Next step for Student Success Act

Retiring Community College Chancellor Jack Scott watched his signature initiative move closer to becoming law. The Assembly Higher Education Committee yesterday unanimously passed SB 1456, the Student Success Act of 2012.

The bill would implement two of the 22 recommendations developed by the Student Success Task Force, a panel of educators, policymakers, students, and researchers that spent last year studying and taking testimony on ways to improve the completion rate at California’s community colleges.

“SB 1456 is about community college students and the tremendous fierce urgency of doing something now,” the bill’s author, Democratic Senator Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, told the Assembly panel.

As TOPed previously reported, studies have found that after six years, only 30 percent of community college students earn a degree or certificate or transfer to a four-year college.

The first proposal puts the onus on community colleges to provide support services for every student. These include orientation, assessment and placement, counseling and education planning, and tutoring or other interventions to help students who are falling off the path. Colleges would also have to evaluate the effectiveness of those supports and report them to the Legislative Analyst.

The second recommendation establishes for the first time academic standards for receiving Board of Governors (BOG) fee waivers. In order to continue receiving a BOG waiver, students would have to maintain a “C” average for two semesters.

“Why did we put in there something about the BOG fee waiver?” asked Chancellor Scott, in anticipation of the question.  “Well, we wanted not only institutions to accept responsibility for student success, but we wanted students to accept responsibility.”

Community College Chancellor Jack Scott testifying on SB 1456, the Student Success Act.  (Source:  The California Channel).  Click to enlarge.
Community College Chancellor Jack Scott testifying on SB 1456, the Student Success Act. (Source: The California Channel). Click to enlarge.

Scott noted that this is also required for both the federal Pell Grant program and Cal Grants. “We just didn’t quite feel it was fair for somebody to continue for 8 or 10 semesters and never achieve a 2.0,” he said.

Speakers heaped praise on Lowenthal for his willingness to work with key constituencies to find middle ground on some contentious issues.  The biggest concerns were over new restrictions on BOG fee waivers.  Lowenthal agreed to remove a provision eliminating eligibility for waivers for students with more than 110 units.  He also agreed to an appeals process and to phasing-in the changes over time.

As a result, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, the Student Senate, and MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund switched from opposing the bill to supporting it.

“I think that this is a stronger bill because all of the stakeholders have come to the table,” said Jessie Ryan with the Campaign for College Opportunity.  “We’ve done a great deal of work with social justice organizations across the state and student organizations to address their concerns, and I think we’re at a place where we can all acknowledge that completion matters and the Student Success Act puts us on that path.”

Well, not exactly.  The Community College Association (CCA), which is the higher education division of the California Teachers Association, argued that SB 1456 is more talk than walk.  Ron Norton Reel, a speech teacher at Mt. San Antonio College, testified that the bill contains no definition of success or strategy for measuring it, creates more inequalities among students and doesn’t provide any funding to hire the thousands of additional counselors that will be needed to help students establish educational goals and a plan to reach them.  Without that “then the intent is good, but the consequences are bad,” said Ron Norton Reel with the CCA.

Lowenthal countered by reading a section of the bill that clearly states that community colleges won’t be held accountable unless they receive funding to carry out the provisions.  “We all want additional funding,” Lowenthal said.  “The people who support this bill, more than even the opposition, want additional funding.”  Until that money comes, he said, colleges need to start preparing for the changes ahead.

Sunset, sunrise

Another of Chancellor Scott’s projects – which is about to expire – received a new lease on life by the Higher Education Committee.  SB 1070, introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, would strengthen and extend the Career Technical Education Pathways Initiative funded by Scott’s 2005 bill, SB 70.   These are typically academies within high school or middle schools where students learn many of their core subjects through the lens of a business or industry.  Some are in community colleges.

At Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove Unified School District, students in the Green Technology Academy learn science and math through hands-on experimentation with alternative energy.  They build solar-powered vehicles, compare the effectiveness of different biofuels and study physics by making and launching small rockets and measuring their velocity and height.

“Every time I see one of these career pathways programs whether it be the partnership academies or linked learning or one of the other models, learning comes alive, and it comes alive without sacrificing rigor that prepares students for college and career,” Steinberg told the committee Tuesday afternoon.

Career academies should be tied to local business and industry needs.  (Source:  Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarge.
Career academies should be tied to local business and industry needs. (Source: Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarge.

SB 1070 would hold schools more accountable for success than its predecessor and require them to submit data about student outcomes.  Initial funding would come from the Quality Education Investment Act.  That’s the $3 billion program created to settle a lawsuit brought by the California Teachers Association against Gov. Schwarzenegger for failing to repay school districts and community colleges money borrowed from Proposition 98 in 2004-05 to help the state get through that year’s budget crisis.

The State Department of Education also funds the California Partnership Academy program.  They’re all competitive grants and together the various funding sources support about 700 academies in California schools, according to the Career Academy Support Network at the University of California, Berkeley.  Since 2005, the career tech academies have enrolled nearly 750,000 students, although they tend to be concentrated in about a quarter of the state’s 1,000 school districts.

The results are impressive. Attendance and graduation rates are higher in academies than in the comprehensive high schools where they’re located.  Test scores are a little better too, even though many of the students – 50 percent, by law, in the partnership academies – are considered at risk.

“Overall, in the career advancement projects, we’ve seen a 90 percent retention; that’s huge, we don’t see that in our other programs,” testified Carole Goldsmith, the Vice Chancellor for Educational Services and Workforce Development in West Hills Community College District.  The district runs a teacher pipeline with one of its career tech grants.  “I think all of us intrinsically know that when you link education to hands-on approach to what industry wants, you’re going to engage students.”

Finance reform without accountability could devastate career tech

Under the current K-12 public education system in California, programs that are not required, measured, or explicitly funded by the state will disappear from our schools. Elective courses are becoming victims of educational policy that only recognizes “success” as defined by scores on standardized tests in courses mandated for graduation or college admission. Since that’s all that is really measured, that’s all that will really matter.

