The reforms to which Ms. Chamberlin and Mr. Plucker refer are P-16 Initiatives –state efforts to improve success for students at every level, preschool through college. Nebraska was one of the early-adopters among the 30 states that currently have such initiatives, launching Nebraska P-16 in 1998.  But as in the nation at large, many people still are unaware of the program.

The P-16 movement emerged in the late 1990s when national leaders concluded that cooperation among all education sectors was required to address the lack of sufficient progress in improving student achievement.  These leaders recognized that any one sector, acting alone, could not affect the systemic changes needed to markedly improve student success. 

One such leader was Don Langenberg, Chancellor of the University of Maryland, who in 1997 called for a meeting of university presidents and state chief state school officers.  Former Nebraska Commissioner of Education Doug Christensen and then University of Nebraska President Dennis Smith attended the meeting and subsequently held a statewide retreat for leaders in the respective sectors of education. Those leaders responded positively, joining to form a steering committee to provide direction for the initiative.

Over the next half-dozen years, the Nebraska P-16 Initiative:

  • Increased the dialogue among Nebraska’s education sectors, public and private
  • Sponsored a series of statewide conferences which featured national speakers and highlighted best-practices in Nebraska
  • Distributed literature promoting rigorous high school courses to eighth-grade students and their parents
  • Produced curriculum-alignment materials in math, language arts and world languages
  • Sent teams to participate in regional and national P-16 meetings
  • Collaborated with a variety of other organizations (including NCSA) to help improve education at all levels

Beginning in 2003, with the passage of Legislative Resolution 174 by the Nebraska Unicameral, later reinforced by LR 75 in 2005, it became clear that the issue of student success had broad and serious implications not only for the welfare of the students themselves but for the economic competitiveness of Nebraska.  Both resolutions called for:

  • Increasing the number of students who go to college (two or four-year)
  • Increasing the percentage who graduate
  • Reducing and eventually eliminating the net out-migration of college-educated Nebraskans

These legislative resolutions demonstrated a growing awareness among political leaders that a well-educated workforce is essential to compete successfully in a knowledge-based economy.

This was not news to the new president of the University of Nebraska, Nebraska-native J.B. Milliken who replaced Dennis Smith in August 2004.  Milliken had been a vice president in the University of North Carolina System which had been instrumental in turning around that state’s economy by working closely with that state’s education, government and business leaders.

In early 2005, Milliken called for the Nebraska P-16 Initiative to be reorganized to include business and state government in leadership roles.  He also called for involvement of organizations representing minorities to help emphasize the need for educational success for disadvantaged Nebraska students.

Governor Dave Heineman, who succeeded to office in January 2005, lent his support to the renewed Nebraska P-16 Initiative and urged involvement of key government agencies in its leadership.

Over the next several months, a new organizational structure emerged, co-chaired by then Commissioner Christensen, Liz Fieselman, President and CEO of the EducationQuest Foundation and President Milliken.  View the structure and member organizations here.

With the arrival of Marty Mahler as Executive Director of Nebraska P-16 in July 2007, an intensive effort was launched to engage the leaders of all of the above organizations in creation of a Nebraska P-16 Strategic Plan to clarify the Initiative’s goals.

The plan calls for an effort to engage communities across Nebraska in the initiative by establishing regional P-16 councils which will identify issues and implement solutions at the local level.  The councils also would increase public understanding of the need for all students to seek education beyond high school.

A P-16 Communication Committee would be formed to establish a statewide plan to reach parents, students and community leaders with key messages that provide information in formats that are easily understood. Nebraskans need to know that there is a collaborative effort to improve our students’ success by addressing educational challenges that have stood in their way.

There is also a need for a comprehensive P-16 data system in Nebraska to support data-driven decision-making when we attempt to make improvements in the educational system.  This data system would probably not be a new built-from-scratch system, but one that links existing systems such as the Student and Staff Record System currently being implemented by the Nebraska Department of Education and the Student Information System which will soon be developed by the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska State College System. Other data systems that track employment and labor trends could also be included. Keeping abreast of emerging research and studies also is important to Nebraska decision-makers to identify effective practices both nationally and within Nebraska.

One of the key indicators of Nebraska P-16’s success will be the college-going rate for both two-year and four-year institutions.  Governor Heineman and other state leaders have indicated Nebraska should be among the top 10 states in this measure (we’re currently 17th).  This will take collaboration among the K-12 schools, community and state colleges and the University of Nebraska.  Some efforts are already being made in this area, including the KnowHow2GONebraska campaign launched last year, which reaches out to middle-school students and their parents to clarify the importance of college-going and how to prepare.

Finally, like any ambitious project, Nebraska P-16 will need more resources. The current baseline budget from state government and sponsoring organizations is critically important to maintaining its current staff and supporting its operations.  Building regional councils and supporting their efforts to take on critical issues in education across Nebraska will require substantially higher funding levels.  Nebraska P-16 intends to seek grants from federal and private sources to support this effort.

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