THINK OF HIGHER and elementary-secondary education in Maryland as two highways terminating on opposite sides of a river.
For years there's been sporadic ferry service. Now, at last, they're talking about building a bridge.
The principal architects -- state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, University of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg and Higher Education Secretary Patricia S. Florestano -- held a historic summit in Baltimore yesterday. The meeting was on Dr. Grasmick's side of the river. But never mind -- it had to be somewhere. And reforms in elementary-secondary education during Dr. Grasmick's tenure prompted yesterday's summit.
In the lower grades -- called K-12 -- Dr. Grasmick's school performance program has serious implications for higher education. So do the state's plans to require high school graduates to pass competency tests in the basic subjects.
As it is, slightly less than half of Maryland high school graduates are eligible -- by dint of courses taken and other requirements -- for admission to schools in the University of Maryland System. Dr. Grasmick's reforms are raising the standards. One of the purposes of the bridge, according to the participants yesterday, is to make sure that the standards for high school graduation jibe with those for college admission.
One state, one education system, K-16.
"We want to remove the barriers that have separated us," Dr. Florestano said.
"What's sauce for the K-12 goose is sauce for the higher education gander," Dr. Langenberg said.
But which colleges will be "aligned" with high school graduation standards? The open-admissions community colleges or the selective four-year public universities? And how will K-12 reforms and an expected 20 percent increase in higher education enrollment by 2002 affect college remedial programs?
Slightly more than a third of Maryland high school graduates who entered college in the 1993-1994 school year (the last for which statistics are available) needed remedial work in mathematics, 23 percent in English, 18 percent in reading. Nearly half of the community college students required math remediation that year, and a third needed help in English.
These statistics raise a host of questions, some of them philosophical. Should students who can't do college work be graduated from high school? Thomas B. Finan Jr., a member of the UM Board of Regents, raised a question yesterday with which many in higher education are uncomfortable: "Are we urging too many people to go on to higher education? Are we bringing too many people into the [college] system who may not have any hope of getting through it?"
Dr. Langenberg said remedial education will be one of the most complex of subjects taken up by the new "Maryland Partnership for Teaching and Learning, K-16." In the end, he said, the planners might call for "radical" solutions, such as taking the University of Maryland out of the remedial business. Or perhaps turning remediation over to a private firm. Sylvan Learning Systems, the Baltimore-based tutoring company, is doing so on an experimental basis at Howard Community College.
There are other intriguing questions. Higher education trains the teachers of lower education, but, ironically, it doesn't do much for its own teachers. Can Maryland's elementary and secondary teachers help their peers in the colleges and universities -- and vice versa?
"We must be bold," Dr. Grasmick said.
About 1 million students are on both sides of the river, on whom public and private sources spend about $7 billion a year. The wonder is that it took so long to span the stream. The evolution of a math problem (author unknown):
1960 -- A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is four-fifths of this price. What is his profit?
1970, traditional math -- A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is four-fifths of this price, in other words, $80. What is his profit?
1970, new math -- A logger exchanges set L of lumber for a set M of money. The cardinality of set M is 100, and each element is worth $1. Make one hundred dots representing the elements of the set M. The set C is the subset of M. What is the cardinality of the set P of profits?
1980 -- A logger sells a truckload of wood for $100. His cost of production is $80, and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.
1990, outcome-based education -- By cutting down beautiful forest trees, a logger person makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? In your group, discuss how the forest birds and squirrels feel and write an essay about it.