The ongoing state budget deficit and the lack of financial incentives to support programs outside of the mandated core academics will undoubtedly force districts to abandon such electives with impunity. This is our concern with  the “Weighted Student Formula” (WSF) proposal. Because the latest version of education finance reform doesn’t alter the current approach to accountability, we fear WSF will accelerate an already alarming narrowing of the curriculum.

In areas like career technical education (CTE), the impact of this well-intended reform could be devastating. Without incentives provided to districts to support these elective programs, there is simply no reason for them to do so. If you doubt that scenario, just examine the impact of the “flexibility” provisions granted to districts for programs like ROPs, Adult Education, and others since 2009 under the state budget. Given the unfettered authority to “flex” the use of these funds for any purpose, districts have obliterated Adult Ed throughout the state, and have put undue pressure on the vast majority of ROPs to survive on a starvation diet. Without  appropriate educational policies that hold districts accountable for truly meeting the needs of all students, this scenario will hold true for programs outside of the “required” or “measured” mandate. That’s not a recipe for success.

From a purely budgetary perspective, distributing CTE dollars without any vocational accountability upon schools makes little sense either. The three CTE-related categoricals most at risk under WSF  leverage every dollar the state invests. The Ag Incentive Grant requires local districts to match each state dollar (requiring districts to provide an extensive, annual report on the use of those precious state dollars). Apprenticeships are largely funded by contractors and unions, thereby stretching each state dollar invested in these “learn while you earn” programs. And Partnership Academies require both a local and industry match for each state dollar, magnifying the state’s investment threefold. Simply sending out these dollars on an per-student basis without any vocational strings 0r leveraged match requirements will cause more harm to education under any calculation.

We hope the governor and the Legislature take the time necessary to develop solutions to protect career technical education programs while also achieving education finance reform. Given the challenges facing these programs at the local level, we know our schools will not continue to support career technical education without the incentives to do so.

Jack Stewart is President of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association. He also co-chairs Get REAL (www.getrealca.org), a coalition of labor, employers, teachers, and other organizations committed to protecting and enhancing access to Career Technical Education in California schools.

Career- and college-ready: Are they synonymous or different?

Like cream and sugar, or ice cream and cake, college and career ready roll off the tongue together as any good platitude should. In adopting the Common Core standards, California and other states agreed students graduating high school should be prepared for college and careers. Educators have been arguing ever since what that means. If not the same, then how is career readiness different from college readiness, and how should it be measured? We’ve asked five experts with different perspectives to share their views: the husband-and-wife team of Robert Schwartz and Nancy Hoffman, he of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and she of a national nonprofit focusing on workplace and education for low-income individuals; Robert Balgenorth, a union leader in the construction trades; Barbara Nemko, Napa County superintendent of schools; Gary Hoachlander, president of ConnectEd, the California Center for College and Career; and Devin Blizzard, CEO of much-acclaimed CART, the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, an academic career technical school in the Central Valley. We encourage you to share your views as well.

Schwartz, Hoffman: Early career counseling, job shadowing for all

Robert Schwartz
Robert Schwartz

All young people graduating high school “college and career ready.” Sounds great, but what does it mean? In California, at least, college-ready means meeting a set of course requirements prescribed by the UC and CSU systems, even though those institutions serve, at best, only a quarter of an age cohort. But what do we mean by “career-ready?” Because there is no parallel attempt by California’s business and industry leaders to broaden academic requirements to demonstrate their application in the work world and to add 21st century skills and activities that develop career-readiness, the phrase turns out to be a

Nancy Hoffman
Nancy Hoffman

throwaway.

If we were serious about creating policies to serve all kids, we would put career planning and experience in a variety of workplaces at the center of this discussion, not at the margins. After all, only about half of young people who start a two- or four-year degree actually complete one, but all young people, we hope, are going to go to work.

Our education system should help all young people make informed decisions about the career paths they want to pursue, even if they may change careers later. Young people these days have little work experience and few opportunities to learn to work. Yet we behave as if preparation for college is the main purpose of high school, rather than explaining to young people that college is a pathway to a career, and that they need to take courses that equip them with skills and credentials with value in the labor market.

If we were serious about career readiness, we would bring together employers, post-secondary educators, and K-12 leaders to design pathways in grades 9-14 that have recognized currency in the labor market. We would invest in career information and counseling for all students beginning in the middle grades. We would require, as the French and German systems do, that all students have at least two weeks of job shadowing or other workplace exposure before they enter high school.

We have learned from the highly successful Early College High School movement, now serving 77,000 students in 28 states, that the best way to ensure “college readiness” is to enable students to start taking college classes while they are in a supportive high school environment. Analogously, the best way to ensure career readiness is to provide workplace experience in the context of 9-14 career pathways. California has some great models in Linked Learning and Partnership Academies, but they serve far too few students.

Nancy Hoffman is a vice president and senior advisor at Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit in Boston focused on improving educational and workforce outcomes for low-income young people and adults. Her most recent book is Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World’s Best Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life.

Robert Schwartz is the Francis Keppel Professor of Educational Policy and Administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he co-leads the Pathways to Prosperity Project. He was an education advisor to the mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts, and served as first president of Achieve.

Robert Balgenorth: Restore value to ‘the other 4-year degree’

Robert Balgenorth
Robert Balgenorth

For years now, the construction industry, the manufacturing sector, and even auto mechanics have been clamoring about the need for students to graduate high school ready to work in our industries. Contrary to popular belief, these are not low-skilled jobs. Rather, they require significant knowledge of mathematics, algebra, trigonometry, physics, and computer science.

Today’s plumbers, electricians, and sheet metal workers are learning to use Building Information Modeling, a highly specialized computer program that illustrates the location of every wall, pipe, and outlet before a building is even built. Ph.D. computer scientists aren’t the ones doing the modeling; this work requires journeyman sheet metal workers and pipefitters who have come up through the apprenticeship system.

The construction industry has been using apprenticeship programs to teach skills to young people for the last century. They work under the tutelage of journeymen for 3-5 years while going to school to learn the theory behind what they’re doing on the job. Each of the 15 building and construction craft and trade unions, working in partnership with union contractors, operate joint apprenticeship programs that have provided the United States with the best-trained construction workforce in the world. These programs are overseen by the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards.

