The Learning Connection: New Partnerships between Schools and Colleges
reviewed by Nancy Jennings - 2002
Title: The Learning Connection: New Partnerships between Schools and Colleges
Author(s): Gene I. Maeroff, Michael D. Usdan, and Patrick M. Callan (eds)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807740179 , Pages: 160, Year: 2000
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The authors of this edited volume offer twelve case studies of collaborative projects between colleges and universities and K-12 schools. The case studies are written by journalists and describe efforts of public and private higher education institutions from large state universities to small, private liberal arts colleges. The authors have grouped the case studies according to themes, based on the area of focus of the projects: governance, equity, standards, teachers and community building. For instance, there are two case studies grouped under the theme of community building, examining efforts by the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and by Trinity College in Hartford, CT to use their institutional resources to revitalize their neighborhoods, including the local public schools.
The objective of the book is to highlight the need for interlevel collaboration. The authors state in their introduction:
This report is predicated on the contention that more intensive efforts are needed to place interlevel relationships on the nation’s educational policy agenda. These efforts, if embraced, have the potential to change the structure and operation of both sides of the educational equation in significant ways. In all likelihood, however, significant external forces will be required to prod and drive the necessary discussion and debate; educators do not seem ready to make these moves on their own (p. 2).
The strength of the book is the case studies. They offer interesting and detailed descriptions of collaborative efforts. None of the studies attempts to sugar-coat the difficulties the players in the projects have faced nor do they herald any of the projects as the "answer" to how collaborative efforts should be conceived or implemented. From the case of John Silber’s take-over of Chelsea’s school district, to Maryland’s Partnership for Teaching and Learning, to Trinity’s Learning Corridor neighborhood revitalization project in Hartford, the authors let readers see, warts and all, what the successes and failures are. For this reason, the case studies are helpful accounts for anyone who has even vaguely thought about involving higher education institutions with K-12 schools. Some of the projects—El Paso’s Collaborative for Academic Excellence, for example—seem to be truly innovative not only in the outcomes they seek but in their vision of how a K-16 partnership might actually work. Other projects—Jackson State’s teacher improvement efforts as one example—seem much more like tired models whose pitfalls and problems seem very familiar or predictable to the reader. But all of the cases are intriguing and raise serious questions about the value and the difficulties of K-16 collaboration.
The analysis of the case studies is less provocative. The authors cast their efforts as exploratory and offer them as vehicles to raise policy questions rather than to suggest directions. For example the policy questions offered in the last chapter include: Can collaborative efforts be sustained over time? Can efforts move beyond reliance of committed leaders? Can collaborative efforts really work to improve teacher quality? As a reader I wanted more. The authors raise much more interesting questions and issues in their introduction, but in the end they do little with them. These include such issues as the ways in which attacks on affirmative action could affect collaborations and how increasing calls for accountability in higher education may result in increased pressure by colleges and universities on K-12 schools. The reader has the opportunity to squeeze more out of the case studies around these rich questions, but the authors could have done more.
The authors are correct that the conversation about K-16 partnerships lacks sophistication and interest. They assert that this situation is particularly problematic at a time when such collaborations would add a great deal to reform efforts taking place at both K-12 and higher education levels. Without collaboration it is likely that students will be shortchanged as different educational levels work at cross purposes to one another. This book does a good job of raising this concern and provides good descriptions of institutions attempting to bridge this gap.