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Column: It’s time to strengthen the P-16 continuum


“If we are to realize President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college graduates, we’ll need to break down the barriers that currently exist at both ends of the K-12 system,” Domenech writes.

Learning Leadership column, February 2012 issue of eSchool News—A major impediment to education reform is the silos that exist in the pre-kindergarten through college continuum. If we are to realize President Obama’s goal of leading the world in the percentage of citizens who are college graduates, we will need to break down the barriers that currently exist at both ends of the K-12 system: preschool programs and institutions of higher education.

There have been attempts at articulation, but the way these systems are structured, there are legal and operational barriers that are difficult—if not impossible—to overcome.

Child care and preschool programs are operated primarily by private and nonprofit institutions that have no formal relationships with the public school system. Yet, there is ample evidence to suggest that early childhood programs for children who are at risk offer the best return on the public dollar investment. We often write about the education of the total child and how critical it is to coordinate all the community services that come to bear on the needs of children. Child care and preschool programs fall in that category, along with programs that provide for the health and nutritional needs of our youth.

At the American Association of School Administrators, we pride ourselves in providing programs that help our members deal with the total needs of the children they serve. Thanks to a grant we recently received from the Wal-Mart Foundation, we are working with four major school systems to provide breakfast programs. In Riverside, Calif.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Syracuse and Brentwood in New York, children will not be arriving at school hungry and unable to focus on their lessons. With the federal funding available for such programs and the foundation dollars to help organize them, children in these communities will be fed a nutritional breakfast.

For more from Dan Domenech, see:

U.S. education is still the best in the world—but here’s what we can learn from others

Improving public education isn’t a mystery

New teacher evaluation framework promises to serve students, and educators, fairly

There are also thousands of children who, although eligible for health insurance coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program, are not receiving the medical coverage they are entitled to. In collaboration with the Children’s Defense Fund and under a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, AASA is working with a number of school systems throughout the country to provide health coverage for 50,000 students that currently do not have it.

AASA also has been active in the development of programs that foster nutrition and battle obesity. In this instance, we have collaborated with two sister organizations, the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and the National Alliance of Black School Educators. We’ve also worked closely with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, and last year we co-sponsored an event with the National Broadcasters Association that featured film and recording star Beyoncé in a “flash mob” dance involving thousands of middle school students throughout the nation.

But most of these programs have taken place within the K-12 realm, making them much easier to control and coordinate. With preschool youngsters, there is the issue of legal responsibility.

Most state laws specify that public school systems have an obligation to provide an education to children by the age of six. Kindergarten, which generally includes children of five years of age, generally does not fall under the compulsory attendance requirements. Consequently, the majority of school systems still offer kindergarten as a voluntary half-day program, even though the benefits of a full-day program are evident—especially for at-risk children.

Pre-kindergarten programs are clearly out of the range of responsibility of public school systems and usually are offered only when paid for by state or federal funds, as is the case with many special-education preschool programs. There are also instances where the public school district will run programs like Head Start, as is the case today in Fairfax County, Va. This arrangement allows for a seamless delivery of services to children beginning as early as age three and progressing into the K-12 system.

However, the organizational separation between preschool and K-12 services usually extends from the local level all the way to the federal bureaucracy. Head Start, for example, is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Department of Education.

For more from Dan Domenech, see:

U.S. education is still the best in the world—but here’s what we can learn from others

Improving public education isn’t a mystery

New teacher evaluation framework promises to serve students, and educators, fairly

At the other end of the K-12 spectrum, we undoubtedly have an even greater chasm between school districts and higher-education institutions. There are high schools that offer college-level courses that, in collaboration with a local college or university, will earn college-level credit. There are the Advanced Placement courses that might earn students advanced credit in the colleges they will attend. There are high schools located within college campuses, often referred to as laboratory schools. But generally, we do not see the school district infiltration into higher education that is seen at the preschool level.

Undoubtedly, this is because all children will move into the K-12 system—but unfortunately not all K-12 students will graduate and go on to college. This is a deficiency that the current education reform agenda is attempting to correct as we work to reduce the high school dropout rate and significantly increase the number of students going on to and graduating from college. President Obama has set a goal that the United States will lead the world in the percentage of college graduates by the year 2020. This is a goal that clearly extends beyond the K-12 realm and applies to a preK-16 system.

The challenge for K-12 education now goes beyond eliminating the dropout rate and ensuring that every students graduates; K-12 districts also must also work to prepare students to graduate from college. This is a greater challenge than we have ever faced before and will necessitate greater cooperation between K-12 districts and institutions of higher education.

If we were to review the public school records of college graduates, we would see, in general, a performance that significantly exceeds the minimum requirements for high school graduation. As daunting a challenge as it is, simply getting kids to stay in school and graduate from high school is no guarantee that they will succeed in college and graduate. Getting our students “college and career ready” might be the greatest challenge we have ever faced.

Acknowledging the role of teacher quality in preparing our students to be college and career ready, there is ample room for collaboration between K-12 systems and schools of education. The current focus on teacher evaluation overlooks the more productive role of teacher development. The process should begin early with the recruitment of high school students that show an interest in the teaching profession. There is much that we can learn from the popular European apprenticeship model. Would-be teachers could begin supervised classroom activities in their junior year of high school in “advanced placement” teacher education programs that would earn credits at schools of education.

Once in college, these students would transition to practicums in their freshman year, leading to actual placements as a teacher apprentice during their senior year of college. Variations of this theme are currently being implemented in school districts that are partnering with progressive teacher preparation institutions throughout the country.

The U.S. Department of Education can play a key role in facilitating and encouraging greater communication and collaboration between school districts and colleges of education. It will be a necessary step in preparing the personnel that will make the president’s goal a reality.

Daniel Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

For more from Dan Domenech, see:

U.S. education is still the best in the world—but here’s what we can learn from others

Improving public education isn’t a mystery

New teacher evaluation framework promises to serve students, and educators, fairly

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