ERIC Identifier: ED465213
Publication Date: 2002-06-00
Author: Van de Water, Gordon - Krueger, Carl
Clearinghouse on Educational Management Eugene OR.
P-16 Education. ERIC Digest.
P-16 education is an integrated system of education stretching from early
childhood through a four-year college degree. Advocates of this innovation in
education governance believe it is growing in popularity because it is more
responsive to society's needs.
P-16 emphasizes continuity of student learning. In a time when student
progress from one level to the next needs to be easily understood and widely
supported, P-16 focuses on alignment across sectors, not isolation within
Worldwide, new information is being generated at an astounding rate. In
addition, demographics, technology, and global competition are putting stress on
our historical methods of organizing education. P-16 focuses on new structures
responsive to these current conditions, rather than maintaining the status quo.
The concept, however, is not without its critics. Some view P-16 as no more
than a passing fad, while others assert that it fails to address the problems
facing K-12 and higher education. Turf or money issues may explain some of this
opposition, but a lack of information about the strengths and challenges of a
P-16 system also contributes to skepticism surrounding the issue. This Digest
seeks to dispel some of the confusion regarding P-16 and stimulate discussion
about the future of education in the United States.
WHY IS P-16 EDUCATION IMPORTANT?
There is widespread agreement that all students in our schools and colleges
need to learn more to lead successful economic and civic lives as adults in the
21st century. Implicit in this consensus is the notion that the current system
is not capable of bringing this about. Consider these data points (Haycock and
* Fewer than three in ten teenagers think their school is "very academically
* "A" students in high-poverty schools score at the same level as "C" and "D"
students in affluent schools.
* Seventy-two percent of high school graduates go on to some form of
postsecondary education, yet only 44 percent have taken a college-prep
* Twenty-nine percent of college freshmen take one or more remedial courses
in reading, writing, or math.
* By age 24, 7 percent of young people from low-income families have
graduated from college, versus 48 percent from high-income families.
These are signs of a system under stress. This is not the first time our
country has faced a need for change.
Prior to 1920, a majority of the population worked on farms, and universal
public education was seen as necessary only through the elementary grades. In
1900, only 10 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds entered high school, and 8 percent
of the population were high school graduates (Snyder and Hoffman 2001).
By the middle of the 1920s the number of jobs involved in manufacturing and
commerce had exceeded those in agriculture. The new Industrial Age required
higher order literacy, and the pressure to expand universal education to include
high school began to build. By 1940, the number of 14- to 17-year-olds attending
high school had increased to 70 percent, and about one-half of those who entered
high school received diplomas (National Center for Education Statistics 2001).
The lesson that these statistics teach is that when the workplace demands
increased skills and knowledge, the public supports the extension of the
As the 21st century dawns, Americans are once again experiencing a profound
and rapid shift-from an Industrial Age to an Information Age. To secure their
future within the new workplace, young people now need the skills and knowledge
associated with at least two years of college. The minimum endpoint of education
is moving from grade 12 to grade 14, and most students hope to complete grade
Today's students understand the value of postsecondary education and skills:
more than 90 percent of high school graduates now expect to complete at least
some college, and more than 70 percent expect to receive a college degree
(Schneider and Stevenson 2000).
The role played by high schools in the 1940s and 1950s is now being played by
colleges and universities, and the patterns of attendance and graduation that
existed in high school during the 1930s and 1940s are now unfolding in higher
WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF P-16 EDUCATION?
P-16 education builds on previous work in standards, assessment, and
accountability. P-16 has two fundamental goals: (1) to raise the achievement
levels of all learners, and (2) to close the achievement gap among groups of
learners. While a variety of specific goals have been pursued, these five are
* Every child ready for school by age 6
* Every child proficient in reading by age 8
* Every child proficient in geometry and algebra by age 13
* Every learner completing a rigorous core curriculum by age 17
*Every learner expected to complete the first two years of college by age 21
To achieve these goals, a P-16 system stresses these factors: the use of
research to guide decisions about when and how children learn; a clearly
articulated set of high expectations; improvement of teaching quality; and the
use of data to measure progress.
Typical P-16 structural goals include the following:
* Starting universal public education at age three
* Smoothing transitions from one level of education to the next
* Moving from a Carnegie-unit system to a competency-based system
* Creating more flexible learning opportunities for adolescent learners
* Moving the accepted end point of public education from grade 12 to grade 14
Achieving these goals means grappling with a host of complex issues,
including standards, testing, teacher education, college admissions policies,
governance, funding streams, and institutional turf issues, to name just a few.
P-16 provides a framework for addressing these issues in a systematic way while
keeping the focus on learners.
WHAT ARE P-16'S STRENGTHS AND CHALLENGES?
