Partners in Reform: The California Academic Partnership Program Shows Schools How to Form Lasting Partnerships That Help Prepare Students to Succeed in College

By Horowitz, Jordan | Leadership, March-April 2005 | Go to article overview

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. …

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