Skip to content

Marking a Milestone, Celebrating our Partners in the Linked Learning Field

Elizabeth Gonzalez

Elizabeth Gonzalez, Former Portfolio Director

Does Linked Learning work?

That is a question we have continually sought to answer as Linked Learning has moved from demonstration at the high school level to application at the district level — and now to a position of broader implementation and support statewide. To help address this question, in each of the last seven years we commissioned evaluation of the California Linked Learning District Initiative. This Irvine-funded initiative launched in 2009; the nine districts that participated together serve 14 percent of the state’s public high school students, including a high percentage of low-income youth of color.

Partnering with this group of innovative districts and insightful support organizations, we set out to enhance Linked Learning in practice, determine what makes it successful at a systemic level, and demonstrate its viability as a comprehensive approach for high school reform.

While our grantmaking for the California Linked Learning District Initiative ended in 2015, we continue to support and applaud the field leaders and partners who are maintaining and growing Linked Learning in our state — and to share key outcomes and lessons from that work. The latest is this seventh-year evaluation that includes some noteworthy findings.

Positive outcomes

This major effort has generated remarkable results. First and foremost, evaluation conducted by SRI Education shows that Linked Learning makes a difference for high school students. High-quality, certified pathways are leading to more credits earned, decreased dropout rates, and higher graduation rates.

At Irvine, given our focus on equity, we are especially heartened to learn that Linked Learning has a positive impact for African-American, Latino, English-learning, and female students — as well as students with low prior academic achievement. We are also encouraged by promising initial outcomes for the first cohorts of high school graduates in this initiative.

For example, one year out of high school those entering the workforce were more likely to have jobs that included benefits such as sick time. And African-American students and those with low prior achievement were more likely to enroll in four-year versus two-year colleges.

On a larger stage, state leaders have drawn on evidence of student success from the Linked Learning District Initiative to shape education policy. California’s legislature has invested more than $2 billion to advance this approach through the Career Pathways Trust and the Career Technical Education Incentive Grant. With this fiscal support, districts and regional consortiums across California are building and expanding Linked Learning pathways — providing more opportunities for students to participate in this personally relevant, engaging approach to education.

These positive outcomes from the District Initiative offer ample reason to believe that more and more California students will dream bigger and experience success by being engaged in Linked Learning opportunities that prepare them for college and career.

Many heroes

There are several lead actors in the success story of the District Initiative. Top of the list are the teachers, administrators, and support teams in the nine districts that did — and are sustaining — the work. We salute the Antioch Unified, Long Beach Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Montebello Unified, Oakland Unified, Pasadena Unified, Porterville Unified, Sacramento City Unified, and West Contra Costa Unified Districts. They took a bold step to better serve their students, and their commitment and courage are fueling new levels of student success.

Then there are the partners who brought expertise, rigor, and so much heart to support districts, schools, and communities as they navigated a transformation in the delivery of high school education. This group includes ConnectEdNAFIEBCCenter for Powerful Public Schools, the College and Career Academy Support NetworkSRI Education, and the Linked Learning Alliance.

The talent and contributions of these players set the stage, formed the systems, and provided the knowledge districts needed to succeed — including capturing data that demonstrated successes and pinpointed areas for added attention.

Sharing knowledge

While our evaluation is not finished — SRI will continue to track three cohorts of students further into their postsecondary years — the seventh-year evaluation marks a significant moment in the life cycle of the District Initiative. We invite you to read the report, and to visit the Linked Learning Alliance website for related resources and to register for the upcoming Linked Learning Convention, where you can attend professional learning sessions on lessons from the District Initiative and its evaluation.

The SRI and Linked Learning Alliance teams are creating specialized summaries from the comprehensive evaluation. An initial product features practical implementation strategies for district and school personnel. Others are in development, including a brief for employers that cites the growth in workplace skills and dispositions for Linked Learning students. We will share these materials as they are produced.

What’s next for Irvine?

Irvine is taking stock of the increasingly vibrant Linked Learning field as we dig into our new focus: expanding economic and political opportunity for California families and young people who are working but struggling with poverty. We are making selective investments to advance the quality, scale, and sustainability of the Linked Learning approach.

We continue to pursue our goal of increasing the number of low-income young people who complete high school on time and earn a postsecondary credential by age 25. Today, all of the above leads us to support two complementary endeavors.

One involves the regional level as the next frontier for Linked Learning expansion. In partnership with Jobs for the Future, we are funding four regions with interest and potential to elevate, connect, and sustain Linked Learning across districts, postsecondary institutions, businesses, and other partners in a shared geography. Those regions are East Bay, Tulare-Kings, Long Beach, and San Bernardino.

Our second involves following the student from high school to postsecondary, enabling a smooth transition into college. This year we launched a pilot phase of investments in reforms and supports for remedial education, including acceleration strategies such as dual enrollment.

As part of Postsecondary Success, another initiative that we are developing, we are also funding regional partnerships between community colleges, California State Universities, and their feeder school districts to advance systemic policies and practices that support effective student transitions.

Irvine’s investment in these arenas continues in 2017, and we look forward to updating you on our progress and learning as the work unfolds.

We are appreciative of — and inspired by — the fruitful efforts of so many people over so many years to help prove and extend the value of Linked Learning. You are bringing forward a new state of promise and potential for California’s young people.

We look forward to seeing continued impact from Linked Learning partners, and to sharing those outcomes and lessons with the field.