Because so many school districts have dismantled their vocational training and industrial arts programs, students are no longer introduced to what might become their lifelong careers.

Studies show that many students drop out of school because their classes aren’t interesting, and don’t seem relevant to their lives. Apprenticeship programs routinely report a 50 percent failure rate among those taking their basic math entry exam. Those test-takers were inspired to enter a construction career path, but are lacking the educational basics. If math, English, and science could be applied toward specific career goals, students might be more motivated to stay in school, and more prepared to enter careers upon graduating. Career Technical Education can provide that spark for students.

Only 20-25 percent of students will attend a four-year college, and when they do, they will rack up tens of thousands of dollars of debt before even landing an entry-level job. Apprenticeship is free, and offers students an opportunity to learn a skill while earning a paycheck.

That’s why we call it “the other four-year degree.” We fully support CTE because we need students to be prepared to enter apprenticeship and learn skills for our construction industry when they graduate.

Robert Balgenorth is president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, and Co-Chair of the GetREAL-California Coalition (Relevance in Education and Learning).

Barbara Nemko: Inform students on all post-high-school options

Barbara Nemko
Barbara Nemko

The terms “college and career readiness” are often seen as synonymous, but are they? It’s relatively easy to understand what “college-ready” means: academic skills sufficient for the rigors of college work. “Career-ready,” however, is often left undefined. At a time when “college for all” appears to equate to “student success,” it is important to explore what “career-ready” means.

Pathways to Prosperity,” a recent Harvard University report, argues that expecting all students to go to college is short-sighted. The report indicated that 63 percent of jobs do require some form of post-secondary education, but it also showed that many students who complete a post-secondary graduate program have given little thought or preparation to their career interest. How do we prepare high school graduates to be college- and careerready?

Career readiness includes three major areas: core academic skills, and the ability to apply those skills to real-world situations and in routine workplace activities; employability skills (critical thinking, problem solving, communicating, and responsibility) that are essential in any career/life area; and job-specific skills related to a specific career pathway.

Career readiness provides a foundation that all students need to make informed decisions about their post-high-school options. These include post-secondary education, entry-level employment, apprenticeships, or military service that will lead to self-sufficiency and the attainment of the student’s aspirations, career, and life goals.

In today’s world, every student in California must have the knowledge and skills to make appropriate choices and successfully manage their careers throughout their lifetime. Graduating from high school both college- and career-ready will make that possible.

We need to enact  changes to our accountability system to address more than just standardized test scores. Proposals like Sen. Darrell Steinbergs’s SB 1458, redefining the state’s accountability measures, hold the promise of expanding the scope of what we value and therefore measure in our schools – while creating incentives for districts to expand the programs and curriculums to help our students become career-ready. High School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs) should be required to include the percentage of students who are graduating career-ready, so that parents start to monitor whether or not schools are addressing this critical life skill.

The California State Plan for Career and Technical Education already has tools that can help districts and local school sites measure the status and effectiveness of their CTE programs. Existing quality criteria identified in the State Plan provide a great foundation on which to build a more comprehensive and responsive accountability system.

Policy leaders must pay attention to the need to strengthen the “career-ready” status of all of our students in meaningful and effective ways. We can no longer afford to ignore the reality that employability and career readiness do matter – for the economic growth of our citizens and our state.

Barbara Nemko has been the superintendent of schools for Napa County since April 1997. She served on the Transition Team for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and is currently a member of his Technology Task Force. In previous administrations she served on several state boards including the State Plan for Career and Technical Education and the Master Plan.

Gary Hoachlander: Talk about college, career readiness together

Gary Hoachlander
Gary Hoachlander

College- and career-ready: as we dig into the new rhetoric surrounding today’s high school graduates, I hope we will focus on the word “and.” By exploring the intersections and connections between college and career readiness, we have the opportunity to expand our thinking about effective learning in both the classroom and the workplace.

An example: At a Health Careers Academy in a southern California high school, seniors spend three mornings a week in a group internship at local medical facilities. One morning I observed student interns at Kaiser Permanente learning how to perform electrocardiograms. Collaborating with the students’ classroom teacher, a physician’s assistant walked the interns through how to attach electrodes to the body and how to read the electrocardiogram results.

That afternoon, back in medical sciences biology class, the students focused on the human cardiovascular system and the role electricity plays in regulating the heart. They learned how different forms of heart disease can interfere with this electrical system, and they dug deeper into electrocardiography and related technologies such as pacemakers and artificial hearts.

This strong connection between real-world learning at a working hospital and the related academics later that afternoon in biology class did not, of course, happen by accident. It took a thoughtful, skilled teacher to structure that engaging learning experience and help her students integrate their hands-on experience with a classroom lesson.

We call this kind of integration Linked Learning, an approach that transforms students’ high school experience by bringing together strong academics, demanding technical education, and real-world experience. We know that high-quality Linked Learning produces greater student engagement, improved achievement, and a higher likelihood of postsecondary enrollment and increased earnings.

Presently this kind of learning tends to happen in spite of the system rather than because of it. Making it an integral part of student learning will depend on broadening our current accountability measures beyond standardized test results in isolated academic subjects. In the long run, this will require new balanced assessment methods that gauge student performance on interdisciplinary projects and industry-generated design challenges.

In the short run, we can look at ways to expand California’s Academic Performance Index to recognize such things as a juried student project, an internship evaluated by industry professionals, or completion of a certified Linked Learning Pathway or an integrated program of study offered through California’s Partnership Academies, Regional Occupational Programs and Centers, or standards-based career and technical education career pathways.

By connecting college and career readiness, we can change teaching and learning in ways that help today’s young people leave high school prepared for lasting success in both postsecondary education and career – no longer just one or the other.

Gary Hoachlander is president of ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career. He began his career as a brakeman for the Western Maryland Railroad and, since completing his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, has devoted his professional life to helping young people learn by doing – connecting education to the opportunities, challenges, and many different rewards to be found through work. To learn more, visit www.connectedcalifornia.org.