A successful P-16 system will exhibit a number of strengths. Among them are:
* Inclusiveness - everyone expected to meet rigorous learning standards
* Alignment - of standards, curricula, expectations, assessments
* Support - for all learners as they strive to meet learning standards
* Removal of artificial barriers - especially those surrounding the
transition from high school to college (for example, high school exit
requirements, college entrance requirements, college placement assessments)
* Reductions in level of re-mediation - high expectations, clear standards,
and strong support services leading to better-prepared students able to meet
postsecondary expectations upon entry
A P-16 system will have to overcome several challenges before it exhibits the
strengths outlined above. These challenges include:
* Reliance on individual leaders: Early efforts are at risk of reverting to
old ways when key leaders burn out or move on.
* Too little time: Already struggling with constant demands, educators have
little time for "big picture" thinking or cross-level collaboration.
* Too much turf consciousness: Isolated boards, fractured funding processes,
disconnected policy decisions all reinforce turf boundaries and the status quo.
* Lack of evidence: Most P-16 efforts are too new to yield solid research
evidence of their impact on learning.
* Lack of a common language: New efforts require a new vocabulary; P-16 has
yet to settle on a vocabulary.
WHO'S DOING P-16 AND WHAT RESULTS ARE THEY GETTING?
Twenty-five states have already passed some form of P-16 legislation. P-16
can be implemented as either a "mega-bill" introducing broad, sweeping changes
or as a continuum of incremental changes. Incremental approaches build a P-16
system piece by piece. Over time, the pieces combine to create a comprehensive
P-16 system that is wholly different from its predecessor.
While most states are using the incremental approach, some have chosen a more
comprehensive strategy, addressing governance, finance, standards, assessments,
admissions, and program changes at all levels. The most notable example of this
approach is in Georgia, where former Governor Zell Miller created a P-16
initiative in 1995 that current Governor Roy Barnes renewed and expanded in
2000. Georgia leaders have seen the percentage of high school students taking a
rigorous core curriculum climb from 76 percent to 91 percent, average SAT scores
rise from 980 to 1030, and remediation levels drop by 50 percent.
More recently, Louisiana has initiated an ambitious P-16 effort. Early
returns indicate that an integrated system of education is leading to higher
student achievement: the percent of Louisiana's second- and third-graders
reading at or above grade level rose from 54 percent in 1998 to 72 percent in
2000, while the percentage of college freshmen taking remedial courses declined
from 53 percent in 1992 to 39 percent in 2000 (Louisiana State Department of
P-16 efforts also occur in regional contexts. A leading example is the El
Paso Collaborative for Academic Achievement, a decade-long cooperative effort
involving the community, schools, community college, and university in El Paso,
Texas. In 1992, El Paso had fifteen low-performing schools and no exemplary
schools on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. By 2000, the picture had
reversed: no low-performing schools and eighteen exemplary schools (Texas
Education Agency 2002).
Much more evidence is needed concerning what works in a P-16 system. Further
research is also needed on the impact of P-16 approaches on student achievement
and appropriate forms of governance and finance. Policymakers will continue to
debate issues such as when public education should begin and end, the merits of
a competency-based system, and the skills and knowledge required of every
educated citizen. P-16 provides a possible framework to address these issues in
both the statehouse and the schoolhouse.
Haycock, Kati, and Sandra Huang. "Are Today's
High School Graduates Ready?" Thinking K-16 5,1 (Winter 2001): 3-17.
Haycock, Kati; Craig Jerald; and Sandra Huang. "Closing the Gap: Done in a
Decade." Thinking K-16 5, 2 (Spring 2001): 3-22.
Kauerz, Kristie. Starting Early, Starting Now: A Policymaker's Guide to Early
Care & Education and School Success. Denver, Colorado: Education Commission
of the States, 2001. 27 pages. ED 457 973.
Kleiman, Neil Scott. Building a Highway to Higher Ed: How Collaborative
Efforts Are Changing Education in America. New York: Center for an Urban Future,
2001. 37 pages. ED 453 738.
Krueger, Carl. The Case for P-16 Education. Denver, Colorado: Education
Commission of the States, 2002. 8 pages.
Louisiana State Department of Education. "Louisiana's PK-16 Vision for
Education." Unpublished briefing booklet presented at Pathways to College
Louisiana Case Study, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, February 4-6, 2002.
Maeroff, Gene I.; Patrick M. Callan; and Michael D. Usdan (Eds.). The
Learning Connection: New Partnerships Between Schools and Colleges. New York:
Teachers College Press, 2001. 160 pages.
National Commission on the High School Senior Year. Raising Our Sights: No
High School Senior Left Behind. Princeton, New Jersey: The Woodrow Wilson
National Fellowship Foundation, 2001. 53 pages. ED 459 516.
Schneider, Barbara, and David Stevenson. The Ambitious Generation: America's
Teenagers, Motivated but Directionless. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University
Press, 1999. 360 pages. ED 430 176.
Snyder, Thomas, and Charlene M. Hoffman. Digest of Education Statistics 2000.
Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of
Education, 2001. 655 pages. ED 455 275.
Texas Education Agency. "2000 District Accountability Summary." Available
online at: http://www.tea.state.tx.us
Van de Water, Gordon, and Terese Rainwater. What Is P-16 Education? A Primer
for Legislators. Denver, Colorado: Education Commission of the States, 2001. 37
pages. ED 454 592.