Partners in Reform: The California Academic Partnership Program Shows Schools How to Form Lasting Partnerships That Help Prepare Students to Succeed in College
Horowitz, Jordan, Leadership
Few schools or districts have the capacity to engage in educational reform efforts without looking to partners for support, knowledge and guidance. The California Academic Partnership Program has been funding educational partnerships to support school improvement efforts for two decades and there is much to be learned from its efforts. In this article I focus on lessons about educational partnerships--how they're formed, what they can accomplish and how they endure.
About CAPP and its partnerships
Ensuring that greater numbers of California high school students graduate and are prepared to succeed at the state's universities is the goal of the California Academic Partnership Program, legislated into existence by state lawmakers two decades ago to support focused school reform.
Over the years, the particular shape of CAPP-funded reform efforts evolved to match other state education-related requirements. For example, in the area of curricula reform, early recipients of CAPP funding focused their efforts on higher expectations for all students and increasing the number of students completing the course sequence required for admission to the University of California and California State University systems. Subsequent recipients also had to show how they would align their curricula to state mathematics and language arts standards.
Recent recipients also have to demonstrate how they would improve and align curricula to ensure all their students pass California's high school exit examination.
Irrespective of when they received their funding and no matter what the details of their reform efforts, all CAPP projects share at least one important characteristic: Each operates as an academic partnership consisting of a secondary school, a postsecondary education institution and other entities, whether other secondary schools or nonacademic organizations such as technical assistance providers.
CAPP believes such partnerships are essential to efforts to get more students into college, especially in schools whose students traditionally have been underrepresented in higher education, because the full complement of resources and expertise necessary to attain this goal can rarely be found in an individual school or district.
CAPP-funded partnerships are intended to be real, durable and effective. As defined by CAPP, real partnerships are those in which all involved recognize their common interest in public school students and work together as equals to meet the education needs of these students. Durable partnerships are those whose value to the partner institutions has been internalized to the point that their continuation does not depend on supplementary funding from external sources.
Finally, effective partnerships are those that result in significant improvement in the academic achievement of all students, particularly those most dependent on the performance of the secondary school to enable them to fulfill their individual educational potential.
Lessons learned about partnerships
Over the years, individual CAPP projects have illuminated the characteristics of powerful partnerships that are intended to support academic reform. They have also identified some of the pitfalls that can impede the success of reform efforts. This article presents some of the lessons learned about partnerships from eight years of CAPP evaluations conducted by WestEd, as well as another WestEd study of the enduring effects of CAPP projects.
Successful high school reform efforts can involve many partners. These include feeder schools, local universities, other schools engaged in reforms and a host of technical assistance providers. Partners who understand the project goals and can provide resources to help achieve them offer value that cannot be overestimated. In addition, individuals from partner institutions provide an external viewpoint that can be helpful in enlarging participants' perspectives and validating the work.
"By bringing in outside partners to help us with our collaboration and student work meetings, the teachers were able to see that it wasn't just them doing this type of work. They were able to see that their work was the same as, if not ahead of other schools and districts within the state. Our partner was also able to bring in outside ideas for us to use. This is extremely important so that the teachers see the processes that are working, as well as not having to reinvent the wheel."
Three approaches to forming partnerships
WestEd's research on the lasting effects of education partnerships revealed that when forming partnerships, CAPP projects generally proceeded in one of three ways. Most common is to form a partnership around a vision informed by a particular philosophy or set of ideas. For example, once many of the CAPP sites decided upon specific standards-based reforms, they formed partnerships with schools of education at local universities to provide guidance and support.
A second approach to forming CAPP partnerships is around activities. For example, a CAPP site that needed staff for its homework center partnered with the local community college, which served as a source of mathematics and English majors who would work at the center.
A third approach is to form a partnership based on pre-existing relationships. For example, some high school faculty and administrators at CAPP sites had relationships with faculty and administrators at local universities and established their CAPP partnerships on these working ties.
Regardless of how partnerships are built, participant relationships should be sturdy enough to weather the rough spots inherent in the challenging work of school reform.
"Partnerships are based on the relationships formed among representatives of partner institutions. Those people must be compatible to some degree in terms of essential ethical and philosophical aspects. They must be able to disagree and solve problems together, enduring some tension on behalf of a better solution."
Recognizing patterns of involvement
Partnerships can be delicate things, especially those dependent on one or two pivotal relationships. For partnerships to endure, projects need to establish personal connections at multiple levels. That is, relationships need to be forged among administrators, across faculties and with other project leaders. In this way, even if key personnel at one partnership level leave, the project does not have to stall or falter.
In one instance, a project's lead faculty member at the local university received a grant to do other work. In reporting the loss, the project representative noted the need to shore up the partnership, but the project had enough other relationships not to be devastated by this one broken link.
"Partnering with the university has been challenging, yet very useful when at its best. We have learned that in order to maintain our partnership, we need to be proactive in seeking out willing participants who understand the value and utility of having people from higher education work in our schools. At this point, I have not invested the time necessary to recruit another faculty member to work with our project and none have come forward to request involvement. I don't consider this to be a problem for one agency or the other, but rather something that we both must address together in order to build our partnership."
As reform efforts move Forward, a project may need different things from its partners or need to engage with different partners. Some partners will leave and others will join. This appears to be a natural, evolutionary aspect of partnerships supporting school reform. Not all relationships need to endure.
Do not assume that the loss of partners is a failure. For example, as your reform efforts reach benchmarks you have set for yourselves or the end of a funding cycle, you may lose some partners.