Devin Blizzard: Blend specific sector, broad interpersonal skills

Devin Blizzard
Devin Blizzard

True career readiness demands that an individual possess complex, vocationally tied individual assets. Having been a STEM and Career Technical educator since 1998, I can offer a perspective from workforce employers and young professionals.

Not surprisingly, work ethic and interpersonal skills remain relevant.  Employers increasingly demand employees who can contribute to productive teams. Learning aptitude, responsibility, passion, perseverance, organizational skills, and professional appearance continue to be held in high regard. Organizations are increasingly investing in employees who demonstrate problem solving and innovation skills.

Employers understand that substantial investments must be made in college graduates to develop them into valuable contributors. Employers are also expressing concern that potential workforce members frequently do not possess the specific skill sets to serve jobs in their regions. In the Central Valley, a skills mismatch exists between a workforce formerly heavily invested in construction and employers seeking skilled machinists, medical technicians, automotive technicians, and other specialized tradespeople.

Deciphering the functional meaning of true career readiness should be done career by career. Only then may we responsibly develop ways to measure competencies aligned with employee success in a specific field. There is a growing trend to develop policy and fund initiatives that support a general career readiness ideal.

Because the career readiness construct is such a general term, any endeavor to quantify it will be at best a generic approximation. These things said, attempts to develop an exam grounded in career readiness and a national set of Common Core standards hold promise to be much better than our present arsenal of standardized tests.

Traditionally, standardized tests have surveyed students for their breadth of knowledge. I believe improvements are on the horizon. The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium is endeavoring to build a next generation of assessments aligned to English Language Arts and Mathematics. Their aim is to infuse real-world-aligned problem solving tasks and simulated project-based elements in an assessment that  can be administered economically online. It’s ambitious, and the new test’s architects admittedly don’t know how they’re going to do these things. But it’s promising to see test developers aspiring toward a better instrument.

We are moving strategically as a nation toward better assessments of global career readiness. Successful prototypes should inform instruction and learning. A score on a singular readiness assessment should never serve as the scorecard by which society determines who is invited to access college, career, or the global competitive economy.

A school administrator for two decades, Devin Blizzard is the  chief executive officer at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART), an academic career technical education pathway school that is operated jointly by Clovis and Fresno Unified School Districts. He has served as the director of the Central Valley Robotics and FIRST senior mentor since founding CVR in 2002. He has presented at regional and national STEM, Career Technical, and Model Schools conferences.

California Partnership Academies: They’re effective – and threatened

California Partnership Academies (CPAs) are college-and-career pathways that typically enroll 150-200 students within a large high school. The good news is that they work. The bad news is that their funding is threatened.

The state currently supports nearly 500 CPAs, each receiving a grant of about $60,000, depending on how many students are enrolled and whether students achieve performance targets for attendance and course credits. By law, the state grant must be matched by the local district, and matched again by contributions from local employer partners.

A report released last October found that 95 percent of CPA seniors in 2009-10 graduated at the end of the school year, compared with 85 percent statewide. And 57 percent of CPA graduates reportedly completed the “A-G” course sequence required for freshman admission to UC or CSU  – compared with 36 percent of graduates statewide. These results are especially impressive because at least half of the students entering CPAs must be “at risk” as indicated by low income and a record of low grades and test scores, poor attendance, and misbehavior.

The recent results closely resemble findings from a report on CPAs five years earlier. Since the 1980s, evaluations of “career academies” – the generic name for this kind of college-and-career pathway – have consistently found positive results for students during and after high school.

The most rigorous study, which randomly assigned some career academy applicants to the academy and others to the regular high school program, was conducted by MDRC from 1994 to 2008. The study corroborated many of the earlier results. Notably, among students most at risk, 79 percent of academy students stayed in school until spring of senior year, compared to 68 percent of the control group. Eight years after high school, students assigned to academies had average monthly earnings of $2,112, compared with $1,896 for the control group. The study also found both the academy and control groups had high postsecondary educational attainment.

In California, 3 percent of students in grades 10-12 are enrolled in one of the nearly 500 existing CPAs. The Linked Learning initiative is building support in school districts to sustain and expand the number of CPAs and other college-and-career pathways.

Unfortunately, the ongoing state budget crisis threatens the expansion and even the survival of CPAs. An immediate threat is loss of funding in June 2012 for about 200 CPAs that were authorized by two recent laws, SB 70 and AB 519, both of which are sunsetting.

A second threat is the push to consolidate or eliminate all “categorical” (special-purpose) grants from the state to local school districts. In theory, cutting the strings on categorical grants frees local decision-makers to target funds more efficiently on local needs.

The special-purpose funding for CPAs should be exempt from the policy to eliminate categorical grants. There are several justifications for such an exemption.

First, the evidence that these programs successfully prepare students for both college and careers is stronger than for any other existing approach to improving high school education for at-risk students.

In addition, the CPA legislation contains a unique combination of quality-assurance mechanisms.

  • CPAs are funded through a competitive application process, in which applications are scored by a panel of reviewers who have expert knowledge of the program.
  • Each CPA is required to submit an extensive annual report that details both the quality of program implementation and the performance of students enrolled in it. The state rewards the academy only for those students performing at required minimums.
  • These annual reports also provide information on required program components as specified in the Education Code, such as cohort scheduling, mentorships, internships, curricular integration, course sequences, and the membership and role of local advisory boards. This accountability process has led to the de-funding of dozens of non-compliant programs over the years.
  • The amount of state funding for each CPA must be matched by an equal contribution from local employers. This provides additional necessary resources, especially for work-based learning and other experiences outside the classroom, at no expense to taxpayers.
  • Each academy is required to have an advisory board that includes representatives of local employers and other community partners. Their participation, in addition to their material contributions to match the state grant, ensure that local employers and community partners are attentive to program quality.

California Partnership Academies are not a panacea, and there is room for improvement in their design and execution. But the evidence shows that they work, and the benefit they provide to California taxpayers exceeds their cost. Eliminating or cutting them would be a serious setback for California.

