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Higher Education Research and K-12 Reform:
UCSD Models Collaboration with Area Schools and Launches a Campus Charter School

By Diana Alvarado, Research Associate, AAC&U

Major changes have occurred in California's higher education system since I left my home state in 1995. The most notable change was the SP-1 decision, the 1995 vote by the University of California System's Board of Regents to ban the consideration of race in decisions of admissions, hiring, and contracting. This decision was followed a year later by the passage of Proposition 209 banning affirmative action in all state agencies.

These changes prompted educators concerned with maintaining diversity in their student bodies to re-examine their relations with area public schools from which their students come. As a UC alumnae admitted as an early outreach student, it was with deep personal interest that I recently visited the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to learn about their efforts to ensure a student body that accurately reflects the demographics of the State it serves.

While all of the UC schools have been developing proactive measures to maintain a diverse student body in light of the SP-1 decision, UCSD is the first University to launch a charter school for grades 6 to 12, named after UC Regent Peter Preuss who donated $5-million. Nonetheless, establishing the Preuss School on the UCSD campus at first met strong resistance from faculty. Their concerns ranged from limited resources to the question of whether K-12 education should be the University's concern at all. Shepherding the process, Cecil Lytle, Provost of the Thurgood Marshall College and Professor of Music, and Hugh Mehan, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Teacher Education Program, eventually won approval because of two key accommodations. The first was to ensure that no existing university funds would be diverted from the university to the school. The second addition to the proposal was to create a research center both to coordinate the University's work with area schools and the campus charter school, and to study the impact of the schools's educational innovations.

Established in 1997, the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment, and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) partners with area K-12 schools and the University community to improve the academic environment for students from low performing schools and low-income families thereby increasing their college eligibility and preparedness. CREATE is both a research center and an umbrella organization that coordinates previously fragmented campus outreach efforts. The Center's research and programs connect directly to its work with the Preuss charter school and a diverse set of San Diego area public schools organized in K-12 Cluster Partnerships. These partnerships include four public high schools as well as the middle and elementary schools that feed into them.

Through the Preuss school and the partner schools, CREATE offers programs designed to (1) enrich the academic environment for students during and after school, (2) create professional development opportunities for teachers, (3) improve community health for students, and (4) increase parental involvement in students' education.

Many of these programs directly benefit UCSD undergraduates as well. To enrich the academic environment in the schools, the Center places student teachers and interns in the Preuss and the partnership schools. "These programs offer direct academic and social support to K-12 students in the community, particularly to make them UC eligible," says Rafael Hernandez, Dean of UCSD's Thurgood Marshall College and the director of the University's public service program. "On the other hand, our students gain intellectual development, career awareness, personal growth and a better understanding of community, social and family issues."1 CREATE also coordinates after school academic activities and inter-session summer school activities.

The Preuss School provides a college preparatory curriculum for all its students. As Preuss School principal Doris Alvarez explains, "The school's curriculum is based on a traditional liberal arts curriculum designed to meet the University of California's requirements. [The school's curriculum] meets or exceeds state and district standards with goals of proficiency or higher in written and or spoken foreign language, math reasoning and understanding scientific, and historical approaches and concepts."

At the Preuss School new pedagogical techniques and forms of assessment are also tried in the classrooms. Smaller class sizes of 20 to 25 students coupled with longer class periods allow for more personalized instruction in which teachers get to know their students' individual learning needs and can choose appropriate strategies to help them. Students are given various assignments to develop and assess their knowledge including journal writing, reflection logs, portfolios, school-wide writing samples, and group projects. Students are encouraged to work together in teams; As one 6th grade Math teacher at Preuss reminds her class after assigning a group task, "We're not just a community of learners, we're a community of teachers."

CREATE also organizes professional development opportunities for teachers. For example, by working together, high school teachers and university staff have revamped one partner school's writing program. Through a series of yearlong meetings of CREATE staff members, The San Diego Area Writing Project, and teachers from Crawford High School's English and ESL department, a set of recommendations was made for changing Crawford's English curricula. As a result of these meetings, a six-week "Transition to College Writing" summer seminar was designed for Crawford teachers and staffed by UCSD and San Diego State writing instructors. For a future project, CREATE's director, Hugh Meham hopes to bring teachers from the Preuss and partner schools together with University faculty to discuss their expectations of students, with the goal of aligning standards for high school and middle school education with what is needed for college level learning.

CREATE also works on another essential component of successful transition from high school to college--parental involvement. For many parents their children will be the first in the family to attend college. Through Parent Council forums and other seminars, parents receive information that enable them to be more involved in their child's education. Offered in multiple languages, the workshops cover topics such as the difference between CSU and UC college admission procedures and parents' legal rights to make educational requests on behalf of their children, such as those related to access to special education or gifted programs.

Perhaps one of the most unique features of CREATE's four-part framework is its effort to improve healthcare for students in the partner schools. Dr. Phil Nader, head of community pediatrics at UCSD's school of medicine and an original member of CREATE's planning team, has lead preventive health activities in local communities. CREATE has asked the School of Medicine to provide such services to students in their partner schools. As Meham explains, "The idea is to organize family life such that either parents get access to healthcare they might not even know that they're eligible for or that we can help the schools with nurses to do simple preventative procedures."

Based on educational research, CREATE staff know that many components contribute to a student's success. An improved academic environment with challenging curricula and pedagogical innovations, professional development for teachers, increased parental involvement, improved healthcare, and coordinated UCSD outreach efforts--all of these components are coming together in a newly coordinated way through CREATE to improve student learning and achievement in the San Diego area K-12 schools.

These programs and their effectiveness will be researched and evaluated and the results shared with other schools. Using data collected from the Preuss school and the partner schools, CREATE will be able to benchmark improvements within a year and assess what factors are working within four to five years. Faculty members with research interests in education are planning studies using data gathered from the Preuss School and the partner schools. For example, faculty from the Department of Communications will study the effect of after-school educational activities. Faculty from the Psychology and the Economics Departments are working on new models of evaluation. Other Psychology faculty members are examining the impact of introducing Algebra level math in middle schools. Understanding that the work between K-12 and higher education must be an equal and reciprocal partnership, CREATE staff members have served as liaisons between these two very different worlds.

UCSD's work provides an example for how we should be thinking about education for an increasingly diverse and complex society. Since about 72% of high school graduates attend some form of postsecondary education within one or two years after graduation, it is clear we can no longer think of education in traditionally isolated and elitist ways. Today's high school students are tomorrow's college students. At both the secondary and postsecondary level, we are educating a more diverse population of students with even greater expectations than those we once had for a much smaller group of people. Higher education must find ways to collaborate with K-12 educators, if we hope to truly capture the promise of such greater expectations.

1 University of California Outlook, Issue 3, November 1999.

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Alvardo photo

At both the secondary and postsecondary level, we are educating a more diverse population of students with even greater expectations than those we once had for a much smaller group of people. Higher education must find ways to collaborate with K-12 educators, if we hope to truly capture the promise of such greater expectations.

photo by: The Preuss School, UCSD
The Preuss School, UCSD