Coordinating California's Systems of Higher and Lower Education

James W. Guthrie
Policy Analysis for California Education
Jack H. Schuster
Claremont Graduate University

California's systems of higher and lower education are inadequately coordinated, to the detriment of both sectors. Mounting evidence attests to the need for forging closer links between the two, for example: the disruptive effects on high schools of uncoordinated changes in university admission requirements; the negative effect on teacher quality resulting from the low status of teacher training at universities; and the irrelevance of most academic education research to classroom and teaching needs.

Inadequate coordination is a result of many factors. In part, the problem can be traced to California's colleges and universities, for on several dimensions they have defaulted on their professional obligation to collaborate with, and to provide leadership for, public education. By working more systematically with leaders in the public schools, higher education's leaders could more effectively serve the needs of California's citizenry at all levels of education. Toward that end, four complex policy areas will be considered in this forum:

  1. Teacher preparation. Schools of education and teacher training are low-status stepchildren on higher education campuses, and they frequently have been starved of vital resources and permitted to drift aimlessly. To the extent that teacher training is less than it should and can be, education at all levels is compromised. On at least two dimensions added vision and effective leadership on the part of university officials in conjunction with leaders of public schools could assist substantially in expanding the effectiveness of California's teachers: (1) enhancing the status and, ultimately, the effectiveness of schools of education, and (2) raising standards for teacher certification.

  2. Admission policies. Higher education officials have sometimes taken unilateral actions in such vital areas as college and university admission standards without sufficient regard for their far-reaching effects on California's public schools. Decisions regarding admission and other external forces are strong influences on the operation of secondary schools. They have created pressures on school districts to implement changes in high school courses aimed at meeting new curricular standards. To permit higher education segments to continue to make decisions unilaterally which greatly affect all education may constitute poor public policy.

  3. Education research. There is a costly disjuncture between education research and practice. California's public schools face a torrential stream of practical problems for which there are few adequate solutions. Yet research on education is too often impractical, and the bridge between the education research mission of the University of California and the California State University is weak or nonexistent. Why? A dysfunctional incentive system induces faculty researchers to address more abstract topics that offer the likelier outcome of faculty promotion; the differential missions between UC and CSU operate to devalue research in the segment—CSU—that trains two-thirds of the state's teachers; and school practitioners have little say in formulating the education research agenda.

  4. Statewide education coordination. The time may well have arrived when California can no longer afford to leave its massive education endeavors so loosely coupled; new organizational responses may be necessary. Since Proposition 13, California has moved increasingly toward a state "system'' of public education. Schooling has become an even more important instrument for influencing the state's social structure and economy. Consequently, effective planning and coordination, not only among higher education segments but also across higher and lower education, is critically important. Thus, almost surely something beyond the status quo is needed, something extending beyond the prevailing approach to voluntary coordination.

The overarching policy questions to be considered in addressing these issues are: Is it likely that coordination between higher and lower education in the state can be significantly improved to the benefit of students at all levels? If so, what are the kinds of policies that ought to be effected to enhance that coordination?

Suggested citationGuthrie, J. W., & Schuster, J. H. (1987, April). Coordinating California's systems of higher and lower education [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.