Building K-12/Higher Education Partnerships

October 31, 2016

Initial curators: Gavin Luter, Wisconsin Campus Compact


K-12 / Higher Education partnerships are perhaps the most pervasive form of community partnerships in higher education. In the early 1900s, for instance, educational philosopher John Dewey created laboratory schools at the University of Chicago as a place for pre-service teachers to learn teaching by actually doing it. For many years, universities have placed (and continue to place) pre-service teachers in classrooms across the United States. A call for increased university involvement grew out of the concerns raised by the A Nation at Risk report (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) and the subsequent Holmes Group Report (1986), which specifically called attention to the need for improved teacher preparation. Over the last 30 years, K-12 partnerships with higher education have expanded to many different areas that are discussed in this knowledge hub.

Holmes Group. (1986). Tomorrow’s teachers: A report of the Holmes Group. East Lansing, MI: Author.

National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983). A Nation at Risk. Washington, DC: United States Department of Education.

Key resources


  • Benson, L., Harkavy, I., & Puckett, J. (2007). Dewey’s dream: Universities and democracies in an age of education reform. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
  • Furco, A. (2013). Legitimizing community engagement with K-12 schools.  Peabody Journal of Education, 88(5), 622-636, DOI: 10.1080/0161956X.2013.835180
  • Goodlad, J. I. (1993). School–university partnerships and partner schools. Educational Policy 7(1), 24–39.
  • Labaree, D. F. (2004). The trouble with ed schools. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


(not always driven by a community engagement framework)

1. University-School-Community Partnerships for School Improvement (urban school emphasis)


  • Grim, J., & Officer, S. (2010). George Washington Community High School: A community–university partnership success story. Universities and Community Schools, 8(1–2), 55–62.
  • Harkavy, I., Hartley, M., Axelroth Hodges, R., & Weeks, J. (2013). The Promise of university-assisted community schools to transform American schooling: A report from the field, 1985–2012. Peabody Journal of Education88(5), 525-540.
  • Luter, D. G., Lester, J. N., & Kronick, R. (2013). “Remember, it’s a pilot”: Exploring the experiences of teachers/staff at a university-assisted community school. The School Community Journal, 23(2), 161-184.
  • Taylor, H. L., & McGlynn, L. (2010). The “community as classroom initiative:” The case of Futures Academy in Buffalo, NY. Universities and Community Schools, 8(1–2), 31–45.
  • Zimpher, N. L., & Howey, K. R. (Eds.). (2004). University leadership in urban school renewal. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.


2. Curriculum or instructional reform / comprehensive school reform


  • Balfanz, R., & Mac Iver, D. (2000). Transforming high-poverty urban middle schools into strong learning institutions: Lessons from the first five years of the Talent Development Middle School. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR)5(1-2), 137-158.


3. Improve school leadership, such as principal preparation or leadership development


  • Sanzo, K. L., Myran, S., & Clayton, J. K. (2011). Building bridges between knowledge and practice: A university-school district leadership preparation program partnership. Journal of Educational Administration49(3), 292-312.

Organizations / Efforts:

4. Teacher preparation, professional development, professional development schools


  • Causton-Theoharis, J., Theoharis, G., Bull, T., Cosier, M., & Dempf-Aldrich, K. (2010). Schools of promise: A school district–university partnership centered on inclusive school reform. Remedial and Special Education. 32(3) 192-205.
  • Darling-Hammond, L. (1994). Professional development schools: Schools for developing a profession. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
  • Johnston, B., Wetherill, K., High, H., & Greenebaum, H. (2002). Teacher socialization: Opportunities for university-school partnerships to improve professional cultures. The High School Journal, 85(4), 23-39.


5. Central office improvement


  • Honig, M. I., & Ikemoto, G. S. (2008). Adaptive assistance for learning improvement efforts: The case of the Institute for Learning. Peabody Journal of Education83(3), 328-363.


