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Filling a Need: UW Lends Strengths to K-12 Education

Some consider it a social obligation. Some might call it savvy politics. And others say it is a UW tradition going back to the founding of the institution. But all would agree that the University of Washington has sharpened its focus on K-12 education.

The hub of the effort is the Office for Educational Partnerships led by Vice Provost Louis Fox. In a 1999 report to the Board of Regents, Fox's office identified five major initiatives—two that already existed and three at the starting gate—designed to support the process of K-12 reform. A sixth has since been added.

The initiatives match academic strengths of the University with specific public school needs, says Fox. Guided by advisory boards, the initiatives use the University's resources to offer training, research and technical assistance to K-12 educators in partnership with the public school system, parents, community members and business leaders.

Fox's report followed a series of strategic planning sessions by the regents centered on enhancing K-12 education. UW President Richard L. McCormick says there are several reasons why the University felt compelled to strengthen its support for public schools.

For one thing, the Legislature continually asks what the University of Washington is doing for K-12 schools, says McCormick. For another, supporting the public school system is a matter of "enlightened self-interest," since the system produces most of the University's students. Finally, says McCormick, a public research university such as the UW has both the ability and responsibility to help tackle problems facing society from crime to the environment to K-12 education.

Fox says various people and programs at the University have long supported K-12 education. Teaching certificates were among the first degrees the UW conferred. The College of Education was established in 1878 and has trained thousands of K-12 teachers who work in the state's public schools.

Today's efforts will bring an institutional commitment to new areas where the University believes it can have the greatest impact. Besides the Institute for K-12 Leadership, the public school initiatives consist of:

  • The K-12 Institute for Science, Math and Technology Education—supports mastery of inquiry-based science for all children.
  • Technology Initiatives—promotes fluency in information technology for all students and enhances education through the use of technology.
  • The Center for Mind, Brain and Learning—researches how the human brain acquires, encodes and processes information.
  • The John Stanford International School—helps the Seattle Public School District prepare students to live in an international community.
  • The K-12 Arts Initiative—links university arts programs with those in the community.

—Brad Broberg

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