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Multiple Pathways in California Prepares High School Students for College and Career

Press Release:

Multiple Pathways in California Prepares High School Students for College and Career

Innovative Approach to Improve Student Success after High School Can Provide Lessons to the Rest of the Nation

Washington, DC–An innovative high school reform strategy in California combines rigorous college preparation with workplace exposure in an effort to improve student engagement, academic achievement, and success after high school, according to an issue brief on the California Multiple Pathways effort released today by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“Today’s workforce demands a new approach to high school education and California’s multiple pathways approach offers a smart solution: education directly linked to the state’s and region’s economic needs,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “This approach provides students with a learning experience that recognizes the demands—and importance— of college and career while preparing students for the full range of opportunities available after high school without limiting them to a particular career path.”

According to the Alliance’s brief, Preparing Students for College and Career: California Multiple Pathways, California’s approach differs from the “Multiple Pathways to Graduation” approach that has gained popularity in New York City. The New York City version is a districtwide recuperative strategy that is designed to offer multiple, nontraditional high school options based on data about student needs and reasons for dropping out of school. Meanwhile, the California Multiple Pathways approach is a comprehensive high school reform strategy used across the state that is characterized by a college-prep curriculum, a technical core organized around an industry theme, additional help for students, and workplace learning opportunities.

The multiple pathways movement in California was developed in response to the state’s struggle with dropout rates, adolescent literacy, and achievement gaps, and garners strong support from state leadership and numerous stakeholders. Although the approach is still evolving, the fundamental idea has remained consistent: engaging technical classes and opportunities that allow students to experience the workplace environment combined with academically rigorous coursework that students need to graduate career and college ready. Each program is set in the context of a major industry sector such as arts or medical technology and integrates academic instruction with a demanding technical curriculum and work-based learning experiences.

The brief details the multiple pathways effort and cites three reasons why it is has the potential to improve student outcomes:

  • Applied learning. Research has proven that many people learn better when they are taught concepts in context.
  • Academic-technical integration. When teachers collaborate to integrate subject matter across all disciplines, it can result in positive student outcomes.
  • Engagement and real-world context. The relevance of coursework is important to student motivation and engagement.


“With the multiple pathways approach in California, there is no longer a gap between what a student learns in the classroom and what they learn on the job,” said Wise. “The curriculum is designed to bridge that gap and foster real life applications of key concepts as they relate to an industry theme.”

By understanding how academic concepts are valuable in work-based scenarios, students feel directly involved in their education and career path. For example, students participating in a construction, architecture, and engineering focus pathways program at the Stanley E. Foster Construction Tech Academy in San Diego were asked to bid on the construction of a theme park for a team project. Students applied key academic and communication skills to create a business plan, get a design approved, and build a physical model. A recent survey of the academy’s alumni showed that every student from the Class of 2008 went on to enroll in some form of postsecondary training.

The brief pinpoints several challenges to implementing pathways reform including hiring and training qualified teachers, administrators, and leaders. It can also be difficult to foster a culture of teacher collaboration, especially between academic and career-technical teachers. Securing funding to cover the various costs associated with pathways programs can be another major obstacle and is further complicated during times of economic downturns or recession. To meet funding needs, administrators must draw on a variety of local, state, and federal funding streams in addition to donations from businesses and communities. Other impediments stem from the difficulties of aligning policies designed for traditional academic and technical policy and practice.

“The nation has much to learn from the efforts underway in California around multiple pathways,” said Wise. “Secretary Duncan’s call to innovate and an unprecedented influx of federal funding offers a unique opportunity for cross-cutting programs like multiple pathways to receive the support, funding, and flexibility needed to thrive and serve students—not just in California but everywhere. As early results from multiple pathways have demonstrated, this approach can help solve problems that are national in scope, particularly high school graduates’ underpreparedness for college and employer dissatisfaction with recent graduates.”

Preparing Students for College and Career: California Multiple Pathways can be found here.

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life. For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit

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