas including accounting and purchasing. The University's Athletic Department and its facilities are creating alternatives to participation in gangs. These efforts will become yet more important in the future.

The future for education will need to be one of true collaboration. A breaking down of barriers between schools and universities, whether in finance or governance, and a promotion of the crossover of students and teachers between the two is our challenge. If we can meet it, and I believe we must, schools and universities will be one of the most important resources to their cities and regions.

Back to Table of Contents of the Spring 1996 Issue of On Common Ground

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