Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education
Achievement of Students
Course Alignment and Articulation
A coherent system of education requires a coherent curriculum, with courses that are aligned with each other and in which course content at one level provides the foundation skills needed for success at the next level within the same discipline. California should set its sights on ensuring course alignment throughout its education system, from preschool through postsecondary education, so that any student demonstrating mastery of course content offered by any education institution has the confidence that s/he is ready to successfully take on learning at the next level.
Substantial steps have been taken to achieve this goal within public schools, with the adoption of common content standards. However, the initial curricular disjuncture occurs as some children progress from pre-school to kindergarten, when the guidelines and standards for those two levels are not aligned, resulting in disruption for the student. For other children, who do not participate in formal preschool, the disjuncture becomes evident shortly after they begin formal schooling, when inconsistency in the teaching quality among various teachers leaves some of them less prepared for success as they proceed on their education journey.
Within K-12 education, there is still work to be done to ensure that all teachers are fully capable of teaching to the standards and have access to instructional materials that are aligned to them. In addition, the academic content in career technical courses at the high school level must be aligned with not only the content taught in more traditional academic courses, but also with the knowledge and skill sets desired by business and industry. This issue is an important one; course alignment is essential to assure maintenance of a comprehensive curriculum from which high school students can choose, but that does not foreclose any post-high school options.
Course alignment and articulation at the postsecondary education level remain problematic. No mandate exists for academic or technical content that should be taught to all students enrolled in postsecondary institutions. Faculty concurrence has been difficult to achieve on the comparability of courses taught at different institutions, even those intended to be transferable, in part because of differences in academic calendars and in part because of faculty commitment to the freedom to design courses in unique ways. Considerable improvement is needed in this area to ensure that students do not encounter avoidable problems that result in less, rather than more, efficient progress, as they elect to enroll in multiple institutions to achieve the educational goals they have set for themselves.
As a result of this non-concordance, a considerable amount of attention has been given to improvement and expansion of specific course articulation between individual pairs of community colleges and baccalaureate degree-granting institutions, resulting in literally thousands of such agreements. A number of initiatives have been expanded to facilitate transfer or to assist students in navigating their way through the various articulation agreements that exist. This committee considers that these several efforts do more to meet needs of education providers than they do to facilitate simplicity and ease of transfer for students. Our focus on students leads us to recommend that the following actions be taken to better align and articulate courses:
Membership of the Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates (ICAS) should be augmented with faculty from California's PreK-12 schools. The resulting new PreKpostsecondary intersegmental faculty body should be charged with reviewing and recommending changes, if needed, in the alignment and coordination of curricula, assessment, admissions, and placement.
The governing boards of the California Community Colleges (of both the statewide system and local districts), the California State University, and the University of California have delegated to their faculty many functions, including the determination and development of curriculum. ICAS is a voluntary organization consisting of representatives of the academic senates of the three systems of public postsecondary education in California. ICAS has responsibility for initiating academic programs and policies that are intersegmental in nature, with specific attention to transfer issues, articulation, general education requirements, and educational quality. California should take advantage of voluntary professional bodies such as ICAS to advance its vision of a cohesive, student-focused education system as a promising alternative to state-created entities with their attendant regulatory environment.
The Legislature should mandate the development of transparent and sustainable articulation and transfer processes to provide students with clear curricular guidance on the transition between grade levels, between high school and college, and between and among two- and four-year colleges and universities while avoiding the complexity of campus-by-campus differentiation.
Historically, PreK-postsecondary education institutions' collaboration has not been sufficient to result in fully aligned curriculum and academic content, admissions procedures, and expectations for students. One of the consequences is that many students who manage to graduate from high school, even those among the top third of graduates in the state, are not adequately prepared for postsecondary education. The high level of demand for remedial instruction in the California State University and the University of California serves as a graphic indicator of this misalignment in California. Most efforts in other states to develop alignment strategies have tried to pull together features of external systems, such as standards, assessment, curriculum, and teacher preparation. In addition to these strategies, policies must ensure that different parts of the K-12 system - elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools - communicate more regularly with each other about educational goals and purposes.
The same difficulty exists with respect to relationships between PreK-12 and postsecondary education systems. They operate independently of each other, each with its own governance and financing mechanisms, its own politics, goals, and objectives, and even institutional cultures. In California, where the admissions requirements of the California State University and University of California systems have a significant influence on high school course offerings, little opportunity is afforded for postsecondary faculty and PreK-12 teachers to collaborate on better alignment of their respective educational goals, curricula, and assessments. All levels of education must be connected to smooth students' transition through their educational experience and adulthood.