David Stern is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he joined the faculty in 1976.  His research, teaching, and policy work have focused on economics of education, high school reform, and educational equity. He has been Principal Investigator for the Career Academy Support Network since 1998.  

No guarantee for career academies

Jerry Winthrop roared with laughter when the director of a career academy asked him if the programs will be protected in the event that California’s revenues fall short and the state pulls the trigger on education funding at the end of the year. Winthrop, who oversees more than 400 California Partnership Academies, told the 25 academy coordinators and teachers gathered at an Oakland High School last week that they may want to learn how to write grant proposals.

Jack Aiello, who asked the question, didn’t intentionally make a joke. His Electronics Academy at Independence High School in San Jose’s East Side Union High School District is about 20 years old. Aiello wants to see it reach 21.

In normal times, the school only had to submit an annual report and it was pretty much guaranteed continued funding as long as it met all the state requirements. In these uncertain financial days, however, there’s no sure thing, not even for the tried and true.

The academy has a 95% graduation rate (15 to 20 percentage points higher than the rest of the school), boasts strong attendance, and sends a large group of students to community and four-year colleges.

But recently Aiello has been finding it difficult to do things exactly the way the State Department of Education wants them done, and that makes him a little tense. “There are so many stresses on budgets and trying to make everyone happy that it’s hard to follow all the rules exactly the way they’re supposed to be followed,” he said.

For example, students in California Partnership Academies are supposed to be in the same classes together so they can form a bond among themselves and with their teachers. But when an academy class in a core subject, like English, math, science, or history, has an unfilled seat or two, Independence High has been placing non-academy students in it. That could cost the program its state funding.

“Jack, I bleed for you, man, but I have 200 schools about to close. Your superintendent and principal signed on the line every year that you took money,” said Winthrop. “They’re taking state funds while not doing what they’re contractually obligated to do. They’re putting you in a position where you’re out of compliance.”

Money drying up

Winthrop is tall and imposing and, having started three academies during his teaching days, is arguably one of a handful of CDE staff who can hold court on California Partnership Academies. That’s what he did at Oakland’s Media Academy High School last Friday, running through a PowerPoint presentation and fielding questions on what to expect in state funding for next year. The answer: Don’t get your hopes up.

As we reported here last week, a new report from UC Berkeley’s Career Academy Support Network gave academies high marks, particularly for improving graduation and college-going rates for students considered at risk of dropping out of school.

Funding sources for partnership academies.  (Source:  Edutopia. Sept. 2010) Click to enlarge
Funding sources for partnership academies. (Source: Edutopia. Sept. 2010) Click to enlarge

At the same time, two major sources of funding for academies are drying up within a year, putting about 200 in jeopardy. So it was natural that most questions from academy directors focused on other places to seek funding, and the chances that they’ll be able to get a slice of a new, but small, state academy grant program for next year.

“Is there any other funding source?” asked one teacher. “Not that I know of at this time,” Winthrop answered, “but send me a note; there are lots of places to get money here and there if you know how to write grants.”

The woman sitting to my left, Brenda Calvert with the Green Hospitality, Tourism and Recreation Academy at John F. Kennedy High School in Fremont, cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered, “I’m really nervous about this.  Our first seniors are graduating this year.”

To my right, Ryan Cheshire had just started a multimedia animation and videogame design academy at Encinal High School in Alameda with a seed grant from the CDE.  He said they knew the program was sun-setting at the end of this academic year, but hoped the legislature would step in and extend the program.

“One year is just not enough time.  It’s a complex program, there are so many different parts to it that at one year, you’re just scratching the surface of being effective,” said Cheshire.

A brief history

As it turns out, there is one new state source of funding; it’s just so small that the competition is expected to be fierce.

During a special session last April, the Legislature passed SBX1 1, authored by State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Sen. Steinberg.  It was supposed to provide $40 million in

Growth of Career Academies. (Source:  Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarage
Growth of Career Academies. (Source: Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarage

grants over five years, to support up to 100 clean technology and renewable energy partnership academies, with the money coming from the Renewable Resource Trust Fund and paid for by a small surcharge on utility bills from.

Republicans insisted that the funds come from Proposition 98 general funds for education.  So the program now has a little over $3 million for the first round of grants and no guarantee that the remaining $37 million will be available.  Instead of nearly 100 academies, the amended law will now pay for about 21 grants.  Nevertheless, Winthrop expects hundreds of schools to apply.

Another bill, SB 70, fades out at the end of this school year, but Sen. Steinberg said he is already in talks to try to refund it.

California first passed legislation for partnership academies in 1984, providing money for 10 pilot programs.  Three years later, a second bill added forty more academies.  Those funds have been renewed over and over since then.

That’s how Aiello’s academy continues to operate, and where Oakland’s Media Academy High School gets the bulk of its funds.  The Media Academy is marking its 25th year, and director Michael Jackson has been at the school for all of them.  Although his funding is the most secure – a tenuous commitment these days – Jackson says the state is moving too quickly to start new academies, especially when so many existing programs could use some help.

“Another way to look at it is there’s way too many of these academies to do them right,” said Jackson, especially for the $70,000 or so that they each receive from state Proposition 98 funds. “Why don’t they put more money and support into the ones they have that are working and see if you can’t built a little more slowly until the economy recovers.”

High marks for CTE academies

When I met Reanna Garnsey two years ago, she was a 4.0 junior at Laguna Creek High School in the Elk Grove Unified School District. As a ninth grade student, her GPA was 0.8. Reanna cut school – a lot. What brought her back from the brink of dropping out was the Green Energy Technology Academy (GETA), a program that combines academics with real-world skills in alternative energy, including research, mentorships, and internships. Reanna’s transformation was so stunning that State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg asked her to testify before the Legislature in support of a bill to fund more of those programs.

Her story may be on the far side of average, but programs like GETA, known as California Partnership Academies, are producing many success stories, according to a report released Tuesday by the State Department of Education.

