Another report urges changing API

A report this week from a Washington think tank bolsters Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s call for significantly revising the state’s primary accountability measure, the Academic Performance Index. Now, if Gov. Jerry Brown would only read it…

“Ready by Design: A College and Career Ready Agenda for California,” published by Education Sector, recommends that the API shift focus from students’ performance on standardized tests to measures of readiness for college and careers, such as high school graduation rates, results of Advanced Placement tests, and percentages of students needing remediation in college. Account-EdSectorStudyCover062012That’s essentially what Steinberg’s bill, SB 1458, would do without specifying what measures would be included, and that is what his bill last year, SB 547, would have done, had Gov. Jerry Brown not vetoed it with a snarky message sharply critical of quantitative gauges of school achievement.

The report concluded that additional measures would not be a panacea, “but an outcomes-oriented API would at least measure and reinforce what’s most important: graduating students from high school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in higher education and a career,” wrote co-authors Anne Hyslop, a policy analyst with Education Sector, and Bill Tucker, deputy director, policy development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report was funded by the James Irvine Foundation, a big promoter and funder of an initiative to combine college readiness and career technical education, called linked learning.

This is the second report from Ed Sector in a month on the California API. Last week, I wrote about “Academic Growth over Time,” in which author Richard Lee Colvin, a former executive director of Ed Sector, recommends Los Angeles Unified’s alternative way to calculate student results on standardized tests. The reports need not be mutually exclusive; recommendations from both could be combined.

When establishing the three-digit API index in 1999, the Legislature implied that it would be adding a range of measures, but never did. Instead, the API is based on California Standards Tests results, primarily English language arts and math, plus results on the high school exit exam, which are not indicators of preparation for life beyond high school. But by adopting Common Core standards two years ago, the state embraced the goal of aligning high school achievement with college and career expectations. The API needs to change to reflect this, the Ed  Sector report says.

In his veto message of SB547 last year, Brown said that changing API now, when facing the challenges of new Common Core curriculum, texts, and tests, “doesn’t make sense.”

Sharply rebutting that, the authors wrote, “In fact, what doesn’t make sense is implementing new standards, tests, and curriculum that are aligned with college and career readiness while continuing to evaluate school performance based on an entirely different goal. More important, Brown’s continued opposition to CALPADS, his refusal to apply for federal funds to improve the state’s data collection, and his veto of the API redesign, only serve to maintain the very status quo that he repeatedly condemns.”

While college acceptance rates are indicators of readiness, the report recommends adding evidence of post-high school achievement to the API, such as college remediation rates, percentage of students who return to college after one year, and the percentage of students who enter the military or who go straight to work after high school. Unlike states like Florida, which track students after high school, California has incomplete, voluntarily collected data – hence the criticism of Brown for forgoing chances for federal database money.

Underutilized EAP measure

California does have one measure of readiness that other states consider a model: the Early Assessment Program, a series of questions created by the California State University and administered as a supplement to CSTs taken by high school juniors. But the authors said that “while touted as a model for those developing Common Core assessments, its respect outshines its influence.” The University of California and most community colleges don’t use results of EAP, and most high schools aren’t using the followup courses in math and expository writing that would enable high school seniors to bypass remediation in college.

Quoting a 2006 survey that found 10 percent of high school teachers said their students graduated not ready for college, compared with 44 percent of college faculty who said students arrived unprepared, the report cited “mismatched expectations on both sides.” Including college readiness measures in the API would encourage high schools, colleges and business leaders to work closer to create common expectations and share expertise and knowledge. The report cited promising examples: collaboration between a San Diego high school and the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to redesign high school English courses; and the extensive agreements between Long Beach Unified and the local community college and CSU, Long Beach.

Calling SB 1458 “my highest priority,” Steinberg said, “I really believe this bill would bring about a change in cultures. It would create incentives to link education with needs of economy in a fundamental way.”

“The Administration is fine with the API the way it is. I disagree and want to limit the importance of testing,” he said.

