On Common Ground: Number 8, Winter 1998


On Common Ground: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead

By Thomas R. Whitaker

What have school-university partnerships accomplished in the fifteen years since Gene I. Maeroff's report of 1983, School and College: Partnerships in Education? And what challenges now face such partnerships? We're delighted that, with the help of some important friends of the movement, we can engage those questions in Number 8 of On Common Ground.

The Essays: Some Connections

Gerald N. Tirozzi, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education, leads off with a stirring challenge. If we are to meet the unprecedented needs produced by the rapid demographic and economic changes in this country —if we are to avoid the disastrous creation of an America with a very small elite class and a very large underclass —there must be a firm resolve at the Federal, State, and local levels to address the problem of public education. The solution to that problem, Tirozzi argues, will require innovative partnerships that link the schools not only to colleges and universities but also to community-based agencies, corporations, and subject-matter organizations.

John Brademas, Chairman of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, reports on the major actions recommended by that Committee. Important among the recommendations are ways in which partnerships may help teachers share with all children the creative power of the arts and humanities —and so prepare them more fully for productive futures. Gene Maeroff, who now directs the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University, sums up the progress —and lack of progress —since he wrote School and College. There is now, he finds, a widespread understanding that all levels of education are necessarily linked together, an understanding that has not, however, been readily translated into practice. Maeroff identifies the obstacles that "hold back the parties who profess a new-found commitment to collaboration" and points toward the challenges ahead: a new emphasis upon professional development, the meeting of standards, and the schooling of the disadvantaged. Efforts in those directions, he says, may determine "whether or not America is to survive as the democracy that we have known until now."

In 1989, J. Myron Atkin, Professor of Education at Stanford University, published with Ann Atkin the report Improving Science Education Through Local Alliances. He now proposes what he calls "a different sort of collaboration between university-based scholars and classroom teachers, one in which the content selection itself, not solely helping teachers comprehend the content, is one of the subjects for serious deliberation." In a similar vein, Russell Edgerton, formerly president of the American Association for Higher Education (which for many years encouraged partnerships between schools and universities) and now Director of the Education programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts, voices the concern that colleges and universities do not yet support "the strategies of change that the school reform community is now pursuing." On the other hand, David L. Warren, President of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, notes that many partnerships do often include collaborative curriculum development. He cites MIT's "National High School Science Symposium" as one such instance.

Indeed, we include here detailed accounts of other partnerships that are already addressing certain items on the reform agenda. John Carlos Rowe describes a project at the University of California, Irvine, that brings together high-school, community college, four-year college, and university teachers in Southern California to do "collaborative research" that constitutes "a cross between teaching and research" as traditionally understood. Arnold Weinstein describes a project at Brown University that brings together teams of university and school teachers from across the nation to participate in, and to adapt for their own sites, interdisciplinary courses that will involve high-school and university collaboration. As Richard A. Donovan reports, the Urban Partnership Program—which has sponsored conferences on curriculum in Virginia, New York, California, and New Jersey—has now been linking community groups and higher education in South Africa. And Peter Herndon and Jean Sutherland make clear how they have strengthened their teaching and discovered new curricular possibilities through the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

In California there is yet further evidence of both long-term collaborations and new ventures that involve curriculum as well as pedagogy. Robert Polkinghorn, Jr., and Laura Stokes describe the factors that have sustained the California Subject Matter Projects and describe also the ongoing challenges to its vitality. Richard Atkinson, President of the University of California, reports on the ambitious new program for cooperative work with California's schools and communities that this university system, faced with Proposition 209 and the Regents' decision to eliminate race, ethnicity, and gender as considerations in admissions, has decided to adopt. And Eugene E. García, Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, offers some personal reflections on the fact that the University "must assure that more minority and disadvantaged students are competitive." This must involve, he says, "tapping the existing knowledge and expertise of effective teachers" and integrating outreach efforts to "school-centered" programs.

Finally, Manuel N. Gómez summarizes where we are now, using as "a partial basis for assessment over twenty years of experience in collaboration." Gómez calls for "more rigorous philosophical scrutiny of the relationship among partnership, education, and democracy" in order to produce "more profound systemic change." And he concludes that "without partnership the promise of democratic education is certain to remain only that."

The Images: Some Perspectives

We select for the cover of No. 8 a thematically appropriate work by the African-American painter Jacob Lawrence: BuildersRed and Green Ball. This image, a stylistic compilation from several of his poster compositions and Builders scenes, offers us a pattern of diagonally and horizontally extended arms and legs, of upward thrusting movements, accentuated by a vaulter's pole, pavement blocks, and carpenters' benches, saw, and planks. The builders, athletes, and playing children interlock in a colorful dance, focused for us by a green and red ball, the shape of which is repeated in the many spherical heads of light tan and brown. It is a dance that reaches through play, craft, and the vision of art toward the previously built structures on the urban horizon. Here, for this quite modern painter of historical cycles on Toussaint L'Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and the Great Migration, is a complex key to the future of a progessive society.

