By Manuel N. Gómez and Charles S. Serns
The world seems mad in preoccupation with what is specific,
(John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1916)
Those of us committed to collaboration between higher education and K 12 schools continue to search out pathways for creating long- term partnerships among our educational institutions. Vito Perrone's Collaboration in Historical Perspective is a valuable contribution to our movement which suggests fundamental unchanging attributes of successful collaboratives. My comments focus on two significant issues: (a) the similarities between Perrone's historical examples and our work in California; and (b) the changes in educational institutions that are essential to sustaining and expanding the collaboratives movement and realizing its benefits.
In 1983, the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and Santa Ana Unified School District formally entered into an academic partnership known as the Student/Teacher Educational Partnership (Project STEP). During this period the Santa Ana school district, the largest in Orange County, had changed dramatically in its demographic composition, and the question of how to improve the college/university preparation of its student body had become one of shared critical concern. In 1985, our partnership expanded to include Rancho Santiago College, CSU Fullerton, and Chapman University.
From its inception, STEP was designed as a collaborative that corresponds to many of Perrone's descriptors, including mutuality of exchange, creation of an equal partnership in the struggle for high quality educational programs, empowerment of those in the schools, and a shared determination to develop the kinds of collaboration that would be most useful. These are indeed the characteristics that have been most evident in successful academic partnerships.
To share our experience with others, we wrote To Advance Learning: A Handbook on Developing K-12 Postsecondary Partnerships (Manuel N. Gómez, et. al., University Press of America, 1990). The dimensions of successful collaboratives we found to be paramount parallel those cited by Perrone. The starting point is the dimension of leadership: top level leaders of UCI, the Santa Ana school district, and our other partners were and have continued to be committed to genuine collaboration. There was clear recognition that we were dealing with two different cultures and that we had to overcome not only institutional barriers but also the profound differences in organizational cultures between the university and the K-12 schools.
As in the historical cases of John D. Pierce at the University of Michigan, John Dewey at the University of Chicago and the Bank Street teachers described by Perrone, the leaders within both educational institutions were highly committed to "school/college collaborations that . . . had a quality of reciprocity that made for equality . . . [and in which] . . . The agendas, the purposes, and the conditions were mutually derived." (Perrone, On Common Ground, Summer 1994, p. 7) Perrone's historical examples also describe the quality of collaboration that has characterized Project STEPthe reciprocity of authority, the emergence of teachers who became enormously articulate about education matters, and the binding together of those within and outside of classrooms for a common purpose.
In To Advance Learning: A Handbook on Developing K-12 Postsecondary Partnerships, we identify operational features of successful collaboratives necessary or the realization of the shared vision of mutuality. The methods needed to cross institutional boundaries in order to create co-equal working relationships among K-12 and postsecondary institutions, and to achieve mutual goals, are complex. Strategic development of the following dimensions is especially important: organizational structures; interinstitutional teams; fiscal and human resources; meaningful participation; objective evaluation; continuous communication; and ongoing leadership and momentum. While Perrone's analysis was not aimed at identifying operational features of historical cases, this is a separate analysis well worth undertaking.
Perrone describes, in the last section of his paper, some of the changes in institutions of higher education that are needed to sustain collaboratives. As Perrone notes, "universities must accept a broader than usual view of scholarship, . . . value conversations and inquiry related to teaching and learning, understand the importance of interdisciplinary [and, I add, interinstitutional] collaboration, understand the necessity of long term involvements, and affirm mutuality, a parity of authority." (Perrone, p. 9) In Project STEP, we continue to grapple with these fundamental parameters.
We are not there yet, and I doubt whether any institution of higher education can achieve and sustain the changes in institutional culture that are needed to maintain ongoing substantive cooperation for a significant period of time without changes on a national level that relate to collaboration. New institutional structures and faculty motivation for involvement in collaborative efforts are currently ad hoc on the campuses where they do exist. Across the nation, it is not commonly an expectation that colleges and universities will have a top institutional leader responsible for K- 12 school collaboration, as there are individuals responsible for academic programs, research, student services, and the like. I believe that we must invent a new permanent structure within colleges and universities that helps further motivate and advance ongoing cooperation between universities and schools.
However, institutional structures for guiding and sustaining long- term collaboration with K-12 schools are only part of the equation. Faculty recognition and rewards must also be changed to include this dimension. A different type of research must, as Perrone notes, be recognized for its legitimacy and excellence. Research deriving from collaborative projects will often lead to different products, such as improved school practices, new instructional methods, and higher-level curricula. These can be documented and evaluated, as scholarly papers have been for so many years, but the commitment must exist to invent new procedures
What are the benefits of K-12 school/college and university collaboration, and do they justify significant departures in the structures and norms of postsecondary institutions? The answer is "yes" on at least two counts. Experience of successful collaboratives has shown significant increases in the preparation of secondary students for higher education. In Project STEP, the numbers of students from Santa Ana attending postsecondary institutions have increased from 40% to more than 57% in a six-year period, and the success and retention rates of these students have been unusually high.
The fundamental question that we should be asking as we consider collaboration with K-12 schools pertains to what we believe should be the roles and responsibilities of our institutions of higher education, and how our society should be investing and providing more, not less, critical support to our teachers and young people. If higher education is to remain vital, we must respond to the problems of our society, and as the experience of cooperative agricultural extension programs has demonstrated, the greatest contributions of universities to society's problems require mutuality and collaboration. The current educational partnership movement enables colleges and universities to make profound contributions to our nation's schools, teachers, students, families and communities. The institutional sructures, values, and incentives of our educational institutions must change to make this important responsibility a reality.
Vito Perrone's excellent perspective on university-school collaboration cites several examples of learned communities setting up collaborations. The collaborations, with only a few exceptions, have not been embedded in the culture of education. The widespread lack of collaborative endeavors among elementary schools and universities highlights the condition of elementary education as being seen as out of the loop of a collaborative dialogue about teaching and learning in its formative stages.
Granted these observations are generalizations, but if one truly wants to develop collaborative models in schools, there are some big questions that remain unanswered. Perrone's article serves as a springboard for these questions:
Clearly, by Perrone's description and from a cultural imperative, we need to find ways to collaborate. This collaboration must be part of our essence as educators. To do less relegates us to small mindedness, fearfulness and loneliness. When we refuse to collaborate, we fail to empower one another and we fail to celebrate the strength of our diversity.