The bill, which has passed the Senate, will be heard in the Assembly Education Committee on June 27. Steinberg said he hoped to negotiate with Brown on the measures in the bill. It includes the possibility of including school inspections, which Brown raised in his veto message and mentioned in his State of the State message in January.

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 (, a coalition of labor, employers, teachers, and other organizations committed to protecting and enhancing access to Career Technical Education in California schools.

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.”

Tom Torlakson’s blueprint

Create a Commission on Educator Excellence to jump-start policies on teacher and principal development; increase the adoption of digital materials; incorporate phys ed  into a school’s API score.

These are among dozens of recommendations in Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s “Blueprint for Great Schools,” a 25-page report released on Tuesday. Seven months in the making, it’s the product of his massive transition team, 59 advisers consisting of  parents, business leaders, teachers, academicians, and school administrators.

Sweeping in its scope, the report makes a number of reasonable suggestions without hard edges – a reflection of Torlakson’s consensus style, temperament, and interests: teacher training, career-technical education, and early childhood education.

In California’s fractured division of K-12 responsibilities, Torlakson doesn’t set policy; the State Board does. But his priorities also match up well with those of Gov. Jerry Brown, State Board President Michael Kirst, who chaired Torlakson’s school finance subcommittee, and key Democratic legislators, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in particular. And, from all appearances, Torlakson and the State Board are making great efforts to work together. So there’s a chance that some of the report’s proposals – especially those not requiring substantial new money – may gain traction. The report also has the weight of the transition team’s two co-chairs, Stanford University School of Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and David Rattray, senior vice president of education and workforce development for the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.

Revive languishing programs for teachers

Budget cuts, combined with flexible spending, have shrunk teacher and administrator development and training programs. California has cut or malnourished model programs – like BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment), Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) – for mentoring underperforming teachers, as well as School Leadership Academies. There is little collaboration time left for teachers.

The Commission on Educator Excellence will focus on reviving some of these programs. Darling-Hammond, who chaired the educator quality subcommittee and has agreed to serve on the State Commission on Teacher Credentialing, champions another idea which the report says could “dramatically strengthen educator preparation”:  enforcing the new performance assessments that all beginning teachers must take and using the results to measure the quality of teacher preparation programs.

An effective teacher and administrator evaluation system would be the glue binding these programs together. The report does recommend the creation of one without venturing into the hot-button details, other than to say the new system should incorporate “appropriate evidence of student learning.”

Integrating career technical education or “linked learning” into high school while better aligning K-12 courses with college and career expectations is a focus of the report. It urges removing the constraints that  A-G – the courses required for admission to a CSU or UC school – and standardized tests have imposed in discouraging students to take, and schools to offer, courses in engineering, biotechnology, and technology. They are electives, not sciences, under A-G.

It also recommends removing barriers preventing high school students from taking community college courses and – listen up, Jerry Brown – urges linking CALPADS, the K-12 student database, with higher education and workforce databases to track students’ records of success.

Other recommendations include:

  • Building on a process started by Gov. Schwarzenegger, speed up the instructional materials adoption process to allow more digital materials and create incentives to provide inexpensive Internet and computing devices to all students. “It may be structured as a  public-private investment as long as the benefits are provided for all kids,” Darling-Hammond told me;
  • Revise the high school exit exam to make it more relevant to preparing for college and career goals;
  • Protect First Five State Commission and county commissions’ funding to preserve vital services for children up to age five;
  • Develop a web of support for children, maternal education, and home visits to infants;
  • Increase access to high-quality summer learning programs, especially all-day programs that blend recreation and academic support;
  • Support legislation allowing passage of a parcel tax by a 55 percent majority vote;
  • Create incentives for district consolidation to save money;
  • Use emerging technologies for more efficient operations and improvements in instruction; revise regulations on minimum instruction time to capture efficiency.

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

‘College for all’ strategy misguided

A Harvard Graduate School of Education report that urges moving away from a “college for all” approach to education reform has created a coast-to-coast roiling debate.

“Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century” calls for a much broader approach to secondary education than a college-prep curriculum for a four-year university.  It should emphasize multiple career and college pathways in high school leading to associate’s degrees and job skills certificates.

An estimated two-thirds of jobs that will be created over the next decade will require some education beyond high school, notes the report. But half of these will demand less than an associate’s degree, for jobs in nursing, commercial construction, health-care technology and manufacturing that demand technical skills. More than a quarter of people holding licenses short of an associate’s degree earn more than the average person with a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, only 40 percent of young people who start college attain a bachelor’s or associate’s degree by their mid-20s. Most have little to show but debt.

The report is being praised as a dose of reality by business organizations and career and technical education advocates – especially vocational  teachers, who have seen their ranks depleted as middle and high schools have focused on core academic subjects. But some advocates of universal college-prep curriculums, like the A-G requirements for admission to CSU and UC campuses, worry about taking a step backward to tracking of low-income, minority kids and giving up prematurely on a movement committed to higher achievement for all children. “Here comes a report that wrongly suggests to them that all of the work they’ve put into this effort has been for naught,” said Kati Hancock, president of Washington-based The Education Trust.

There is middle ground between those advocating A-G as a default curriculum, including my employer, Silicon Valley Education Foundation, and the old guard at regional centers, offering stand-alone vocational courses. In California, it is 500 partnership academies, schools within larger schools combining academics, technical training and counseling, and an ambitious plan by ConnectEd California to expand the multiple-pathways approach to college and career training to whole districts. The report highlights this “linked learning initiative,” and Hancock, while noncommittal, says Ed Trust is examining it. Academic courses in the partnership academies are aligned with A to G requirements.

“Pathways to Prosperity” recommends looking at European nations, especially Denmark and Finland, where, after taking common courses through ninth or tenth grade, most students take a program combining workplace and classroom learning. The United States, the report says, is “an outlier in its approach to preparing young people for success. … We need to revolutionize our approach. Students should have plentiful opportunities to participate in work-linked learning – ranging from job shadowing to internships – in secondary schools.”

The elephant in the classroom

The challenge is to avoid reverting to tracking: steering low-income and minority children into non-college-bound classes, a prevalent past practice that continues. In California, the goal would remain for all students to complete Algebra I by the end of eighth or, at latest, ninth grade, to be at grade level in English, and to take courses that by the end of sophomore year leave open the option of going on to a four-year college.

The state must back up that commitment by extending the school day, attracting the best teachers to underperforming schools, and providing them extra resources, says Manny Barbara, vice president of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. “Attention to jobs and careers cannot be an excuse to give up on equity,” he says.

If there were more money, there would be opportunities to expand middle school career education and counseling, apprenticeships in high school, and multiple pathways. But for now, there are only cuts. In some districts, vocational courses like wood shop and electives are being eliminated to make room for catchup courses in English or math.

On top of that, career and technical education is “on the outside of the three drivers of K-12 education: what is required, what is funded, and what is tested. CTE is not part of high school course mandates or testing,” so it remains vulnerable, says attorney Fred Jones, spokesman for the California Business Education Association.

The implication for California is, in the near run, to protect partnership academies and career and technical education from further budget cuts, says Gary Hoachlander, president of ConnectEd. When there eventually is additional funding, he says, a priority should be to expand the high school day from six periods to seven or eight. Then, he says, students will be able to do job shadowing and engage in experiences in real-world learning with time for taking other electives and repeating a course if necessary. “It wouldn’t come down to pitting the arts against CTE,” he says.

Career tech center’s high grad rate

The Center for Advanced Research and Technology in Clovis is an impressive place, a model facility for career and technical education that other school districts will recreate one day when they once again have money.

Serving 1,300 students in Clovis and Fresno, CART blends college prep academics with technical skills for juniors and seniors who work half-days in 13 labs. They include biomedical engineering, forensic science, engineering, advanced communications, and global dynamics.

