California will soon embark on a test drive of the “linked learning” approach to high school that bridges college prep-academics with sequences of career-technical courses, work-based learning experiences, and a range of extra support services.

A bill just signed by Governor Jerry Brown  calls for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to select up to 20 districts to pilot systems of “linked learning” programs in their areas.  The goal is to open the widest possible array of college and career options for students, from college to industry certification and job training.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 790, describes “linked learning” as an approach that “can be expanded to play a pivotal role in enabling all of our pupils to be well prepared for life and workforce demands in a 21st century global economy and society.”

By the fall of 2016, the superintendent will report on costs and student outcomes from the pilot districts and propose changes to state law to enable expansion of similar programs in other districts.

AB790 was introduced by Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Long Beach, and co-sponsored by Torlakson and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. The Linked Learning Pilot Program will require participating districts to adopt strategies common to the model, including:

  • Small high schools or small groupings of students within larger high schools, sometimes called “schools within a school.”
  • Dual or concurrent enrollment, so that students receive college credit for some courses during high school.
  • Problem-based and other applied forms of instruction, so that students learn content and skills while undertaking challenging projects or addressing problems like those they might encounter in the workplace.
  • Involving local business, labor, and other community partners in advisory and evaluation roles.

These districts will not be alone in exploring linked learning in this way. Eleven unified districts are already implementing or planning systems of linked learning programs as part of a District Initiative supported by the James Irvine Foundation and directed by ConnectEd. Each district in that initiative will offer entering high school students a choice of at least six to eight linked learning pathways, each focused on a different industry of importance in the local economy. (Disclosure: EdSource receives general operating funds from the Irvine Foundation.)

AB 790 provides no additional funding, but directs the superintendent to allocate funds for the pilot to districts on a competitive basis if they become available. A Senate analysis suggested the pilot program could create “substantial ongoing cost pressure” for the state. Districts can secure outside support from local partners and government or foundation grants, and this will be one consideration for the state superintendent in evaluating districts’ applications to participate.

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