Governance For K-16 Is Fractured

State Governance Efforts to Overcome the K-16 Divide

In the 1970’s, several states, including Idaho, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Virginia tried to bridge the K-16 gap through gubernatorial-appointed secretaries of education. The positions were created with the expectation that centralized, state-level leadership for K-12 and higher education could better coordinate and integrate education policy, including such areas as teacher education. After almost three decades, however, none of these states’ K-16 system goals and policies are as aligned as they were originally intended. This disconnected governance is reflected in a range of disconnected policies, as shown in the following examples of current policies in states that have attempted coordination through trying to overcome the fact that separate boards and departments govern k12 and postsecondary education.

In Idaho, strong public concern for the quality of K-12 education had pulled the Secretary and Board’s attention to K-12 issues, which led to greater independence and less scrutiny of higher education. In Virginia, compulsory 11th grade end-of-course exams contained relevant content to judge higher education readiness, but there has been no serious discussion of using Virginia K-12 standards of learning for postsecondary admission or placement. Similarly in Pennsylvania, students’ performance on the high-stakes high school exit exam does not relate to any postsecondary standards. Tying performance on such state exams to postsecondary admissions and/or placement would help address students’ low motivation to perform well, as well provide clearer signals to students about the skills needed to do college work without remediation. In Massachusetts, higher education leaders increased academic requirements and decreased remedial courses at public colleges. This policy, however, was initiated by the higher education system without significant involvement of the secretary of education or K-12 educators. In Oregon, the state tried to improve K-14 educational pathways by placing the community colleges under the state board of education. But Oregon’s promising competency-based exit exam, the Certificate of Advanced Mastery (CAM) for 11th and 12th grade students was dropped, and the community colleges were never enthusiastic about incorporating CAM in placement decisions. Once again, we find that more alignment of K-16 policy does not necessarily occur within a more consolidated governance structure.

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