Collaborations between higher education and K-12 public education are hardly a new idea. They've existed in various parts of the United States and in various forms for decades. But Education Secretary Rod Paige recognizes they are a good idea ripe for expansion. In a recent speech before the American Council on Education, an association of colleges and universities, he asked for a fresh commitment to bring college-level academic know-how to bear on math, science, reading, and writing programs in elementary and secondary schools.
Mr. Paige points out, correctly, that colleges and universities have a direct interest in this project. Nearly a third of the students that enter their doors need remedial work on these basics.
What can colleges do? Look at the Boston Higher Education Partnership. Its 27-member institutions - ranging from Harvard to Berklee School of Music to Roxbury Community College - are involved in training new teachers and refreshing old ones, creating stronger elementary and secondary curricula in science and math, providing tutors, holding workshops to give high schoolers a better idea of college demands and opportunities, and even working with local educators to reshape large high schools into collections of smaller learning communities. And that's only a partial list.
There are significant partnerships in other parts of the country, too. The University of California's ArtsBridge program encourages arts education in the communities surrounding its nine campuses. University students majoring in art or music work with local teachers to develop courses and supervise projects like putting on plays, composing music, or painting murals. Thus an often-neglected, but essential realm of learning is given new energy.
Such efforts have increasing support. A federal program, GEAR UP, enlists colleges to work with middle- school students from poor neighborhoods to get them to start thinking about college. A network of corporations, foundations, and higher-education groups called "Pathways to College" was formed last December. It hopes to serve as a national clearinghouse for partnering ideas.
There are few limits on what college-public school partnerships might do. They can create improved advanced-placement courses for the most motivated high school students - and even make them more available by putting them on the Web. They can put students who have trouble getting a "C" in touch with tutors who can awaken an interest in learning.
Secretary Paige hopes for "an expansive web of support for our public schools" as these partnerships grow. But such activities have costs. Staff time isn't cheap, and colleges and universities have to contribute some of their own cash to keep partnerships going. But the payoff is significant: Institutions of higher learning can have a profound impact on the public-education system that supplies them with students, even as they open up channels of public service for their own scholars and faculty members. And they'll get better-equipped incoming freshmen.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society