New Jersey Commission on Higher Education

March 1998

Editorial - Higher Education-K-12 Collaboration:
Critical to School Reform

by Alfred C. Koeppe, Commission Member

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As midnight approaches the 20th century, it is clear that one of New Jersey's major challenges in the 21st century will be to ensure that all of its schools provide supportive learning environments, all of its teachers are well qualified, and all of its children have an opportunity to master the skills necessary to succeed.

Progressive reform measures, such as the academic content standards currently being implemented by Governor Whitman, provide the opportunity for New Jersey's entire education community to work together. It is essential that higher education institutions are actively involved in such school reform efforts and make parallel changes in college admissions, placement, curriculum, and instructional methods to ensure a strong, seamless education system.

The New Jersey Commission on Higher Education estimates that over 500 collaborative projects exist between the state's colleges and universities and elementary or secondary schools. Importantly, because educational opportunity is a key to the revitalization of urban areas, about half of those programs focus on urban students. While there is a great deal more to be done to achieve systemic change, New Jersey's higher education institutions make substantial contributions to the education of K-12 students.

For example, 13 higher education institutions collaborate with special needs school districts in the state's College Bound Program to support precollege programs for urban/minority youngsters in grades 6-12. The on-campus programs provide support services and academic activities designed to encourage students to complete high school with the necessary preparation to pursue postsecondary studies in science, mathematics, or technology, areas which are gateways to careers of the future.

Through New Jersey's Statewide Systemic Initiative (SSI), Rutgers University and 14 other institutions work with schools and other partners to strengthen math, science, and technology education for all students. In collaboration with the SSI, Stevens Institute of Technology implemented the Networking Infrastructure in Education project, a national model for training teachers to use the Internet to enhance education.

Individual colleges and universities throughout the state dedicate their resources and experience to wide variety of programs for K-12 students and teachers. At NJIT, the School of Architecture introduces Newark elementary school students to the power of computing through computer assisted design software. The program reinforces both math and design skills and exposes students to the college environment.

Several collaborative relationships in the form of professional development schools bring college and school faculty together to improve K-12 programs and prepare student teachers. They also provide professional development for experienced K-12 educators and valuable insights for college faculty, both through research and practice. An excellent example is the Cooper's Poynt Professional Development School, a partnership between Rowan University and the Camden City School District.

The New Jersey Network for Education Renewal also provides professional development for school faculty and administrators. It is a partnership between Montclair State University and 18 school districts, including Newark, Paterson, and East Orange. In addition, the university works to enhance science instruction in the early grades in Paterson.

In a more recent effort, Rutgers University established one of New Jersey's first charter schools, the Project LEAP Academy Charter School in Camden. The K-8 school integrates education, health, and human service programs with community involvement, to provide new opportunities for children.

Successful collaborative efforts are not limited to large or four-year institutions. For example, Caldwell College, a small Catholic institution, sponsors a Hispanic Concerns Program that helps Hispanic high school students improve their academic skills and ultimately pursue higher education. And community colleges are engaged in many programs with K-12 schools, such as tech-prep programs, which coordinate the last two years of high school with the first years of college to prepare students for the workforce.

These are but a few examples of successful K-12 and higher education partnerships, and new efforts are underway. For example, the four higher education institutions located in Newark (Essex County College, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry) are working with the Newark School District to plan for the year 2000 opening of an 800-student, $35 million science and technology high school to prepare urban students for career paths that require specialized knowledge and skills in math, science, and technology.

Collaborative relationships such as those described above require conscious nurturing by policymakers, business leaders, and concerned citizens alike. None of us should be content to allow New Jersey to define success as slowing down the rate of failure, and all of us should be committed to ensuring that all students have access to the educational opportunities necessary to succeed.

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