With 14 percent of the nation’s students and 20 percent of low-income students in California, the state’s educational performance has implications for the entire country. That’s why I was excited about what I saw recently at Porterville Unified School District, a predominantly poor and Latino district in Tulare County that is using a comprehensive educational approach called “Linked Learning” to increase graduation and college-going rates.
The timing couldn’t be more appropriate as California – and 40 other states – continue to implement the Common Core standards, a set of academic guidelines designed to provide all students with the essential elements to succeed in a 21st-century global economy, including critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, effective communication and self-directed learning.
I saw these critical ingredients at Porterville’s Monache and Harmony Magnet High Schools on a visit with U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle and other federal and local policymakers. While some schools are geared toward getting students ready for either college or a career, the Linked Learning approach prepares students to succeed in both.
Linked Learning students choose classes based on topics that interest them, such as health care, performing arts and engineering. These pathways are grounded in four core components: rigorous academics, career-based classroom learning, learning in workplaces and personalized support.
Linked Learning courses challenge students to apply what they learn at school during internships and job shadowing. In Porterville, we heard local business leaders say that Linked Learning students are better prepared for work than their peers.
The results are convincing. Compared to their peers, Linked Learning students across California are 9 percentage points more likely to be on track at the end of 10th grade to complete the requirements for admission to California’s public university systems. Linked Learning students are also 9 percentage points more likely to enroll in two- or four-year colleges.
For these reasons and others, California has invested heavily in Linked Learning, making it a leader and a pioneer of innovation. More than 30 Linked Learning pathways are aligned with California’s 15 major industry areas. And through the Legislature’s leadership, California has committed $500 million to expand Linked Learning.
Since the 2009 launch of nine pilot districts, Linked Learning results show promising signs. For instance, Sacramento City Unified School District has worked hard to develop strong advocates for Linked Learning and has set a goal of having a 50 percent Linked Learning enrollment among high school students by 2015.
Collectively, the nine pilot districts serve more than 315,000 of the roughly 2 million high school students in California public schools. More than three-quarters of these students are non-white and over half are disadvantaged.
Imagine the impact on low-income communities nationwide if every class of high school seniors graduated equipped to excel in college or ready to start a career. Through Linked Learning, California is helping to lay that foundation for its students. The rest of the nation should take notice.
Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.