CART teachers and administrators have had testimonials and anecdotal evidence from employers and students who said they found the real-world exposure to college and careers challenging and inspiring. Now, there is additional data to support these assumptions.

A seven-year study showed that a larger proportion of CART graduates go on to community college than high school graduates statewide, and also significantly larger numbers than similarly matched peers in Clovis and Fresno. To a lesser extent, the comparison also holds for graduates who go on to a four-year university.

Overall, 72 percent of CART graduates since 2002-03 went on to community college, compared with 29 percent of high school graduates statewide. That comparison held up for all demographic groups, including African American graduates (68 to 32 percent) and Hispanics (73 to 32 percent).

More pertinent was the peer comparison, matching students in CART with juniors and seniors in the district with similar demographics, parent education levels, and scores on standardized tests; 71 percent of CART grads enrolled in community college, compared with 60 percent of their peers. The difference held a year later, with 62 percent of CART graduates still enrolled in community college, compared with 51 percent of non-CART graduates.

Students solder at a robotics lat at CART (courtesy of CART).
Students solder at a robotics lat at CART (courtesy of CART).

CART courses are A-G aligned, fulfilling an admission requirement to a CSU or UC campus. The percentage of CART graduates going on to a four-year university was 23 percent, compared with 21 percent of non-CART graduates. The study didn’t tabulate the percentage of students who chose community college to save money and then transferred to UC or CSU after two years.

The study was done by California Partnership for Achieving Student Success, with funding by the James Irvine Foundation, a key promoter of the concept of linked learning. This strategy prepares students for work careers or college through project-based, technical applications within career pathways. Irvine has funded district-wide linked learning planning in a dozen districts.

CART, serving as a regional facility for students from 13 high schools, differs from career academies – small schools within a school that provide three-year programs in a career pathway, along with internships and academic support. Career academies also have increased college-going rates, especially for students at risk, by creating a small-school community.

Devin Blizzard, CEO of CART, said that CART, too, has been able to provide students with a small learning community. The 100 students in each of the 13 career pathways study and work together daily in a three-hour interdisciplinary block, team-taught by three teachers. They break into small groups for hands-on projects; about 40 percent have internships.

CART has equipment that few individual high schools can afford, like polymerase chain-reaction machines and a spectrometer in the $1.5 million lab for the biomedical program that opened last fall. The psychology lab is team-taught by a chemistry, English, and neuroscience teacher (the only California program with a teacher who majored in neuroscience, according to Blizzard).

“The CART effect is not just technical knowledge but a set of values, like tenacity,” Blizzard said. “Students get to experience a profession in a high school environment.”

Career academies must become model, not niche, for engaging students

While unemployment rates remain stubbornly high, there is another grim reality we cannot ignore. Figures released last month by the California Dept. of Education indicate that more than one in five students – 22 percent – in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District drop out of school, matching that of the state as a whole.

As a parent with three children in the district, I find this statistic alarming. As a businessman, I know this data is indicative of the trouble companies have in finding highly skilled workers to fill jobs. As a local policymaker, I am proud to say that there are efforts under way within the district and throughout California to address both the dropout crisis and the challenge of preparing all of our youth for the modern workforce.

According to the national business leader organization America’s Edge, employers say that even applicants with a four-year college degree are entering the workforce underprepared. So it is no surprise that those who are coming straight out of high school are even less prepared for careers in today’s knowledge-based economy. Dropouts have even fewer options and, unfortunately, many turn to crime, which further burdens our economy and depletes our local resources.

Not every high school student must go on to a four-year university, but every student should have the opportunity to do so. Every student should also be prepared for the world beyond school. With or without a degree, job seekers must enter the workforce as communicators, collaborators, and critical thinkers.

In an effort to achieve these goals and ensure that public education in the 21st century is relevant, schools around the state have turned to a model that links academics with career-technical education and work-based learning opportunities.

