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How Four California High Schools are Preparing Students for College and Career

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November 03, 2010 08:00 pm

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Discussions around student success are no longer about academic proficiency, but college and career readiness. This comes from a recognition that students need more than a basic understanding of concepts to be prepared for success in the global economy. They need knowledge that is aligned to postsecondary standards and must be able to apply that knowledge to solve real-world problems.  The question is, ‘what does teaching and learning look like in schools that are delivering on this promise?’LLSiteVisitsBlog

Last month, I had a chance to visit four schools in California that are using an approach called Linked Learning to prepare their students to succeed in postsecondary and career opportunities. Linked Learning is a strategy that integrates four components: rigorous academics aligned to post-secondary standards; a career and technical education theme; work based learning; and supplemental services. These schools are located in four different school districts and each apply the Linked Learning approach in a different way. The four schools are:

• Health Professions High School, a small themed high school in Sacramento;
• the Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART), a magnet program in Fresno;
• the School of Digital Media and Design (DMD), a small themed school that shares a campus with other small themed schools in San Diego;
• and the Architecture Construction and Engineering (ACE) Academy, a career academy in Long Beach.

While the schools implemented the reform strategies in different ways, they shared common themes with regards to teaching and learning.

From a teaching standpoint, teachers at these schools worked much more closely together to facilitate a more interdisciplinary and coherent experience for students. For example, at CART three teachers across different disciplines taught in a common classroom. The teachers worked together on a common curriculum and facilitated learning across disciplines through a project-based learning approach. At DMD and Health Professions, we were able to sit in on professional learning community meetings where teachers discussed curriculum, student challenges with learning, outcomes they would work towards, and professional development opportunities that they needed. Also, in each school more was asked with regards to time and commitment from teachers and in return teachers had a greater say in the types of learning experiences their students were provided. As a result teachers worked harder and seemed to be more satisfied in the work they were doing.

Along with different teaching came different learning experiences for students.  Passive learning experiences were not the norm at any of these schools. Instead, students were constantly asked to apply academic concepts to real life projects and in many cases participated in internships with real businesses and community partners. For example, students at DMD were called to use knowledge from different disciplines to inform the community about water issues that the community was confronting.

My experience at these schools made me realize that when it comes to a college and career ready education, we can’t simply be talking about a semantic shift. For schools that are doing it right, teaching and learning looks quite different. As we look towards federal policy, we need to think more comprehensively about what these schools are doing right and how policy can remove obstacles to and provide incentives for expanding this work.

If you want to find out more about what the federal government can do to support strategies like Linked Learning please refer to the Linked Learning Pathways Affording College and Career Success Act introduced by Congresswoman Judy Chu. The bill provides for a grant program that creates similar opportunities for students to have a truly rigorous and relevant education. And to learn more about the Linked Learning initiative in California, check out Preparing Students for College and Career: Linked Learning in California or watch the Alliance’s recent webinar on Building the Capacity of Teachers to Prepare Students for College and Careers.

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