New Rockefeller Institute Policy Brief: To Improve Education Opportunities for All – It’s Time to Treat K-12 and Higher Education as a Single System!

Dear Commons Community,

A new Rockefeller Institute policy brief recommends that American K-12 and higher education converge  and outlines five steps for doing so.  As described in its  press release.


Albany, NY —  With reauthorization of both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Higher Education Act (HEA) pending before Congress, a new policy brief.from the Rockefeller Institute of Government examines the historical divergence of the K-12 and higher education sectors in the United States and outlines five steps for better aligning the two.

“A lot has changed since ESEA and HEA were signed into law in 1968, and their pending reauthorization provides an excellent opportunity to rethink how we approach education in the United States,” said Rockefeller Institute President Jim Malatras. “Now, more than ever, a postsecondary education is vital for upward mobility. To ensure better educational outcomes for everyone, we need to start viewing the education system as a single, coordinated pipeline. In our new policy brief, authors Patrick McGuinn and Christopher Loss propose five clear steps for achieving this much-needed reform.”

The paper, “Convergence of K-12 and Higher Education: Policies and Programs in a Changing Era,” tracks the political, economic, demographic, and technological forces transforming the country’s education systems 50 years after the passage of ESEA and HEA. Drawing on their recently published essay collection of the same name, Patrick McGuinn and Christopher Loss propose five steps for aligning K-12 and higher education:

1.    Combine ESEA and HEA. The creation of separate policies, funding streams, and governance structures for K-12 and higher education has long perpetuated the separation of the two sectors —  not only failing to encourage them to reach across the divide, but in many ways providing incentives for them to preserve it. Federal policymakers should strongly consider combining the ESEA and HEA into a single piece of legislation and use it to align the goals of institutions operating across the K-16 sector. 

2.    Merge State K-12 and Higher Ed Policies and Agencies. 
State education policy, like federal policy, should be used to unite —  rather than divide —  the two sectors. States should consider merging their often separate agencies for K-12 and higher education regulation. 

3.    Encourage K-16 Bridge Building. Many K-12 and higher education institutions have embraced the idea of convergence on their own and have been entrepreneurial and innovative in creating partnerships that bridge the two sectors. These efforts should be lauded, emulated, and expanded. 

4.    Incorporate K-12 and Higher Ed Engagement in Accreditation Reviews. Making K-12 and higher education partnerships a priority in the accreditation process for schools and universities will ensure that it becomes an institutional priority, backed by accountability, for schools and colleges. 

5.    Reconceptualize Educational Scholarship. Approaching the field of education as two distinct sectors serves to perpetuate the divide and needs to be reconsidered.

Several states such as Florida have already taken steps in this direction.  I think it is an idea whose time has come.


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