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Linked Learning: Pathways To College And Career Success


Edwin Diaz, Superintendent, Pasadena Unified School District (CA)
Gary Hoachlander, President, ConnectED
Veronica Melvin, Executive Director, Alliance for a Better Community
Lori Meyer, Vice President, Collaborative Communications Group
Rick Miller, Deputy Superintendent for Policy Development and External Affairs, California Department of Education
Patricia Rucker, Legislative Advocate, California Teachers Association
Alma Salazar, Vice President of Education and Workforce Development, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Director, UNITE-LA
Anne Stanton, Program Director, James Irvine Foundation
Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education

High school students throughout California are benefiting from the innovative Linked Learning approach to education. Linked Learning brings together strong academics, demanding technical education, and real-world experience in a wide range of fields, such as engineering, arts and media, biomedicine, and health. Linked Learning is gaining in popularity because it can make high schools more competitive and attractive to students, generate higher academic achievement by allowing students to study topics that interest them, and lead to increased college attendance rates, higher earning potential after graduation, and greater civic engagement.

This briefing featured educational leaders who are building the Linked Learning field in California. School leaders shared their on-the-ground experience, and policy experts and advocates talked about the alliance of stakeholders who have unified behind this approach.


On March 5, 2010, nearly one hundred educators, policymakers, and key stakeholders gathered in Washington, DC to attend an Alliance for Excellent Education forum on the Linked Learning initiative. Linked Learning is a reform effort in California aimed at improving high schools by pairing a rigorous college-prep curriculum with an industry theme while offering the supports and workplace exposure that are critical to student success.

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance and former governor of West Virginia, opened the briefing by praising California’s Linked Learning initiative and its innovative approach to engaging high school students in academics in a way that successfully prepares them for college and careers. Gov. Wise talked about the negative economic impact of low graduation rates in California and how Linked Learning had the right tools to help schools reverse the impact. He went on to discuss the Alliance’s “Over the Top” agenda, which includes support for the adoption of common core standards, successful implementation of the stimulus package, and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA.)

Gov. Wise then introduced Anne Stanton, program director at the James Irvine Foundation. The Irvine Foundation has supported the Linked Learning approach for several years. Until recently, Linked Learning was called Multiple Pathways; Ms. Stanton pointed out that although there is a new name, the work is the same and continues to yield results for high school students.

Ms. Stanton went on to frame the conversation by reminding the audience that one third of California’s high school students do not graduate and of those who do graduate, half are not prepared for college and careers. Problems this large, she said, need creative solutions that include the transformation of teaching techniques as well as new partnerships and alliances with businesses, communities, and other stakeholders.

Gary Hoachlander, president of ConnectEd, spoke passionately about the need for high schools to link real life to learning. He explained how Linked Learning prepares students for college and careers through a comprehensive high school experience. Dr. Hoachlander also showed the audience a short documentary style video on Health Professions High School in Sacramento. He cited that Linked Learning students attend college at higher rates, pass the California high school exit exam at higher rates, and are more likely to score higher on California’s standardized tests in English, science, and social studies.

Edwin Dias, superintendent of Pasadena Unified School District, opened by recognizing that traditional reform strategies would not be enough and that there is a need for transformation through student motivation. He believes high schools need to create structures that have the ability to connect with students on individual and personal levels. Mr. Dias spoke about the high schools in his district that have the Linked Learning program and how achievement and attendance have increased.

Veronica Melvin, executive director of the Alliance for Better Communities in Los Angeles, opened by citing that only 48 percent of the 50,000 Latino students entering high school in Los Angeles graduated. She spoke about Linked Learning and how it has helped increase test scores and retain 100 percent of the program’s first two ninth-grade classes in four schools. Ms. Melvin described how the community made sure the Linked Learning program was implemented with their agenda as well as the superintendent’s plans.

Rick Miller, deputy superintendent, P-16 policy and information branch at California Department of Education, stated the need for more technical courses in California’s A-G curriculum. He also stated that he feels California needs to provide more funds and flexibility to schools. However, Mr. Miller went on to say that Linked Learning is a model for innovative high school reform. He closed by expressing his concern about teacher preparation programs and the lack of guidance counselors available to help high school students make college and career choices.

Patricia Rucker, a legislative advocate for California Teachers Association, opened by expressing her concern about the billions of dollars being cut from education over the past several years. When talking about her success as a teacher, Ms. Rucker contributed part of that success to her linking subjects to her students’ interests.

Alma Salazar, vice president of education and workforce development at Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the business community’s need for individuals who have a strong academic background and are prepared for twenty-first-century careers.

Lori Meyer, vice president at Collaborative Communications Group, then took questions from the audience. When asked how the Linked Learning Coalition came about, the panelists offered a variety of reasons. Dr. Hoachlander added that the Linked Learning approach has stemmed a “surprising alliance” of stakeholders from schools, businesses, and within the community.

When asked to name the issues that need to be addressed in the reauthorization of ESEA, the panelists responded that (1) ESEA needs to acknowledge the different needs of elementary schools and high schools, and that the strategies are unique; (2) the definition of success needs to be broadened and accountability systems need to reflect broader skills; and (3) there needs to be a focus on bringing communities and parents into the conversation about high school education reform.

When asked how students get into the Linked Learning pathway, Mr. Diaz described the process of looking at the local economic markets and assessing students’ interests. He explained that pathways are designed from student interests and guidance counselors play a key role in assisting students with applying to the pathways.

When asked how the concept of work-based learning works, the panelists agreed that an engaging and relevant internship experience is the main concept of work-based learning. However, they expressed concerns about whether an equal, quality, and system wide work-based learning experience could be provided throughout a district that is systemized.


Agenda PDF filePDF
Speaker Biographies PDF filePDF
Preparing Students for College and Career:Linked Learning in California (an Alliance issue brief) PDF filePDF
Linked Learning: Pathways to College and Career Success (a James Irvine Foundation fact sheet) PDF filePDF
Assessing California’s Multiple Pathways Field: Preparing Youth for Success in College and Career (a James Irvine Foundation report) PDF filePDF
Linked Learning: Pathways to College and Career Success (a PPT presented by Gary Hoachlander, President, ConnectEd) PDF filePDF (This is a large file; please be patient while opening.)
Multiple Pathways in California: An Emerging Option for High School Reform (an EdSource report) PDF filePDF

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