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Transforming the High School Experience through Linked Learning

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October 01, 2013 02:42 pm

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Linked Learning

For decades now, disgruntled and dismayed parents, lawmakers, researchers, and the general public have criticized the American public school system for its inability to adequately meet the needs of poor and minority students. Many argue that dismal performance of all students, especially low-income and minority students has become the norm. The data certainly seem to support it: African American and Hispanic students have low K-12 academic achievement, poor four-year high school graduation rates, and very low college completion rates.

In a highly competitive and technology-driven country like the United States, one would think that indicators such as these would set off alarms, resulting in a resurgence of movements comparable to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. In a recent interview, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal asserted that this is indeed a civil rights issue, “When it comes to the American dream, I think the next civil rights fight is really about making sure that every child has a great education”.

However, a quick scan of the front pages of any major newspaper immediately dispels this notion.  It is a rare moment when the media provides meaningful and sustained coverage of the challenges confronting our American education system, the children within the system, or what our collective failure to improve the system means for the nation.

Despite this doom and gloom there are some rays of light peeking through the ominous clouds that are transforming the high school experience—at least for students in the Golden State.  Over the last several years the James Irvine Foundation has invested millions into changing the high school experience for California high school students. The Linked Learning initiative, which will grow to serve more than one-third of high school students in California, is an approach to learning that completely transforms students’ educational experience by linking classroom learning to real life outside of the classroom. 

The Linked Learning approach has received broad support from business and industry, higher education, and community-based organizations in California that recognize the value of ensuring that all students obtain the relevant knowledge and work skills today that prepare them to compete in tomorrow’s economy. What’s more promising is that there are early signs of success. Students who attend a Linked Learning high school in California are more likely to graduate from high school within four years and more likely to enroll into a four-year college than their peers.

As a result of these promising signs in California, the cities of Detroit and Houston are now piloting Linked Learning high schools in their school districts. Detroit Public Schools, once called “ground zero” for education reform by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has been making considerable investments to reform its school system. Houston Independent School District, recently announced as winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education, has demonstrated continual efforts to improve the performance of all students—particularly low-income and minority students who make-up more than 80% of the district’s students.

Linked Learning is an initiative that was designed to reach all students, no matter their income level, academic ability, or ethnic background. Schools and districts that are serious about new and innovative ways to prepare all of their students for both college and career can learn from the many lessons and strategies presented in the Linked Learning blueprint. If the United States is serious about systemic and sustained education reform, efforts like Linked Learning can no longer be ignored.

You can read more about the Linked Learning initiative and the impact that it has had in California in this recent Huffington Post blog.

Monica Almond is a policy associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

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