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State Policies Undermine Public School Reform; New Study Provides Recommendations to Remove College Barriers


SAN JOSE, Calif. Sept. 12 -- States are pushing colleges, universities, and K–12 schools to work together, but many state policies work at odds with the reforms needed to improve students’ college readiness and success, according to a new study. At a time when the nation must have citizens who have achieved educational success beyond high school, the need for improved transitions from high school to college is urgent.

These are among the findings of The Governance Divide: A Report on a Four-State Study on Improving College Readiness and Success, released jointly today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research, and the Institute for Educational Leadership.

The report identifies four areas in which states can work to improve the transition from high school to college:

-- Alignment of Courses and Assessments. States need to make sure that what students are asked to know and do in high school is connected to postsecondary expectations. Currently, students in most states graduate from high school under one set of standards and face a disconnected and different set of expectations in college. Many students enter college unable to perform college-level work.

-- Finance. State need-based financial aid policy should be linked with student preparation for college and state budgeting policy should support collaboration between schools and colleges.

-- Accountability. States need to connect their accountability systems for K–12 and postsecondary education. Currently, accountability systems are usually designed for either K–12 or postsecondary education without much attention to the interface between the two.

-- Data Systems. States must provide better information about education for policymakers and the public, including information about high school students’ preparation for college-level work. These data systems should diagnose problems, provide information about all education levels, assess achievement, and track individual students over time across schools and colleges and universities.

Andrea Venezia, senior policy analyst at the National Center and co-author of the report states, “This study outlines concrete policy changes states can put into place, and stresses the importance of both systems working together. We believe it will help states take that next step and change the policies that drive their education systems.”

K–12 and postsecondary education policymaking currently exist in separate worlds and each system’s policies are typically formed independently of each other -— even though most high school graduates eventually progress from one system to the other. As a result, students rarely know how to prepare for college despite having higher educational aspirations than at any other time in U.S. history. While most young people say they want to attend college, out of 100 ninth graders, 40 will immediately enter college after graduating from high school, but only 18 will complete an associate’s degree in three years or a bachelor’s degree in six years.

However, the report says remediation rates are disturbingly high -— approximately 50 percent nationally -— and too few complete their college programs. Out of 100 ninth graders who graduate from high school and immediately enter college, only 27 are still enrolled their sophomore year.

The need to improve the transition from high school to college is crucial now, given our global, knowledge-based economy. Students who aspire to participate in the middle-class must complete at least some education or training beyond high school. And according to Patrick Callan, president of the National Center and co-author of the report, this need extends far beyond individual aspirations. “To compete in the global economy, businesses and communities -- and our nation as a whole—must have a college-educated populace,” he says. ”We must make sure our education systems better suit students’ needs and aspirations -— and our country’s needs"

In addition to its recommendations, The Governance Divide provides an overview of public education governance and K–16 reform in Florida, Georgia, New York, and Oregon. The report is based on findings from Partnerships for Student Success (PSS), a project that analyzed K–16 educational governance and policies in the four states, focusing on organizational structures, leadership, finance, curriculum and assessment, accountability, and data systems.

The report was a collaborative effort by several authors: Andrea Venezia, senior policy analyst at the National Center; Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center; Joni E. Finney, vice president of the National Center; Michael W. Kirst, professor of Education at Stanford University; and Michael D. Usdan, senior fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership. Generous support for the project was provided by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Copies of The Governance Divide will be available at “State Policy Dimensions for K–16 Reform,” on Sept. 12 at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wis. The working session will convene national education experts and state leaders from both K–12 and postsecondary education to discuss options that states should consider to improve successful student transitions between high school and postsecondary education. Sponsors of the conference include the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Achieve, the James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, the Institute for Educational Leadership, The Johnson Foundation, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The Governance Divide is available on the National Center’s Web site at


The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. It is not affiliated with any institution of higher education or with any government agency. The purpose of the National Center’s studies and reports is to stimulate public policies that will improve the effectiveness and accessibility of higher education.

The Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research (SIHER) is home to sponsored research projects that examine contemporary higher education planning and policy issues from a wide range of analytical perspectives, including those of social scientists and policy audiences in the United States and abroad.

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C. For more than 40 years, IEL’s mission has been to build the capacity of individuals and organizations in education and related fields to work together -- across policies, programs, and sectors.

The Governance Divide was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The contents of the report are solely the responsibility of the National Center. The report is part of a series of K–16 projects supported by the Foundation.


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