“A Profile of the California Partnership Academies 2009-2010″ by UC Berkeley’s Career Academy Support Network, found that high school seniors in academies have a 95 percent graduation rate, compared with 85 percent of seniors statewide; they’re more likely to attend college and more than half – 57 percent – graduate with the courses required for admission to the University of California or California State University, a whopping 21 percentage points above the statewide rate.

Academies are programs located within comprehensive high school that focus on growing industries in their communities, such as alternative energy, health care, the arts, or building trades. They’re small, usually serving about 200 students in grades 10 through 12, who stay together for three years. At least half of the students must be considered at risk for dropping out or failing. School districts have to supply matching funds and develop partnerships with local business and industry.

“This kind of hands-on learning, this connection to the real world, makes so much sense,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson during a phone call with reporters yesterday. “It engages students to see the relevancy of the mathematics, the science, the language arts that they’re asked to do.”

So I was surprised to receive an email last week from Eric Johnson, the Laguna Creek teacher who started GETA, asking for help because the program’s funding runs out at the end of this academic year.

“This means that we must now go through the entire grant application process to secure future funding,” wrote Johnson in an appeal to business partners to write letters of support to help GETA make its case for new funding from the state.

Funding is starting to fade

Money for more than 200 of the state’s 500 partnership academies is slated to sunset at the close of the current school year. However, there are new funds available. During a special session last April, the Legislature passed SB 1x 1, authored by Sen. Steinberg, which allocates $8

Funding Sources for California Partnership Academies (source:  Career Academy Support Network) click to enlarge.
Funding Sources for California Partnership Academies (source: Career Academy Support Network); click to enlarge.

million a year through 2017, from the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, to pay for about 100 academies focused on green energy and technology.

Despite its successes, GETA will have to reapply for the money, going up against every school that decides to enter the pool.

“No question that not only do we have to expand what we’re doing, but before we can expand we have to keep what exists and what is successful intact,” said Steinberg during Tuesday’s telephone conference call.

Keeping the doors open at all 200 academies will cost about $15 million. Some of that money would be available if lawmakers reauthorize SB 70, the bill that initially established the California Partnership Program. Steinberg said his office will be working on that during the next session.

Still, partnership academies aren’t exactly sweeping the state. There are just under 48,500 students enrolled in the programs – about 3 percent of all students in grades 10-12, raising questions about their cost effectiveness.

Exit exam pass rates by race & ethncity (source:  Career Academy Support Network) click to enlarge.
Exit exam pass rates by race & ethncity (source: Career Academy Support Network); click to enlarge.

What’s more, the overall gains seem to have slowed a bit. Back in 2004-05, 80 percent of academy tenth graders passed the California High School Exit Exam in math, compared to 74 percent for all other tenth graders. The gap was even larger for the English language arts section of the exam. But by 2009-10, statewide pass rates increased to within 1 or 2 percentage points of academy students, whose rates barely changed.

But that’s not the case for tenth grade Hispanic students in academies, who outperformed all other Hispanic sophomores in math and English language arts. The report also found that both African American and Hispanic seniors in academies graduated at significantly higher rates than those not in academies – 16 percent higher for African Americans and 14 percent higher for Hispanics.

Those are the statistics that Steinberg said should provide strong incentive to keep these programs funded and continue to expand them. “In my view, this report illustrates the future of high school in education, not only in this state but in this country,” he said. “It shows that we do not need to make the false choice between academic rigor and real world learning. High school courses must include both.”

Remix of knowledge acquisition and practice are elements of Learning 2.0

The words “remix” and “mashup” entered the vocabulary as descriptors of life in the digital age.  They are also key to what I am calling Learning 2.0, the next full-scale version of public education.

At the simplest level, these new terms are represented by three teenagers using Apple Garage Band to combine bits and pieces of music into their own composition.  At a more complex level, the process of remix changes the nature of authorship, as it did for a recent book on digital learning in which the authors of the draft posted their text for comment and addition.  Hundreds of people responded, and the book draft is still undergoing revision even after its publication by a university press.

Remix and mashup are linguistic markers for a growing practice of peer-produced learning, one that extends the instinct for tinkering and play into an approach to learning and scholarship.  As pedagogy, these new words signal moving away from consumption to participation and from concentrating our attention on teaching to concentrating on learning.  The shift in learning is not necessarily computer driven.  As Connie Yowell, director of education at the MacArthur Foundation notes: “Our digital media and learning initiative is not about technology, turning our backs on teachers, or throwing out traditional literacy skills.  It is about what people do with digital media — especially the potential for peer-based learning.”  Indeed, the instinct for peer learning by doing infused the philosophy of John Dewey a century ago.

A glimpse of this world can be found in Exhibition Night at High Tech High in San Diego.  Students at High Tech High learn from a pedagogy that deliberately integrates things that schools and society have sought to separate: head and hands, school and community.   Thus, students in biology demonstrated their latest fieldwork, the DNA typing of samples from San Diego Bay.  The students’ trips to the shore are not casual encounters, but real science that has led to six published books.  Science is linked with history and language arts.  As biotechnology teacher Jay Vavra says pointing to the English classroom across the hall, “Remember Cannery Row?   I’m Ricketts; he’s Steinbeck.”

Once a year, High Tech High students present their work to parents and the community.  These evenings are more than Science Fair; the act of explaining one’s work is part of the curriculum.  Exhibition Night included student-written plays, a textbook on economics illustrated with linoleum block art, a conceptual art exhibit that was the product of lessons in geometry.  The crowd pleaser of the night was a homicide scene complete with a dead mannequin, crime scene tape, and blood splatters.  In his lab coat, the presenting student shows listeners how he and his fellow students were able to use geometry to determine the height and weight of the perpetrator and the type of murder weapon.  (Conclusion: The teacher did it; her DNA was found on a toothbrush left at the crime scene.)

Head and hand integration are also present at The Stanley E. Foster Construction Technology Academy, a San Diego Unified School District high school just miles away from High Tech High.  The school has broken down the traditional 7-period high school day into instructional blocks that allow students to pursue traditional academic subjects and exciting projects at the same time.  In 2007, some 81 percent of the graduates were accepted in colleges.