Alternatively, a project may need new partners as new needs are identified. One site reported adding two partners that they had not identified in their original CAPP grant. During the planning and reconfiguring of the project, and as a result of staff changes during this period, the project began working closely with the director of high school relations at a local community college, developing a relationship that resulted in a new partnership. A relationship with another external provider was initiated serendipitously at a conference. Although these partnerships were formed after the grant was in process, project staff identified them as vital to the project's success.
Every partner needs a clear understanding of why it is a partner. Representatives of partner organizations should be able to state two things in a few sentences: what they are providing to your efforts, and what they are receiving in return. Remember, not all benefits are tangible.
Roles can change, of course. It is likely that during the course of a project, as needs and potential resources become clearer, roles will also be clarified.
"This year we, as a project, were able to [conceive] more clearly what exactly we might need from our university partner. For example, we now know that our math tutorial needs more regular monitoring and teachers need more support shaping their instruction and curriculum. This might be an area in which faculty from the university [could] support the project."
Sometimes new roles will arise as new needs are identified. At one site, the inspiration to shift priorities and, therefore, to shift roles within the overall project came from research about what another school site was doing:
"Inspired by what we saw at the other high school, we decided to devote significant resources to a new student support program."
Open and frequent communication is an essential aspect of successful partnerships. As a reform effort comes to involve more partners, this becomes even more crucial. Individuals at partner institutions have a lot to do. If they are not kept informed of what is happening, your reform efforts will move to the bottom of the pile.
"Communication is sometimes difficult when working with a partner outside the school district. We allowed our everyday situations to override the communication piece with our partners. This is something that we need to correct in the coming year."
Keep partners up to date and informed of your progress. Let everyone know your needs and desired solutions. Make it easy for partners to remain committed to your efforts.
"Despite the fact that it's not always easy to align different schedules, the junior high and high schools have worked diligently to keep collaboration and communication flowing with the university. For example, both schools have been open to class visits from university faculty. Both schools are currently working on devising field trips to the university. And the high school invited university representatives to participate in their accreditation work."
Some of the most successful partnerships were those that included schools undertaking similar reforms. Getting together with faculty from other districts provided partners with fresh ideas and validated work they may already have had under way. Sharing the products of their efforts meant that schools could adapt or build on work that already had been done by others.
Cross-school visits were particularly effective in these partnerships. Visitors were able to engage in conversations with their peers and ask questions about what was happening as it was happening. We heard time and again about the benefits of seeing at another school how students interacted with each other and with teachers. The subtle differences between schools became apparent and provided valuable lessons about where and how much the visitors needed to rethink efforts at their own school.
"During school visitations, the team learned that we were on the right track with many of the programs and [learned] where fine tuning should occur."
Those visiting are not the only beneficiaries of these interactions. Host schools have much to gain as well. An outside perspective can provide new ideas for program improvements. Answering questions from professional peers helps the host to better understand just what is happening to make an effort work (or not work). It can also re-energize the effort.
"Many of the changes were greatly facilitated by our partnership with another high school. These outside eyes and perspectives have allowed us to glean new ideas and fresh outlooks. They truly have been invaluable."
The experiences of CAPP schools suggest a number of guidelines for effective cross-school visits. First, of course, the purpose of the visit needs to be clear. Is the visit to learn about a specific program? To gain a better understanding of how teachers and students interact between groups and among themselves? To learn about new instructional practices? To find alternative ways to structure the school day and after school time?
Take care of logistics early on. A visit should be undertaken on a regular school day rich with activities. Decide ahead of time about simple issues such as providing lunch, how long the visit will be (one day or multiple days), who will be attending, how many groups to have and with which loci, and which staff members from the host school will escort each group.
The most successful cross-site visits resulted when visiting schools developed a list of questions ahead of time and gave it to the host school in advance of the visit. This doesn't necessarily limit the visit to these questions, but it provides an initial framework. Questions, comments and even apparent criticisms can lead to deeper understanding on the part of the host as well as the visitors. Sometimes feelings need to be set aside. This can be hard when you are trying to be a considerate visitor and even harder when it is your own effort being examined.
Set aside time to process the visit. This needs to occur between the two schools: host and visitor. It also needs to occur separately for each group. Follow up the visit by letting the other group know what you learned, what you liked, what you might implement and what you might not.
"Though difficult to coordinate, taking a site or district team to visit programs at other schools is extremely valuable. Two elements contributed to the success of the visits. The first was scheduling the visit during the regular contract day, thereby removing most personal scheduling conflicts and requiring the participation of resistant staff. The second element was piling everyone into a school van and together traveling the considerable distance to the other sites. The debriefing and conversations that occurred during the travel time were equally valuable to the experience."
Steps to success
As CAPP projects demonstrate, partnerships are both valuable and demanding. There are steps you can take to promote their success. Ensure everyone understands why the partnership exists and their institutional and personal roles. Keep information flowing. Don't be discouraged if partners come and go--partnerships have a natural ebb and flow related to your needs. Base your partnerships on relationships at multiple levels.
Real, durable and effective partnerships provide crucial support to your educational reform efforts and can make these efforts a bit less burdensome for you, your faculty and your staff.
Jordan Horowitz is senior project director in Evaluation Research at WestEd. He has directed the evaluation for CAPP since 1997.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Partners in Reform: The California Academic Partnership Program Shows Schools How to Form Lasting Partnerships That Help Prepare Students to Succeed in College. Contributors: Horowitz, Jordan - Author. Magazine title: Leadership. Volume: 34. Issue: 4 Publication date: March-April 2005. Page number: 16+. © 2009 Association of California School Administrators. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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