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Linked Learning: An Educational Trajectory with National Implications

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February 26, 2016 11:02 am

Linked Learning

Preparing all of California’s students, especially traditionally underserved students, for college and career after high school through multiple pathways became the mission of the James Irvine Foundation and other leaders across the state in 2005. This movement eventually became known as Linked Learning, an approach to high school redesign that encompasses four core elements:

  • rigorous academics,
  • career-based learning in the classroom,
  • work-based learning in professional settings, and
  • integrated student supports.

Although Linked Learning originally focused solely on high school students, the instructional model has morphed from a high school-based initiative to one that spans the educational trajectory, from elementary grades through college. As states examine their plans for preparing all students for college and career success in the wake of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), they can learn from the impact, reach, and opportunity that initiatives like Linked Learning present.

Recently, educators, employers, community-based organizations, and others convened at the second annual Linked Learning Convention in San Diego, California, to examine Linked Learning’s influence and explore ways to expand the approach nationwide. Nearly 1,000 representatives from eighteen states participated in the convention, which showcased best practices from the field and ways K–12, higher education, and business can collaborate to create Linked Learning pathways that prepare all students for college and careers after high school.

Linked Learning has impacted high school redesign nationally. Last fall, the White House recognized Linked Learning as a next generation high school initiative. The Linked Learning field also committed to support 310,000 high school students in high-quality career pathways by the year 2020, nearly doubling the number of students the effort currently supports. This is critical, as evidence shows that quality matters. Recent research from SRI International, a research center that evaluates Linked Learning annually, assessed the effect of pathway enrollment on students’ high school outcomes. The study finds that students enrolled in high-quality Linked Learning pathways are more likely to graduate from high school than other students.

Within the state of California, Linked Learning has had significant reach as well. During the past three years, the state has invested more than $1 billion in career and technical education (CTE), including career pathways, to expand efforts like Linked Learning statewide. Moreover, recent state policies favor the expansion and sustainability of the Linked Learning approach. A new local-control funding formula, for instance, provides additional funding to school districts that serve large populations of English language learners and students from low-income families, many of whom participate in Linked Learning pathways. Also, as regional communities consider what Linked Learning should look like in their part of the state, they are establishing formal partnerships like the Oakland Promise to align the efforts of K–12, postsecondary education, and employers.

Finally, provisions within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the reauthorized version of ESEA—offer states, districts, and schools a significant opportunity to expand high-quality high school redesign efforts like Linked Learning:

  • Under ESSA, state and district accountability plans must describe how the state will work with local educational agencies to transition students effectively between middle grades and high school and from high school to postsecondary education. States can accomplish this by integrating rigorous academics, CTE, and work-based learning under those plans.
  • School districts may use federal Title I funds to support experiential learning opportunities and work-based learning opportunities that provide students with in-depth interactions with industry professionals and academic credit, like those in the Linked Learning career pathways.
  • States and school districts may use federal professional development funds to create and implement instructional practices that support dual or concurrent enrollment programs and the integration of rigorous academics, CTE, and work-based learning, which benefits integrated professional development for teachers on Linked Learning pathways.
  • States may use up to 3 percent of their Title I funds for “direct student services,” including CTE course work aligned with a state’s rigorous academic standards that leads to an industry-recognized credential; advanced course work; and personalized learning.

Under these provisions and the increased flexibility ESSA provides, states and districts have the opportunity to explore innovative and inclusive approaches to preparing students for college and career readiness. Implementing promising and proven approaches like Linked Learning will ensure that all students are adequately prepared for a productive life after high school.

For additional information and resources about Linked Learning, visit the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Action Academy and complete the Linked Learning badge.

Monica Almond, PhD, is a policy and advocacy associate for comprehensive high school reform at the Alliance.

Every Student Succeeds Act

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