Overcoming Obstacles to Wider Partners

By Rev. Edmund G. Ryan

In American colleges and universities during the twentieth century structures have proliferated. Departments have grouped faculty according to academic discipline. Separate schools of Education, Business, and Applied Science have brought a number of related disciplines together in one administrative unit. Faculty and university senates have been created to provide means for the faculty to participate in decision making. Yet each of these entities, as they worked for the good of their college or university, gained more and more power and authority.

Schools, departments, and senates frequently see attempts at innovation as a threat to their hard earned prerogatives. A proposal to establish partnerships between a college or university and elementary and secondary schools calls for faculty to spend time with teachers in local schools. But how will the Rank and Tenure Committee of the Senate weigh the time spent in collaboration with schools? The faculty member's efforts certainly constitute "service." But, unless a series of articles or a book result from the collaborating, will the faculty member be exempt from the publication requirement of the institution? How will one's department vote on the person's application for tenure or promotion given the same conditions?

Will departments speak up and declare that school, college and university partnerships are not included in their purview? The English Department believes that literature and textual criticism are their main concerns. Isn't the avowed purpose of the Department or School of Education to deal with what happens in schools from pre­ kindergarten through the 12th grade? Why should members of the English Department deviate from their mission? Likewise how happy and comfortable will a School or a Department of Education be with an arrangement between the Biochemistry Department and the Associate Superintendent of Curriculum for the local school? Previously the Dean of the School of Education was the liaison with local schools.

These obstacles to partnership described above are viewed from the campuses of higher education institutions. Undoubtedly school districts and individual schools have their own stumbling blocks that must be removed before they can reach out and clasp hands in partnership. But another group should also be heard from. About 45 percent of 18­year­olds use their high school diplomas to enter two or four year colleges. A greater number­55 percent­enter the world of work. Employers must be heard from. Their stake in the national debate over educational reform is obvious.

On February 20,1995, the Federal Department of Education released a study that showed employers lacked confidence in the ability of American schools and colleges to prepare young people for the workplace. The survey was prepared by the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Work Force at the University of Pennsylvania. Their researchers contacted plant managers or site managers at 3,000 locations in the United States with more than 20 workers. It included offices, factories, and construction sites.

This study indicates that schools are not preparing young students for participation in the work force. Managers in offices, factories, and construction sites state that young people lack the skills and competencies needed for the world of work. The same managers also explained that many of the old routine jobs have been taken over by machines. But the new jobs in the 1990s and in the twenty­first century need higher skills and computer literacy. Young people with newly awarded high school diplomas are ill­equipped to fill these jobs.

In the discussion of college and university partnerships with schools, employers should be invited to join in these collaborative efforts. The Pennsylvania study reveals that business and industry have very definite ideas on what students should be taught. Employers might not be experts in cognitive development, but they certainly know what skills and knowledge new workers must have. Their presence in the partnership will prompt educators to broaden the discussion beyond the teaching­learning process and to include study in what students should learn in order to be ready to take a job in America's new economy.

Thus the partnerships would reach out beyond the world of the classroom, beyond the continuum from pre­kindergarten through high school and college. They would accept as another partner persons from the world of work. That partner would encourage schools to graduate persons able to communicate, to socialize and to use new technology. Schooling and jobs would interact to the betterment of both.

How can colleges and universities encourage more faculty members to participate in the college­school­employer relationship? One way to enlist greater support would be to change the criteria for promotion and tenure. Let participation in such partnerships be recognized by the college or university as meeting requirements for both service and scholarship. The service element is evident. But let participation in collaborative efforts that shape curriculum, teaching methods and job training be considered scholarship. The changes in the schools certainly can be recognized as applied research. College­ university­school and business partnerships take up a faculty member' s time. That time could have been used to do research and to publish. If this new approach to defining research were accepted as policy in colleges and universities, more faculty would be glad to join in collaborating in partnerships to better the content and process of schooling.

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

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