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The Dialogue


Is the P-16 seamless web of education desirable?


higher ed and K-12 teachers together must create the seamless web of education.

Theresa Montaño

A seamless web of public education from P-16 is not only desirable, it is a necessity—but, one that should not be driven solely by the K-12 system.

As a minority professor from an impoverished community, I have always argued that education is a continuous journey one embarks upon as a child and completes only when she/he is able to find a job or career that assures him/her some semblance of economic stability. Only when everyone has such an opportunity can we argue that our educational system is equitable and of the highest quality.

For this to happen, an academically rigorous public school curriculum should be afforded every student, but not at the expense of the academic freedom or academic rigor found in higher education. For example, the current testing frenzy in K-12 and the focus on scripted curriculum have created a situation where college faculty syllabi are driven by the narrow focus in K-12. College professors are unable to engage their students in reflective dialogue or debate or in-depth examination of their disciplines. We should reverse the trend. If the K-12 curriculum were driven by higher education, our students might become more critical thinkers and better problem solvers. Certainly, our K-12 colleagues would enjoy an opportunity to engage in the art of teaching.

If we are truly dedicated to improving the quality of teaching and learning in P-16, teachers—college and K-12—must lead the efforts to construct the P-16 system! It is only when those who are closest to the students engage in a real exchange of ideas that we will develop the common language necessary to remove barriers and create a real P-16 system.

Theresa Montaño, an associate professor in Chicana/o Studies at California State University Northridge, is president of the California Faculty Association chapter at CSU Northridge. She is also a higher education at-large member of the NEA Board of Directors.


a seamless web of public education would destroy the uniqueness of public colleges.

Thad Russell

I don’t believe that a P-16 seamless web of public education is desirable or feasible because, in my opinion, this approach limits the academic creativity and diversity that exists at the undergraduate level.

Academic individuality creates unique institutions that provide choices for students. A P-16 system might cause students to view differences solely upon extracurricular functions because of a lack of academic uniqueness. Academic uniqueness would therefore only be recognizable between private institutions. This could cost large, public, research institutions a sizable portion of endowments and grants—because of this lack of individuality. This would drive an even greater wedge between public and private higher education.

Consider also how early in the educational process students would need to make a career choice. If students know by the time they reach middle school what they want to be “when they grow up,” then maybe they could jump into a P-16 track and follow that career through college. But I think that's a very rare student.

It may sound good on the surface, but the concept of a seamless web of education is a daunting one in itself. If a student is to truly transition smoothly from high school to college, then curriculum would need to closely map across those levels. Currently, even math and humanities curricula don’t necessarily transition well between universities, to say nothing of the disparity between two-year and four-year institutions.

Ensuring that every high school curriculum seamlessly transitions to any higher education institution would create a near oppressive level of administrative oversight at the secondary, post-secondary, state, regional and even national levels.

Thad Russell is an instructor in Information and Network Technology at Manhattan Area Technical College. He serves on Kansas NEA’s Higher Education Task Force and is currently a member of NEA’s Higher Education Emerging Leaders Academy.

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