Most of the action in American educational policy happens in the states. Their governments are primarily responsible for elementary and secondary education, and the vast majority of students in the United States attend public institutions that are also funded and governed primarily at the state level. So any efforts to improve the interaction between the public schools system and higher education, and to ease the transition of students from one to another to ensure their academic success, will live and die largely at the state level.
While state policy makers and educators have ramped up their rhetoric about creating a seamless system of "K-16" education, a report  to be released today suggests that states' nascent efforts to actually do so are often impeded by the state's own structures and policies.
"The Governance Divide: A Report on a Four-State Study on Improving College Readiness and Success," by three education research organizations, finds that "states have created disjointed systems with separate standards, governing entities, and policies. As a result, they have also created unnecessary and detrimental barriers between high school and college -- barriers that undermine students’ aspirations and their abilities to succeed."
The National Center for Public Policy on Higher Education, the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research, and the Institute for Educational Leadership collaborated on the report. By looking at the situations in four states -- Florida, Georgia, New York and Oregon -- the authors draw overarching conclusions about four major areas in which state policies cause problems:
- Alignment of Courses and Assessments. Too often, states have one set of requirements for what students need to know and achieve to graduate from high school and to succeed in college. Because high school graduation standards and college entrance and placement requirements are not aligned, "many students enter college unable to perform college-level work."
- Finance. The states in the study generally have not crafted policies for financing education that recognize the necessary interconnection of elementary, secondary and higher education. "While some of the states we studied had financial incentives for K–16 reform, none of them truly had a K–16 system of funding that reduced territorialism and friction between the sectors." This is true in part, the report says, because in many states, different legislative committees are responsible for allocating funds to lower and higher education.
- Data Systems. Most state education computing and data systems are set up for a particular branch of education -- the public schools, community colleges, or four-year institutions. Policy makers and the public can only gain a truly clear understanding of how states do at helping students achieve their educational goals if they coordinate those data systems so that individual students can be tracked throughout all education levels, the report says. Florida has made significant progress on this score, the report says, but Oregon and New York lag.
- Accountability. States need to connect their accountability systems for K-12 and postsecondary education, the report says. Currently, accountability systems are usually designed for either K-12 or postsecondary education without much attention to the interface between the two.
"This study outlines concrete policy changes states can put into place, and stresses the importance of both system working together," says Andrea Venezia, co-author of the report and senior policy analyst at the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.