Low-income students in four Northern California high schools that employ a more personalized approach to education, often referred to as “student-centered learning,” are graduating from high school having completed the course sequence required for admission to California public universities at much higher rates than their district or the state as a whole, according to four case studies just published by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.

The four case studies involve schools that either employ the linked learning approach to education or are part of the Envision Schools charter network. Linked learning combines rigorous academics with hands-on experiences in a specific career pathway, such as health or business.

In the spring, the center will publish a cross-case analysis that will look at data from all four schools to uncover the common practices that work well. Statewide, low-income, African American and Latino students lag behind their more affluent peers on test scores, graduation rates and completion of college preparation programs.

The four schools studied are:

  • City Arts & Technology High School, an Envision charter school in San Francisco that emphasizes a strong focus on social justice and identity, often using a social theme to add an interdisciplinary dimension to students’ work. For example, history students produced a flier, a video and an outreach campaign on a social justice topic such as racial profiling or immigration. In 2011-12, 84 percent of African American students and 83 percent of Latino students graduated with their cohort, and all of them had completed their A-G requirements, the courses required for admission by University of California and California State University campuses. In the district, only 71 percent of African American students and 68 percent of Latino students graduated with their cohort. Of the group that graduated, only 28 percent of the African American students and only 36 percent of Latinos had completed the A-G courses.
  • Dozier-Libbey Medical High School, a linked learning school in Antioch, had physics students design and build a device to address a disability. They then “investigated the meaning of a disability and the biases in the notions of ‘fixing’ a disability.” They wrote a paper on who benefits, who was harmed and the cost of making their device. In 2011-12, 97 percent of students graduated with their cohort, with 96 percent having completed the A-G requirements. Latinos had even better statistics, with 98 percent graduating with their cohort and all of them having completed the A-G courses. This compares to district statistics where 66 percent of all students graduated with their cohort, with only 25 percent of those students having completed their A-G classes.
  • Impact Academy of Arts & Technology, an Envision charter school in Hayward, encourages students to consider multiple perspectives on any issue. For example, American History students had to pick a claim a historian made about Reconstruction and then do research to either prove or debunk the claim. In 2011-12, overall 92 percent of the students graduated with their cohort, with all of them completing the A-G course sequence. And 94 percent of students who were economically disadvantaged graduated with the cohort, with all of them also completing the A-G classes. This compares to a 71 percent graduation rate districtwide, with only 44 percent of those graduates meeting California public university course entry requirements.
  • Life Academy of Health and Bioscience, a linked learning school in Oakland, requires seniors to do a yearlong, multistage research paper that is based on their experiences in business internships. For example, one student who was interested in becoming a child psychologist and loved literature explored the question: “To what extent could literature help children cope with psychological problems?” In 2011-12, 71 percent of the students graduated with their cohort and 87 percent had completed the A-G course sequence. That compares with 59 percent districtwide who graduated with their cohort, with only 51 percent completing the A-G requirements.

The research was funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

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