Recently, I visited the Architecture, Construction, Manufacturing and Engineering (ACME) Academy at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord. The 156 students in the program receive their core subjects – English, math, and science – through the lens of this particular industry sector, which helps keep them interested and engaged in school. The integration and cross-subject projects allow them to see the connection between what they are learning in school and how it applies to the real world.

The students I spoke to were enthusiastic about the work they were doing. They relished the challenges of developing and executing their work plans. They were confident and proud of their accomplishments. It was clear they were applying traditional high school subjects in a way that resonated with them and reinforced their pursuits. It was inspiring to see kids having fun while actively learning.

The ACME Academy is supported by partnerships with Chevron, USS-POSCO Industries, the Contra Costa Water District, and the local carpenters, electricians, mechanics, and pipefitters unions, which provide industry support and curriculum guidance. But ACME is just one local example. Other Linked Learning academies are based on California’s biggest industries, such as information technology, health science, law, and hospitality – and each academy has its own industry partners.

Research shows that these programs are working. Nationally, high-risk students who participate in career academies are far less likely to drop out of school. Participating students go on to work 12 percent more hours per week and earn 11 percent more money than students not in the programs.

Yet too often, such academies are dismissed as niche programs intended for kids who cannot succeed in a mainstream, college-track curriculum. So-called “vocational education” has become a negative term, synonymous with underachievement and limitations. Such thinking is outdated and misses the critical point that our current approach is failing to produce the relevant, contemporary, and effective education all of our students need to become better prepared to compete in our global economy. As our times are new, we must think anew and look to new models and approaches to most effectively prepare all of our children for the world in which we live.

Kish Rajan is a member of the Walnut Creek City Council and has been a mobile technology professional in the Bay Area since 1996.

Green-tech academies vetoed

“Green jobs”  in conservation and alternative energy will require workers exposed to careers in those fields and trained in emerging technologies. But a  bill  to create  97  green high school career-tech academies was killed last night by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

The academies under SB 675 would have been financed  by diverting $8 million from a small ($.00022 per kilowatt) surcharge on electricity. In his veto message, Schwarzenegger said the bill would set a “dangerous precedent” in funding programs outside of the Proposition 98 guarantee for K-12 schools. He also said that siphoning money from the Energy Resource Programs Account would force the California Energy Commission to increase the surcharge paid by all electricity users and drain money from its purpose: funding  energy-efficiency programs and  licensing renewable energy facilities.

There are currently 475 partnership academies, which are 3-year programs that offer hands-on training in a career area, work internships, and academic courses and supports, such as tutoring. But state funding for many  academies is due to expire within a year, with no money  for creating new ones. SB 675, sponsored by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, would have established academies in the fields of energy and water conservation, renewable energy, and pollution reduction.

Other education bills had their fates decided last night:

SB 1357, which would require that the state collect data on chronic absenteeism and truancy through the state student data system, known as CALPADS, and create an early warning system for districts of students deemed at risk of dropping out. In signing it, Schwarzenegger took a swipe at the Department of Education, expressing “serious concerns about the frustrating delays that schools, teachers, and parents have had to endure”  because of poor oversight of CALPADS by state education officials. He called on the Department and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell to consult with State Chief Information Officer Teri Takai to get the system right.

Implementing the bill is contingent on finding federal funding.

AB 2446, which would have allowed students to substitute a career education course for a year-long course in either foreign language or the arts as a graduation requirement. The bill was supported by industry and manufacturing groups but strongly opposed by language and arts teachers, who expressed anger at dropping courses that develop creativity and prepare students for a diverse world. Scharzenegger vetoed the bill, but not for those reasons. He said he feared the bill would add costs to school districts and possibly create a state mandate to fund additional career education academies.

The bill would not have affected districts that require students to pass all of the A-G courses needed for admission to a four-year state university. Students still would have to take the required foreign language and arts classes. But for other districts, the potential loss of arts and foreign language classes could have limited some students’ access to A-G classes.