Unfortunately, educators and policy advocates are deeply divided about how and whether to create schools that combine learning and becoming.   Recently, Robert Schwartz, academic dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, did verbal battle with Kati Haycock, president of Education Trust, with Haycock saying that career-focused programs would mean giving up on the resources that low-income and minority kids need to succeed in school.

Schwartz and his colleagues had recently published Pathways to Prosperity that, among other things, criticized the college-for-all strategy as doomed to failure without much stronger career-oriented programs. Although the employment market is steadily demanding more education, they note, the largest employment bulge, and the greatest wage premium, appears for jobs requiring post-secondary licenses or certificates rather than bachelor’s degrees.

Linked Learning combines head and hands

Schools like High Tech High and the Construction Technology Academy have allowed practice to transcend the century-old debate over the value of academic versus vocational education.  They want both.  They believe the symbiosis engages students who would otherwise drop out or who would glide through high school’s path of least resistance.

Several California educators and organizations have been attempting to craft a practical solution.  Under the names Multiple Pathways or Linked Learning, policy advocates such as Jeannie Oakes at the Ford Foundation and David Rattray at the school and employer partnership, UNITE-LA, seek to create policies and practices that bring academic and career education together, getting beyond tracking.  Los Angeles Unified schools provide some vibrant examples:

Ninth grade students at the School for Global Studies near downtown Los Angeles tackled a project to support undocumented students who are headed to college, a homegrown version of the Dream Act.  Their task, the shell of a project designed by their teachers, was to design a fundraiser that would help these students with enough money to pay for their college applications.  The students I heard thought that luscious strawberries dipped in chocolate would be a sure seller.  They used their algebra skills to plot a break-even point and figure profit margins at different production levels, their English language arts skills to promote the effort, and their digital media skills to produce a mouth-watering video.

In the process of completing projects, students learn teamwork and self-monitoring.  They divide up the work and hold one another accountable.  If a student fails to produce, it lets the whole team down, and they—the other students—will intervene with the errant student and his or her parents.  Students also learn important oral communications skills.  Meanwhile, the students’ teachers continue to provide lessons, quizzes, and reading related to California standards and the test items and question forms used on the California Standards and the high school exit exam.

At a training facility near LAX, the Police Orientation and Preparation Program links the school district, West L.A. College, and the Los Angeles Police Department.  Students, who can come from any school in the city, enter as seniors or as community college freshmen.  The high school students can finish their college-entry required courses and earn college credit while finishing high school.  In two years it is possible for a high school senior to have graduated, earned an AA degree, and received a certificate qualifying them to work in a private security firm.  They also have a leg up on candidacy for the LAPD academy.

The police preparation program and Global Studies Academy prepare students for college and careers simultaneously.  In California, unlike many other locations, the state’s flagship university reviews individual course descriptions from public and private high schools to determine whether they meet entry requirements, known as the A-G requirements.  More than 5,600 courses, about 20 percent of all career-technical education offerings, already satisfy University of California entrance requirements.  UC also sponsors the Curriculum Integration Institute, where academic and career technical education experts meet to design integrative model courses.

As well as university standards, Linked Learning requires real world, craft and artistic standards.  For example, ACME animation, a non-profit organization, connects high school and college students with professional animators.  ACME grew from the teaching experience of Dave Master, who started an animation program at Rowland High School, east of Los Angeles, in 1977.  High school students begin as auditioners, but even from the start their work is subject to professional standards and critique.  No sugarcoating.  And the same method—not unlike introduction to the historic artisanal guilds—is used for more advanced students who want to earn a living in animation.  Professionals donate their time, and more than 3,000 students in 35 schools and colleges nationwide participate.  Four of these schools are in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The remix of head and hand is a powerful idea, but Linked Learning or Multiple Pathway schools have to work as organizations.  Because combining head and hand runs counter to many of the deep structures of American high schools, the multiple pathway idea becomes tractable because each pathway is usually contained in an “academy” within a larger school or a small school, such as a magnet, charter, or pilot school.  Thus, the capacity for remix, linking head and hand, lies partly in public policies that allow substantial autonomy and self-determination at the school level.

It’s difficult work, but it is one of the areas of education where California is a national leader.  The James Irvine Foundation has heavily supported Linked Learning, including founding ConnectEd, the California Center for College and Career.  A number of organizations, including the Buck Institute,  and the New Tech Network provide introductory training and an extensive library of projects that schools can adopt.

Charles Taylor Kerchner is Research Professor in the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University, and a specialist in educational organizations, educational policy, and teacher unions. In 2008, he and his colleagues completed a four-year study of education reform of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The results of that research can be found in The Transformation of Great American School Districts and in Learning from L.A.: Institutional Change in American Public Education, published by Harvard Education Press. Readers can follow his writing at http://charlestkerchner.com/

New UC role: Grow career tech

Instead of just weeding out career technical courses, Sen. Darrell Steinberg wants  University of California educators to plant some career tech seeds and cultivate them.

That’s not something that the UC system, with a lingering bias against applied learning, had been comfortable with. But within four or five years – if  Steinberg’s goal is reached – UC will have helped create dozens, perhaps hundreds, of courses with career applications, elevating the substance and status of career tech as well as  injecting real-world content into classes that most California students take.

Steinberg, the Senate president pro tem, is the author of SB 611, which would write into law the mission of a new UC institute charged with overseeing the design of career tech courses satisfying the entrance requirements to UC and the California State University system. It’s in a package of three Steinberg bills that would significantly reshape K-12 education. SB 612 reauthorizing collaborative projects between UC educators and K-12 teachers, is partly a companion to SB 611 and would provide teacher training for the new courses that the Institute would establish. SB 547, which TOP-Ed contributor Fred Jones wrote about this week, would add new performance measures to the Academic Performance Index (API), while sharply deemphasizing standardized test scores in a handful of subjects.

All three bills were heard Wednesday before the Senate Education Committee, and Steinberg gave a speech about them later that day to the Sacramento Press Club.