6. Research endeavors of interest to school systems


  • Ehrlich, S.B., Gwynne, J.A., Pareja, A. S. & Allensworth, E. M. (2014). Preschool attendance in Chicago Public Schools: Relationships with learning outcomes and reasons for absences.  Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.  Retrieved from  
  • Preston, C., Goldring, E., Guthrie, J. E., & Ramsey, R. (2012). Conceptualizing essential components of effective high school.  Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Peabody College National Center for Scaling Up Effective Schools.  Retrieved from
  • Turley, R. N. L. & Stevens, C. (2015).  Lessons from a school district–university research partnership: The Houston Education Research Consortium.  Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(1), 6-15.  


7. College access


  • Núñez, A. M., & Oliva, M. (2009). Organizational collaboration to promote college access: A P-20 framework. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 8(4), 322-339.


8. Extended learning time and enrichment


  • Bosma, L. M., Sieving, R. E., Ericson, A., Russ, P., Cavender, L., & Bonine, M. (2010). Elements for successful collaboration between K8 school, community agency, and university partners: The Lead Peace partnership. Journal of School Health80(10), 501-507.
  • Luter, D. G., Lester, J. N., & Kronick, R. (2013). “Remember, it’s a pilot”: Exploring the experiences of teachers/staff at a university-assisted community school. The School Community Journal, 23(2), 161-184.
  • Nandan, M. (2010). Service learning partnership between university and school students: Experiential learning inspired through community research. Journal of College Teaching & Learning (TLC)7(7), 25-36.
  • Taylor, H. L., & McGlynn, L. (2010). The “Community as Classroom initiative:” The case of Futures Academy in Buffalo, NY. Universities and Community Schools, 8(1–2), 31–45.


9. Support Services


  • Walsh, M. E., Madaus, G. F., Raczek, A. E., Dearing, E., Foley, C., An, C., … & Beaton, A. (2014). A new model for student support in high-poverty urban elementary schools effects on elementary and middle school academic outcomes. American Educational Research Journal, 51(4), 704-737.
  • Walsh, M. E., & Backe, S. (2013). School–university partnerships: Reflections and opportunities. Peabody Journal of Education, 88(5), 594-607.
  • Lawson, H. A., & Briar-Lawson, K. (1997). Connecting the dots: Progress toward the integration of school reform, school, linked services, parent involvement, and community schools. Unpublished manuscript. Oxford, OH: Miami University, The Danforth Foundation, and the Institute for Educational Renewal. (ERIC No. ED 409 696)



For institutions looking to deepen their involvement with K-12 education, several organizations may be helpful in deepening this work:


Many different universities have established programs and nascent efforts to connect with K-12 schools.  Here is a short list of institutions who have attempted to take this work to the institutionalization level:

Other Useful Information

  • Internal vs External-to-School Reform Models: There is a difference (even a tension) in approaches to improving schools.  Should it be done from within the school (eg. Focus on curriculum / teacher / leadership reform)? Or should the reform efforts try to address external factors that impact school performance (e.g. neighborhood factors, such as housing, health, and crime/safety)? Universities have been involved in both kinds.  Models of comprehensive school reform mentioned above are associated with reforming internal-to-school factors (e.g. Talent Development and Success for All).  The university-assisted community schools (UACS) and universities involved with the Promise Neighborhood approaches have been increasingly trying to tackle the external-to-school factors. See Brighouse & Schouten (2011) and Luter (2015) for more information.
  • Service-Learning Across K-12 and Higher Education Contexts: Campus Compact and the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) have both been interested in advancing the community engagement framework in higher education and K-12 institutions, respectively.  K-12 partnerships often overlap with other content areas, such as environmental sustainability (see Vermont Campus Compact’s Knowledge Hub about Sustainability Education, authored by Kim Coleman)

Brighouse, H. & Schouten, G. (2011). Understanding the context for existing reform and research proposals. In Duncan, G. J., & Murnane, R. J. (Eds.) Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools, and children’s life chances (pp. 507-522). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Luter, D. G. (2015). Tensions and Contradictions in Approaches to Improving Urban Inner-City Schools in the United States. Challenges and Opportunities of Educational Leadership Research and Practice: The State of the Field and Its Multiple Futures. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

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