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Convergence of K-12 and Higher Education: Policies and Programs in a Changing Era

reviewed by Julie Dillon & Vachel Miller

coverTitle: Convergence of K-12 and Higher Education: Policies and Programs in a Changing Era
Author(s): Christopher P. Loss & Patrick J. McGuinn (Eds.)
Publisher: Harvard Education Press, Boston
ISBN: 1612509827, Pages: 304, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

Does it still make sense to conduct policy analysis in education by sector, with K-12 and higher education walled off from one another? In an accountability-driven era governed by public anxiety about educational quality and economic competitiveness, what’s to gain from expanding our analytic vision to move across the K-16 and public/private provision?


In Convergence of K-12 and Higher Education: Policies and Programs in a Changing Era, Loss and McGuinn argue that a myriad of factors, including governance, funding, accountability, technology, and aspirational visions of college for all, have accelerated convergence between educational sectors. This convergence calls for a new approach to policy/program studies that analyze changes in one sector in relation to the other. Through their edited collection, Loss and McGuinn “aim to erase the intellectually expedient but artificial boundary that several generations of scholars and policymakers have erected between K-12 and higher education” (p. 19). Their text maps the forces and effects of convergence in a highly productive manner for researchers and practitioners.


How is that convergence happening in practice? We offer one illustration from our location as faculty teaching in the higher education system in North Carolina. Recently, the President of the University of North Carolina, the Acting President of the North Carolina Community Colleges, and the State Superintendent of Public Schools joined together to create a commission named “My Future North Carolina” to generate a cross-sector vision for education in the state and increase the number of people with postsecondary credentials in light of the state’s changing demographic profile. The formation of this commission and the reasons given for its inception are illustrative of the ideas presented in Loss and McGuinn’s volume.

The book begins with Loss and McGuinn’s introductory essay, which provides context for policy/program convergence grounded in the watershed federal legislation of the 1960s. The editors also sketch the theoretical framework of convergence theory, while emphasizing the importance of appreciating enduring differences and distinctions between sectors.


The first two chapters examine convergence regarding governance and finance. Dougherty and Henig outline major ways the two sectors have converged: increased councils/boards that oversee both sectors, less local influence over education, the growth of political actors having more decision-making authority, and increasing privatization in both sectors.


In Chapter Three, Nelson and Strohl examine how funding for both sectors has changed. Political and economic changes have moved K-12 closer to privatization by allocating funds to be given to the individual rather than the institution. They point out that the original goal of this funding was to increase educational access among underserved populations. However, due to changing perceptions and political decisions, the goal has shifted to improving educational outcomes for all students, which may leave some underserved populations behind.


In Chapter Four, Shober discusses the disconnect between educators and politicians regarding the role of education. Claiming that educators are committed to the community and value of education, whereas “most contemporary American politicians… see education as a product to be acquired by an individual student” (p. 71), Shober elucidates the philosophical divide between these two groups. Somewhat different from Shober, in Chapter Five, Goldhaber and Brown discuss the value teachers place on student achievement and the resulting drive to assess teacher performance.


Later chapters focus more on students. Rosenbaum, Ahearn, Ng, and Lansing address the convergence of K-12 and higher education by examining the effects of the College for All (CFA) movement on higher education, and on community colleges in particular. They discuss the changing role of colleges, namely that they’ve taken on the responsibility of career preparation, which was formerly the domain of high schools. The authors argue that this illustrates the need for K-12 outcomes and higher education placement requirements to align with one another. Chapter Seven provides examples of different reforms and programs addressing this need for convergence to better serve students and taxpayers, citing the pitfalls of the Florida College and Career Readiness Initiative (FCCRI) and the successes of Harper College’s work with local high schools to help students transition into college.


Loss and McGuinn conclude the book by summarizing why they believe that convergence “encourages scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to approach education as a single continuum to better deliver on the promise of improved education for all” (p. 228). They point out that convergence is manifest in “normative convergence” (p. 225) around K-16 system-wide goals; in convergence of policy directions; and in convergence of programmatic initiatives to achieve system-wide goals. Importantly, they also caution against over-theorizing convergence, so as to not lose sight of continued sites and forces of differentiation.


Overall, the book delivers on its objective to reframe the scope of educational policy analysis and serve as a generative springboard for provocative questions about cross-sectoral histories and the workings of educational legislation, policy dialogue, and programmatic reforms. The conclusion of the book also advances a provocative set of policy proposals, including merging federal/state agencies engaged in K-12 and higher education, as well as the reconceptualization of educational scholarship to be more cross-sectoral and integrative.


Given the broad questions the book opens, it is inevitably limited in its sampling of the many possible lines of inquiry arising from its analytic perspective. We might like to see, for example, further sharp-edged inquiry into social justice questions across sectors and policy convergences around issues of race, class, gender, and sexual identities. In her chapter, Cynthia Miller-Idriss provides a compelling account of how international policy discourses of economic competitiveness and global citizenship, for example, have shaped (often in invisible ways) policy discourses in the U.S., with both convergent and differential effects across sectors. Given the dynamic nature of K-16 activity internationally, it was disappointing that the book contained only one chapter exploring issues of globalization, an under-theorized dimension of convergence in the volume. Richer examples of cross-sector policy dynamics from other countries would make for a powerful follow-up contribution. The book could also serve as a platform for gathering an array of practitioner-based perspectives on convergence, i.e., how convergence looks and feels on the ground for practitioners working in sector-spanning institutions such as early colleges and college access programs.


Overall, Loss and McGinn’s book successfully launches a robust analytic platform for cross-sectoral policy analysis, arguing that in our era of the Common Core and College for All, educational policy thinking that limits itself to either side of the sectoral divide is impoverished. Efforts to make sense of the ever-expanding array of educational actors and providers will greatly benefit from the insights collected in this volume.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22534, Date Accessed: 11/20/2018 11:50:49 PM

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