According to the California Department of Education, nearly a third of our ninth-graders drop out before graduation. A third finish high school but lack the academic training and technical skills to succeed in college or in a career. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the remaining third graduate on time and move on to post-secondary education.
The shocking data indicates serious problems with our high schools. However, there is little consensus about what to do. Many solutions have been proposed over the years. They include ratcheting up of academic standards, college prep curriculum, smaller schools, charter schools, greater program accountability and performance-based fiscal incentives.
With sound implementation, most of these policies can yield good results. The problem has been that each of these solutions is offered in piecemeal fashion and, therefore, falls short of improving high schools.
A February 2011 Harvard report – “Pathways to Prosperity” – states that America’s high schools are wedded to a single pathway to college. The report suggests it makes better sense to provide diverse high school options for America’s youth. Gary Hoachlander, president of ConnectEd, has defined several principles underlying the implementation of multiple pathways for our high school students:
- A pathway should prepare students for the full range of post-secondary opportunities ranging from universities, four-year colleges, community colleges, apprenticeships, to formal employment training.
- A pathway should connect challenging academic courses to real-world experiences.
- A pathway must exhibit significant student accomplishments in academics, critical thinking, problem solving, communications, technological literacy, and cross-disciplinary fields necessary for success in the highly competitive global economy of the 21st century.
These principles have been adapted by ConnectEd (CEd) in their high-school improvement program known as Linked Learning: Pathways to College and Career Success. It acts as a hub for the Linked Learning field in California. It develops tools, supports demonstration projects, provides technical assistance, leads collaborations, and promotes pathways for preparing students for college and career success. The CEd Linked Learning pathway offers a multiyear program of study that has four key components. They include:
- An academic core required for admission to the CSU system – English, mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign language;
- Four or more technical courses;
- Work-based learning via mentoring, job shadowing and internships;
- Counseling and academic instruction supporting project-based learning.
CEd provides financial support, technical assistance and coaching for school districts in implementing Linked Learning pathway projects. They are currently working intensively with nine large California school districts: Antioch, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Montebello, Oakland, Pasadena, Porterville, Sacramento and West Contra Costa. The organization has awarded nearly $12 million in grants to school districts in California with support from The James Irvine Foundation. The school districts mentioned above have received implementation grants of more than $1 million each.
While Linked Learning is not the norm in California, it is a success in existing state-supported career academies in terms of higher passing rates in high school exit exams in the sophomore year, higher completion rates for challenging courses that prepare students for entry into the state college system, higher high school graduation rates, and higher income eight years after completing high school relative to their peers.
The good news is that Linked Learning has gained broad-based support in California. Linked Learning Alliance – a statewide coalition of a large number of education, business and community organizations – brings together a collective voice and effort to enhance access to Linked Learning.
In a recent conversation Gary Hoachlander said: “Within the next seven to 10 years, CEd’s goal is to make Linked Learning pathways available to at least half of the high school students in California. Precise numbers are hard to come by, but probably no more than 10 percent of California high school students are currently participating in high-quality pathways that meet the certification criteria we and our partners have developed for Linked Learning.”
With so much at stake for California we must be willing to implement successful models such as the one described above throughout our educational system quickly and effectively. Our high school students can’t wait – their future is at stake, too.