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P-16 or P-20
  P-16 OR P-20
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High School
High School--Dual/Concurrent Enrollment
Postsecondary Academic Affairs--Developmental/Remediation/Placement
Postsecondary Institutions--Community/Technical Colleges
Postsecondary Participation--Access/Outreach
Teaching Quality

In a technological age, a student's ability to continue his or her education after high school is becoming more important. As Anthony Carnevale, of the Educational Testing Service, notes in Crossing the Great Divide, "Jobs today require more education. In 1959, 20% of workers needed some college; in 2000, 56% do" (Educational Testing Service, 2000). In response to this dramatic change and other developments, communities and states across the country are looking for ways to improve student achievement, access to and success in higher education. To do this, local communities and states are trying to create a "seamless system of education" in which all levels of education preschool through college educate as one system instead of several. These efforts most commonly are named K-16, P-16 or P-20 systems.

Although these education systems are similar in nature, there are some notable differences:

  • A K-16 system integrates a student's education from kindergarten through a four-year college degree.

  • A P-16 system integrates a student's education beginning in preschool (as early as 3 years old) through a four-year college degree.

  • A P-20 system expands the P-16 system to include graduate school education.

Regardless of the type of system a state or local community chooses, it is important to note that the goal is the same: to create a system of education that links and coordinates each education level into a seamless system fundamentally guided by the principle that success in college begins in prekindergarten.

The movement toward a P-16 model is driven by a current lack of coherence and alignment from preschool through college. Examples of this vacuum can be found at every level of education. According to the Education Commission of the States' report ABCs of Investing in Student Performance, children who attend a quality preschool program experience higher rates of graduation and enrollment in postsecondary institutions (1996). Yet there is little coordinated effort to link preschool instruction to elementary school instruction. At the elementary and middle school levels, the U.S. Department of Education's Mathematics Equals Opportunity reported that "students who take rigorous mathematics and science courses are much more likely to go to college than those who do not" (1997). Despite this information, college-preparation programs often begin as late as 9th grade.

In A Babel of Standards, Michael Kirst notes that high school students must decipher the maze of admissions-related tests and decisions. In the southeastern United States, for example, there are as many as 75 placement tests and more than 125 combinations of these exams (National Crosstalk, 2000). Finally, at the postsecondary level, colleges and universities increasingly are placing recent high school graduates in remedial math, language and science courses. The Condition of Education 2000 by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that students who take any remedial reading courses are less likely to earn a two- or four-year degree than those who take other combinations of remedial courses. The trend toward remedial coursework in postsecondary education is not only expensive for individual states, but also disturbing in light of new state standards and assessments.

Ultimately, the goal of P-16 reform is to create, as Harold Hodgkinson wrote in All One System, "a single system of education underlying all of the segments" (Institute for Educational Leadership, 1999). As the Consortium for Policy Research in Education said, the time has come to end the long history in American education of segments acting "independently and at cross-purposes from one another" (June 2000).


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