“The package begins to change what gets taught by partnering with the UC to make applied career-focused curriculum the norm, not the exception,” Steinberg said in his speech.

A committee of the UC Academic Senate known as BOARS screens high school courses to decide if they can qualify for one of the 15 course requirements for UC and CSU known as A-G. According to Don Daves-Rougeaux, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Articulation and Eligibility of the University of California, the committee has approved nearly 10,000 CTE courses – over 40 percent of all CTE courses offered – based on a review of the syllabi.

But nearly all of these have been approved only to count toward the arts, lab science, and electives requirements of A-G. Only eight were sanctioned as satisfying the math, history, or English language arts requirements. It was this imbalance that Steinberg wanted to address when he pressed UC President Mark Yudof to create the University of California Curriculum Integration Institute.

The Institute identified career pathways, like bioengineering, and invites CTE and pure academic teachers to come together in four-day conferences to design a course that combines hands-on learning and core academic material.

So far, Institute panels have created only four courses qualifying for A-G, but, significantly, three meet the math requirement – Business Math, Business Statistics, and Da Vinci Algebra I, combining arts and math – and the fourth, Applied Medical English, satisfies the English requirement. The next conferences will develop math and lab science courses for three career pathway programs: engineering design, finance and business, and hospitality and tourism, Daves-Rougeaux said.

The CSU might have been a more natural fit for the Institute, since it trains most teachers in California and is not a research-focused system.  Steinberg approached Yudof because UC is the gatekeeper of A-G. But some CTE advocates are skeptical whether UC professors can understand the value of applied education. It’s like asking an English professor to design a course in Farsi, a different language entirely.

Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a retired community psychology professor at CSU-Long Beach, got to the heart of that issue in questioning Steinberg and Daves-Rougeaux. He surmised that the reaction of many at UC would be that incorporating applied learning would lower academic standards of UC admissions. “Is everyone embracing this?” he asked.

Daves-Rougeaux said that UC has already made the shift in approving thousands of career tech courses and that leaders of BOARS have participated in developing courses at the institute.

Steinberg acknowledged the Institute reflects “a big shift in culture” for UC, “no doubt about it.” CTE must not be a “niche” program; instead, hands-on, practical learning must become standard in schools, so that students see the relevance of what they are learning.

Representatives of business and a number of education groups testified in favor of all three of Steinberg’s bills. No one testified against them. SB 611 passed the Education Committee 7-3 with three Republicans voting against.

Money for green-tech academies

Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed legislation that at least will protect high school green-tech career academies from a state budget implosion and will even expand the number over the next few years. Doing so took some creative thinking from the bill’s sponsor, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

SBX 1-1 will direct $40 million over five years from a fund for conservation and alternative energy uses financed by a tiny surcharge ($.0003 per kilowatt-hour) on utility bills. The money will sustain 45 partnership academies that are teaching job skills, hands-on learning, and academics in areas that many are betting will drive California’s economy in coming decades: solar and alternative energy, energy conservation, and clean technologies. There will also be enough to start 42 new academies – three-year small schools, generally serving between 200 and 250 students, within comprehensive academies. In total, up to 28,000 students, many of them at risk of dropping out, are projected to go through the programs.

Former Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year, claiming the use of ratepayer money for a K-12 program set a “dangerous precedent.” But labor and education groups, along with PG&E, backed it, citing the nexus between the conservation fund and critical workforce preparation. Few Republicans supported the bill, which required only a majority vote.

If only saving other K-12 programs were so easy.

A schism on college readiness

Robert Schwartz, academic dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, are allies on most aspects of school reform, but fundamentally disagree on whether the mission of high school ought to be to prepare all students for college. Haycock says that’s an absolute; Schwartz says it’s too narrow.

“The mantra of ‘college for all’ needs to be much broader; kids need more chances for learning that are tied to careers,” said Schwartz during a debate with Haycock at the National Education Writers Association conference in “The Big Easy.”   Schwartz and his colleagues at Harvard touched a nerve with some civil rights groups like Haycock’s with a report last February that questioned the wisdom of putting so much emphasis on trying to get every student into college when at most a third of U.S. jobs will require a bachelor’s degree over the next decade.

Robert Schwartz, Academic Dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education
Robert Schwartz, Academic Dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education

“Four-year colleges have undue influence over what is required for all kids,” said Schwartz.  “Institutions that serve less than a third should not be calling the shots for all students.” Schwartz agrees with President Obama that the emphasis for high school graduates should include boosting the number of students who earn occupational certificates and two-year community college degrees and raising completion rates for four-year colleges.

He says the way to do this is to offer more career–focused courses and programs in high schools, as many California schools already do. For students who don’t see themselves sitting through four more years of classes, these programs provide training for well-paying skilled jobs like commercial construction, nursing, and manufacturing.

Kati Haycock, President of Education Trust
Kati Haycock, President of Education Trust

Haycock says to do so would be to give up before the nation has even committed the resources, including quality teachers and preschool, that low-income and minority kids need to succeed in school. “The wonderful examples of programs in California serving poor kids are the exception, not the rule,” said Haycock. She chastised Schwartz for a double standard: “There’s always a reason to worry when prescriptions for other peoples’ children differ from prescriptions for our own children.”

They did find some common ground, agreeing that the new Common Core standards that California and 42 other states adopted will raise expectations of what students are supposed to learn. They disagree, however, on the definition of career and college readiness. Schwartz says that college readiness should be defined as preparing students for post-secondary education without the need for remediation. Expectations for all students should be the same through 10th grade – “a critical checkpoint” – after which students can pursue individualized career and college goals. He disagrees that there should be one set of classes that every student has to take, and specifically mentioned California’s A-G courses required for admission to the University of California and California State University.

Haycock insists that the core curriculum should be the same for all students for all four years of high school. “To do anything short of that is fundamentally destructive,” she said. “The goal should be to articulate a set of common standards for what all kids need to do so that they can make the choice after high school instead of us making the choice for them.”

John Fensterwald stepped away from the French Quarter to co-author this blog.