With this editorial on "Taking Stock and Looking Ahead" we include, as a complementary perspective upon past and future, Hopi Horizon, by the Native American painter Dan Namingha (b. 1950), who often has combined memories of Hopi ceremonials with an awareness of the twentieth-century art of Picasso, Gauguin, Cezanne, Rothko, and Kline. This brooding and stylized design with its intensely red mesa and thin blue sky, poised between ambiguous blocks of yellowish and blackish desert and an upper darkness, may suggest the precariousness of the slender present—the locus of our human community within a vaster world of powers that enclose us. Namingha has said, "My paintings come from a very deep place. . . . They are like the ceremonies: You go step by step and you know so many things but beyond that there is mystery. That is why an artist continues on—because there is always the mystery beyond." We might recall an essay by D. H. Lawrence in Mornings in Mexico, which celebrates the "Dance of the Sprouting Corn" at Santo Domingo as a Hopi mode of cosmic participation, leading to a "resurrection" that results from the germinal meeting of forces "from the heights and from the depths." For Namingha, too, art and community must find and enact, within the horizon of past and future, the meeting-place of those mysterious energies.

With Gene Maeroff's essay on "The Future of Partnerships" we include a visual reminder of the constructive powers, "the heavy lifting," that will be required of collaborations if "America is to survive as the democracy that we have known until now." Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971), whose camera was so often in the service of that democracy (as in You Have Seen Their Faces), here gives us the beginnings of Bridge Construction on the New York Thruway, the uncertain and risky process of building the connections on which our society must rest.

For our "Teachers' Forum" we reach further back into history with the help of Gene Maeroff, who called to our attention a Canadian masterpiece by Robert Harris (1849-1919) that deals with the act of confronting tradition and making change. In Harris's A Meeting of the School Trustees (which was the sensation of the 1886 Canadian Royal Academy Show) a woman teacher forcefully confronts a group of men whose somewhat ambiguous expressions—interested, quizzical, resistant, or skeptical—may or may not suggest that her arguments will be persuasive.

On the back cover we include another image of the risks of collaboration, and of reaching for connections. Disturbing Dream by Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1889-1953) may depict the trapeze artists' gut-wrenching failure or the moment before a precarious success. As a "dream," of course, it suggests the anxieties accompanying any project of crucial importance and uncertain outcome. But to hold that dream in mind, with its danger and its possibility, and to focus it in such a tenuously floating design, is itself a visionary success—of the kind to which both Kuniyoshi and On Common Ground have, in their very different ways, been devoted.

Looking Backward: On Common Ground

Back in 1993 the Editorial Board of On Common Ground set forth the plans for this periodical. In each issue we would focus on a major concern of university-school partnerships. We would also have some occasional departments: "Student Voices," "Voices from the Classroom," and a "Superintendents' and Principals' Forum." We would have an introductory column by the noted educational journalist Fred Hechinger (a series interrupted, alas, by his death in 1995) and a review or review-essay on some book or topic of immediate urgency. And each issue would include some visual images of intrinsic power and enduring interest that would relate to the main topics, in fairly direct illustration or through analogy or metaphor. As our occasional inclusion of children's art also testifies, we have believed that the resources of art are closely related to the broad understanding of education that school-university partnerships should support.

On Common Ground No. 1 focused on national, state, and local policy, with articles by Richard Riley, Secretary of Education, and such important voices in the field of education as Jay L. Robinson, James Herbert, and Terry Knight Dozier. In No. 2 we broadened our focus to include the ancestry and the present variety of the partnership movement, with essays by Vito Perrone, Ernest Boyer, Edward Meade, Lauro F. Cavazos, and others. In No. 3 we moved to a somewhat narrower topical approach, focusing here on the need for schools to elicit and train the talents that are necessary for "The World of Work." Important contributors (and the positions they then occupied) included Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor; Thomas Payzant, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education; Thomas Furtado, Corporate Ombudsman at United Technologies; and Thomas Persing, Superintendent of North Penn School District in Lansdale, PA. In No. 4 we considered partnerships in science and technology, with essays by such well-informed people as Bruce M. Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences and John Merrow, Anchor and Executive Editor of the Public Television Series "The Merrow Report." On Common Ground No. 5 turned then to "Learning Through the Arts," seeking to make clear why we should regard the arts not just as "frills" but as "basics" in our educational program. Important essays by Maxine Greene and Scott T. Massey were supplemented by an array of pieces "From the New Haven Experience," setting forth the nature and results of seminars in the arts launched by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. In No. 6, we emphasized the present challenges to the partnership movement, with important essays by Roland S. Barth, Arthur Levine, Gene Maeroff, Foster Gibbs, and Deborah Meier. And in No. 7, we engaged the demands posed by our actual diversity and our need for community (in several senses of that word), with essays by Manuel Gómez, James Pipkin, Ronald Takaki, Richard Simonelli, Dixie Goswami, and others involved in a variety of innovative projects.

