Since 2006, our grantees and partners have expanded Linked Learning from a small demonstration in a few high schools to pilot Linked Learning in nine districts across the state, and then to a rapidly growing movement to fundamentally transform high school in scores of districts serving hundreds of thousands of California youth. The approach is now attracting national interest – and adoption in multiple states.
Beginning in 2006, Irvine supported a network of 16 high schools, occupational programs, and nonprofits providing key components of Linked Learning. This demonstration was led by ConnectEd. Early evaluations showed that, compared to statewide averages, students in these programs had higher graduation rates and better pass rates on the California High School Exit Exam.
Starting in 2009, a growing field of educators, community groups, and other partners have been working together to make Linked Learning available to youth across the state, whether they are in high school, moving on to postsecondary education, or no longer participating in formal education. These efforts have taken several approaches:
Strengthening school districts — Launched in 2009, the Irvine-funded California Linked Learning District Initiative was implemented over seven years within nine California school districts that, together, served 14 percent of the state’s public high school students (including a high percentage of low-income youth of color, within rural and urban geographies). Findings demonstrated the value of a systemic approach to Linked Learning, and generated key outcomes and lessons that continue to shape Linked Learning policy and practice.
Connecting through colleges — Community colleges and the California State University system are exploring how Linked Learning can increase relevance and achievement in the classroom.
Re-engaging out-of-school-youth — The Opportunity Links for Youth Initiative applied Linked Learning to re-engage those who are no longer in school, who are underemployed or unemployed, and who are actively seeking a way into college.
With mounting evidence that Linked Learning helps students graduate and prepare for success in college and career, the California Department of Education offered assistance to local education agencies that launch Linked Learning programs.
Sixty-three districts and county offices of education were selected to participate in the Linked Learning Pilot Program, together serving more than 600,000 public high school students — 30 percent of California’s total. The state legislature also established a $500 million California Career Pathways Trust. This major investment encouraged regional partnerships between schools and industry, and boosted and affirmed the value of work-based learning (a core Linked Learning element).
With the help of anchor organizations in four focus regions, new connections began forming between districts, postsecondary institutions, businesses, and other partners in these shared geographies. Regional partners are demonstrating the advantages of being active and united in delivering the benefits of Linked Learning to more students.
Linked Learning leaders are also emphasizing the student journey to postsecondary, and want to help all students transition smoothly from high school graduation to college entry. They recognize the challenges involved with this transition, and Irvine has published a set of factors and a framework that institutions can use to help students bridge the gap successfully.
This work is complemented by funder investments to help ensure that the field has a solid infrastructure that supports expansion of Linked Learning quality and scale in coming years.
The Linked Learning Alliance conducted an intensive review and planning process, infused with hundreds of stakeholder voices. This process surfaced powerful aspirations: The field seeks to extend Linked Learning to a majority of students in California, especially those in low-income households. And it seeks a marked increase in the number of college and career approaches nationally that are anchored in equity and quality.
The next era emphasizes equity and quality, features new connections between high school and postsecondary institutions, activates deeper levels of employer engagement, and results in sustained adoption of the Linked Learning approach at scale.
The Alliance is central to these aspirations and is a standard setter, advocate, communicator, and field builder for Linked Learning.