Posted on May 1, 2012 by Karen Gross

I had always thought of a crosswalk as that place in a road or street where there are markings designating where pedestrians can, more or less safely, walk from one side to another.  That seems to be close to the current dictionary definition too.

What I did not realize, until I arrive at the Department of Education, is that the noun “crosswalk” and the verb (yes, verb) “to crosswalk” have expanded meanings the public and private sectors that do not even show up in dictionaries.

As now used, crosswalk is a term deployed to describe a mechanism or approach to translating, comparing or moving between meta data standards ( or converting skills or content from one discipline to another.  While the term is commonly used in the context of data transfers (, the word “crosswalk” is increasingly used in the educational context; as states transition from their current curricula to the common core, they are creating crosswalks to showcase how to move from the old to the new.

Now that I better understand the term, I can see countless and important ways we can create crosswalks to improve the capacity of people to transition from high school to college and/or a career, from military life to civilian life, from the workforce to career training. The recently released CTE Blueprint showcases this effort.

Here are two examples of possible crosswalks specifically in the context of progression from high school to college that, if created and shared widely, should facilitate greater success in higher education, a key goal of the President and the Secretary of Education.

Consider a crosswalk that translates for high school students the personnel they are used to seeing and engaging with in their schools every day with the corresponding personnel who work at colleges. For positions for which there are no equivalencies, the document can describe or define the personnel whose roles might otherwise be a mystery to a newcomer. (The closeness or distance of the mapping could be revealed through a variant of the SKOS system.)

Some examples:  a high school principal is akin to a college president (although the latter is less frequently on campus); a high school assistant principal (often in charge of discipline and non-academic programs) is akin to the Dean of Students.  A vice-principal charged with teacher oversight and design of classes is matched to a Provost.  A registrar in a college would likely need to be defined in most instances – part advisor, part guidance counselor, part administrator.  As Cedric Jennings pointed out in Ron Suskind’s marvelous story of Cedric’s journey from a high school in Washington DC to Brown University, he had never even heard the word “registrar” when he landed on his chosen college campus.

Consider a crosswalk that showcases how high school classroom homework assignments (often done daily or on the chalk board) align with a sample semester-long college course syllabus.  Although these two items appear vastly different, there are ways to harmonize them to demonstrate key similarities, which if known, would ease the academic transition. To be sure, there are differences for which there is no easy equivalency and those, too, merit attention; these include nature and length of writing assignments and the quantum and quality of reading and proliferation of out of class work.

Distinguishing between the amount of work needed prepare for class in high school and college is key.  As revealed in the BCSSE, new college students often appreciate that the amount of work needed to prepare for college classes is greater than that for high school but they underestimate the collegiate workload.  If that shock could be mitigated through a crosswalk shared before arrival on a campus, the proverbial “deep hole” created in the first semester in college could be ameliorated.

As valuable as crosswalks are as stand-alone documents to ease transition and provide navigational signposts, they can also be used to inform larger systemic thinking about issues such as the alignment between high school and college curricula and cultural transitions that are masked by surface similarities when progressing within the educational system.

In short, crosswalking has much more to offer than providing a literal safety zone for getting from one side of the street to another.

If you have suggestion for a key crosswalk that could be created to facilitate college completion, please send it along.

Karen Gross is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary

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