The concerns of this present number, both retrospective and prospective, bring to an appropriate climax this sequence. Throughout these four years we have been concerned with defining the range of actual and desirable partnerships as they might contribute to a whole vision of pre-college education in this country. And we have had the hope that—despite the economic and demographic stresses to which America has been subjected—such partnerships might help to make it possible for all children, even those from low-income communities, to receive the full advantages of a pre-college education. In sum, we have sought some vision of educational community that will sustain our national diversity.

A Year of Planning: The Demonstration Project

For those of us taking part in the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 1997 has been a year of intensive planning toward a national demonstration of the Institute's collaborative approach to schooling in areas where a significant proportion of children come from low-income backgrounds. The Institute has always regarded national "dissemination" of its approach to be part of its mission: hence its conferences, books, videos, and On Common Ground itself. And over the years the Institute has indeed received national recognition. We cite here just two comments from this Number of On Common Ground:

Gerald N. Tirozzi, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education: "The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute has been a beacon of hope for what is possible when a significant partner and an enlightened school district commit to working closely and cooperatively together to enhance teaching and to improve the teaching-learning process."

John Brademas, Chairman of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities: " . . . in part inspired by the success over nearly two decades of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, the President's Committee calls for partnerships to 'improve instruction in the arts and the humanities by encouraging colleges, universities, and cultural organizations to cooperate with local school systems . . . .' One sure way of achieving [the objective of the Committee] is to encourage communities throughout the United States to establish the kind of partnerships pioneered by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute."

Over this past year, with support from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, the Institute has been exploring the feasibility and desirability of establishing such partnerships at a number of sites. The Institute surveyed 33 sites that had over the years shown interest in its approach, seeking to determine whether they might wish to adapt that approach to their own situations, and spelling out the criteria that would have to be met by any such adaptations. On the basis of responses to the survey, and previous and further contacts, members of a Planning Team from the Institute (including both Yale faculty and New Haven teachers) visited during the summer the following five sites: University of Houston/Houston Public Schools; University of California at Irvine/Santa Ana Public Schools; University of New Mexico/Albuquerque Public Schools; Washington University/St. Louis Public Schools; and Johns Hopkins University/Baltimore Public Schools. Those visits and other correspondence with additional sites led the Planning Team to conclude that indeed the time is right, at a number of urban school districts serving students from low-income communities, for the establishment of several "demonstration projects" that would be committed to the principles of collaboration that the Institute has developed over the past two decades.

The Institute has therefore proposed to the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund a four-year project that would constitute a major step toward the nation-wide establishment of adaptations of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. The proposal envisages an invitation to 14 sites that are suited to the development of such adaptations, suggesting that they submit their own proposals for five-and-a-half month Planning Grants for 1998. There would be a voluntary information session in New Haven for the invited sites. Each proposal would consist of the programmatic and financial expectations to be contained in a later application for three-year support, with appropriate and increasing cost-sharing, to establish a particular version of the Institute. On the basis of these proposals, a National Panel would recommend to James R. Vivian, Director of the Institute, five or six sites that seem most deserving of subsequent three-year support for this purpose. These Planning Grants, like the later Implementation Grants, would be actually re-grants by the Institute of a total grant received from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.

During the balance of 1998, the Institute would then work closely with the five or six sites awarded Planning Grants. (Indeed, the Institute is also seeking additional funding that might make possible a larger number of such grants, and a larger number of demonstration sites.) There would be some site visits by members of the New Haven Implementation Team. There would be a July Intensive Session that would include "national seminars" and other meetings to make evident in detail and "from the inside" the working of the Institute's policies and procedures. Holders of Planning Grants could then apply for three Implementation Grants for the period from 1998 through 2001.

Those awarded Implementation Grants (by the same procedure as before) would then work closely with the Institute as they established their own collaboratives, and their own annual set of seminars, adjusting the Institute approach to the resources and the needs of their specific locations. There would be, for example, continuing directors' meetings, a national steering committee of teachers, a complementary committee of university faculty, another July Intensive Session in 1999 (with "national seminars" now shaped through conversation with the three sites), and three conferences in October of 1999, 2000, and 2001 to share the on-going challenges and results.

Because the ground would be carefully prepared for a self-sustaining organization at each of the demonstration sites, the expectation would be that they would sustain the program activities after the grant period is completed. Such a national demonstration project would not only benefit the teachers and students in those communities; it would also establish a potentially expandable network of teachers institutes that share a common purpose, a network that should have a significant impact upon education reform throughout this nation.

The entire process would be documented by persons working closely with the Institute, by persons at the demonstration sites, and by one or more independent writers. If in fact these three demonstration sites are established, On Common Ground itself will have great potential as a means of disseminating their experience and their results to a wider readership of those interested in university-school partnership.


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