Within our postsecondary system, as noted previously, there is considerable activity underway to articulate courses between individual campuses of the California Community Colleges, the California State University, the University of California, and independent colleges and universities - efforts which seem more attentive to the needs of education providers than they are to the needs of students. The Legislature has previously called for statewide articulation of lower division undergraduate courses, to promote systemic flexibility to accommodate students' needs; but the response from public postsecondary institutions to date has been inadequate. Therefore, it is particularly appropriate that effective enforcement mechanisms be employed to ensure that this goal is met. Accordingly we offer the following additional recommendations:
The California Department of Education should encourage and provide support for continuity of guidelines, standards, and curricula of state-supported preschools and kindergartens; it should strive for similar continuity with non-state-supported preschools.
The governing boards of the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges systems, themselves or through the efforts of their faculty, should provide for the devising of system-wide articulation policies to enable students to transfer units freely between and among public colleges and universities in California. The attainment of this objective should be enforced by the proper application of accountability measures, as discussed on page 110-111 of this report.
The University of California, California State University, and California Community College systems should establish an intersegmental group that includes faculty and students, to consider what steps need to be taken to establish a transfer associate's degree, within the existing associate degree unit requirements, the attainment of which would guarantee admission, and course transferability, to any California State University or University of California campus (though not necessarilythe major of choice) for students successfully completing the transfer degree program.
The State should encourage explicit infusion of age-appropriate school-to-career experiences in public schools, colleges, and universities, to provide students with clear curricular and career guidance about the range of post-high school options to which they can aspire and to cultivate greater civic engagement among Californians.
Historically, collaboration among schools, colleges, and universities has been insufficient to ensure successful transition from formal education to employment. Although such collaboration has been stressed for high school students enrolled in vocational courses and for postsecondary education students enrolled in professional graduate programs, it has been less developed for students enrolled in traditional academic or liberal arts programs. High school graduates without specific career technical skills often find themselves in competition for low-wage jobs rather than career positions that place a monetary value on the cognitive skills they have acquired by the time of graduation. This reality reflects a low perception of what high school graduates know and can do, a higher valuation of the utility of specific career technical skills as distinguished from academic knowledge, a need for more highly developed cognitive skills than are commonly taught in high schools, or some combination of the foregoing. Regardless of the specifics of this reality, its persistence fails to recognize the value of an integrated instructional approach, which combines instruction in specific academic content with opportunities to apply that content in the context of public service, civic engagement, or various careers and professions. Qualified counselors and teachers should work together to identify and nurture relationships with community-based agencies, using experiential education to enhance academic achievement, to illustrate the practical utility of learning different academic content, and to stimulate greater student persistence.
With certain notable exceptions (such as engineering, business, and computer sciences), the prospects for college graduates are only marginally better than those for high school graduates, with many bachelor's degree recipients accepting positions that require little of the knowledge and skills they have acquired in college. Many students do not fully avail themselves of career planning and placement services maintained by most campuses until their last couple of semesters, when graduation is eminent and employment is perceived as a necessity. Consequently, they lack the range of experiences that would enable them to tailor their search to employers that value the knowledge and skills in which they have developed the greatest proficiency. Employers report that, even with college graduates, they frequently have to provide additional education and training to ensure that new employees are able to fully carry out the responsibilities of their positions. A sobering reflection of the disjuncture between what education institutions provide to students and what employers require is the fact that business-sponsored education programs are now a multi-billion dollar enterprise nationally, and much of their instruction is not industry-specific.
A common component of the school-to-career concept in high schools and professional programs in postsecondary education institutions is the importance attached to creating opportunities to benefit from workplace learning experiences. These opportunities include structured linkages between businesses/professions, educators, community organizations, and other appropriate entities, which enable students to build relationships with professionals in the field and develop an understanding of how specific knowledge and skills are applied in a real-world context. The growing emphases on career academies in high schools, mentoring, and service learning throughout all education sectors reflect the value of these linkages.
A systemic school-to-career strategy would address the current gaps in K-12 education and provide a more coherent continuum, addressing academic, applied, and workforce competencies through an integrated instructional approach. Instruction in specific academic content, with opportunities to apply that content in the context of public service, civic engagement, or various careers and professions, would require counselors and teachers to work together to identify and foster relationships with community-based agencies and the workplace.
In application, the school-to-work concept envisions field trips to workplaces in the early to middle grades, job shadowing in the middle to high school grades, and internships at the high school and postsecondary education levels, to acquaint and engage students with the world of work. Rather than leaving such linkages to the initiative of individual teachers and institutions, California should encourage all education institutions to forge ongoing relationships and articulate both curriculum and teaching strategies with business and community organizations as an explicit expression of fulfilling their public service mission.