This is a test. If you are one of our readers with an interest in K-12 education, name two leading scholars, researchers, or policy analysts who address post-secondary issues. If you are one of our readers from the world of higher education, name two authorities in K-12. Quickly. No consulting Google. OK, name just one.
Since joining Education Sector last spring, I’ve given this test to numerous friends and colleagues—wonks if I must be fully honest—with an interest in education. Rarely has anyone come up with the names of two authorities outside of their own field of interest.
And why would they? In academia, K-12 and higher education are separate specialties with their own faculties, professional associations and journals. In the nation’s capitol, an alphabet soup of associations advocates for interests in one sphere or the other, but never both. The Higher Education Opportunity Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which largely define federal involvement at the respective levels of education, have nothing to do with one another. The think tanks that feed education policymaking with facts and figures seldom cover both worlds.
Increasingly, this makes zero sense. Our nation needs to raise the achievement of all students to levels that reflect significant post-secondary expertise. The strongest predictor of economic growth over the last 50 years is the academic achievement of a nation’s citizens. The United States needs far more students earning post-secondary credentials than the one-third that do so now. And those credentials need to reflect quality learning. High school graduation alone will not do, nor will post-secondary degrees backed by dubious achievement. We need students who leave high school with world-class knowledge and skills and then move into higher education ready not only to complete a degree, but master sophisticated content. This mission will only be accomplished if K-12 education and higher education work closely together.
We hope to contribute to this union with the launch of the Education Sector K20 Task Force. Bringing together scholars, journalists, and analysts from K-12 and higher education, the Task Force will provide a vehicle for some of the most astute observers of education at all levels to share ideas, conduct research, and recommend innovations. The members of the Task Force, identified on our website, will carry out group projects, work in tandem with our researchers, writers, and communications specialists, and make their own contributions. You can expect to see reports, attend events, and hear from each Task Force member twice monthly here on the Quick & the Ed.
Most important, we hope to bring you fresh thinking that cuts across the education sector. This is a time of great, perhaps even historic, threat and change in both higher education and K-12. International competition is increasing pressure for improved quality. Access and service for the traditionally underserved are front burner in colleges as well as public schools. K-12 education is rewriting its academic standards to be college-and career- ready at the same time higher education institutions are looking for common standards to gauge their performance. Competition at home, from charter schools, online schools, and for-profit colleges and universities is forcing traditional public and not-for profit institutions to change, like it or not. Cost is an issue at the breaking point at all levels. Technology offers the chance for K-12 and higher education institutions to rethink their business models fundamentally.
The challenges and opportunities facing American education share many attributes from kindergarten to high school, and on into college and graduate school. The failure of schools and colleges to work together has become an increasing problem as no more than half of the students handed off from the K-12 system earn a degree or credential in the post-secondary system. Research and analysis, of course, cannot bridge this gap alone. But it’s not a bad start. The K20 Task Force leaves the gate September 20 with its first meeting in our Washington, D.C. office. Watch closely. We hope to give you good reason to know authorities from Education Sector.