Linked Learning transforms students’ high school experience by bringing together strong academics, demanding technical education, and real world experience that helps students gain an advantage in high school, postsecondary education, and careers. Linked Learning students follow industry-themed pathways in a wide range of fields, such as engineering, arts and media, biomedicine and health. These pathways prepare high school students for career and a full range of postsecondary options, including attending a 2- or 4-year college or university, an apprenticeship, the military, and formal employment training. A well-designed pathway consists of four core components:
Each pathway is grounded in a set of four guiding principles.
Linked Learning is flexible. The approach can be implemented using different models and in various educational settings. Models may include, but are not limited to, California Partnership Academies, career academies, National Academy Foundation schools, and small-themed schools. These programs and school types have distinct characteristics and requirements that may coincide with the core components and guiding principles of Linked Learning.
A Linked Learning approach relies on teachers to increasingly blend academic and technical curriculum in ways that connect theoretical knowledge and real-world applications. Integration can occur in two directions—infusion of appropriate and related academic concepts into technical courses to provide a theoretical foundation, and application of technical skills into academic courses to bring relevance. For example, when a carpentry instructor teaches students how to calculate volume to determine how many sacks of cement are needed to lay a foundation of a house, the teacher is reinforcing the geometry standards that students must master. Similarly, when a geometry teacher directs students to study architectural plans to figure out how much sheetrock is needed to line the walls and ceilings of a new home in order to master their understanding of surface area, the teacher makes mathematics more relevant and understandable. Students are able to answer the question, "Why do I need to know this?"
That said, there is no expectation that every academic and technical teacher will integrate 100 percent of the curriculum. Rather, teachers should attempt, in a realistic way, to make connections whenever possible, which may be periodically in their day-to-day lessons or during an end-of-term project. Curricular integration is time-consuming. It relies on teacher training and a willingness on the part of academic and technical teachers to collaborate.
Yes. By design, a pathway should ensure students access to, and encourage them to complete, the courses they need for admissions eligibility to the state’s colleges and universities. As such, courses that make up the academic core of a pathway should meet the eligibility requirements for admission to UC and CSU. Although only a percentage of high school students will enroll in UC and CSU, it is desirable for students to complete the minimum eligibility requirements to leave that option open. Doing so also better prepares students for coursework at the California community colleges, other training options, and the workforce.
Absolutely. A technical core of at least three year-long standards-aligned technical courses is a key component of each pathway. Authentic, industry focused problem-based learning is featured prominently in the academic core. And a pathway adopts the best traditions of work-based learning, which includes mentoring, job shadowing, internships, school-based enterprise, and virtual apprenticeships. Additionally, pathways promote participation in related student organizations such as Skills USA, Future Farmers of America, Health Occupations Students of America, or DECA. Linked Learning reinforces the value of real-world learning for all students.
For students on a standard schedule of six periods a day, it is possible, albeit challenging, for them to complete both. Doing the math, students in a four-year pathway are encouraged to complete:
These courses total 21.5 units of the 24 typically available for students on a 6-period day schedule, leaving 2.5 courses for other electives. This assumes that the student enters high school performing at grade level, without needing to take remedial courses.
However, a growing number of high schools have adopted more flexible schedules, such as a 4x4 block, that allow students to take up to 8 courses per year. Other schools use a "modified" block schedule or offer students 7- or 8-period days. With these schedule alternatives, any challenge to squeeze these requirements into the 4-year high school educational program disappears.
No. A pathway prepares students for any of a full range of postsecondary options—2- or 4-year college or university, an apprenticeship, the military, and formal employment training. To keep all of these options open for students, a pathway program of study should include the courses needed to be eligible for admission to the state’s public universities. It also ensures that students learn about key elements expected for success in particular postsecondary opportunities such as the additional courses (technical as well as academic), certifications, test scores, and extracurricular activities. A pathway is also appropriate for students who do not pursue any formal postsecondary education immediately following high school. Nevertheless, by design, pathways prepare students to pursue further education after high school, recognizing that few of today’s young people are likely to enjoy lasting career success with just a high school diploma.
No. High-quality, standards-based CTE courses have inherent value whether or not they have gained a–g approval from UC (as meeting faculty expectations for content and rigor). Furthermore, it is neither appropriate nor desirable for all CTE courses to strive for a–g certification. Linked Learning is designed to help students master a wide range of knowledge and skills—academics, industry-related knowledge, occupational skills, authentic “handson” experience, and multi-faceted problem solving, to name just a few. Some CTE courses, with the strong academic and theoretical focus sought by UC and CSU, should be eligible for a–g approval; others should not. But all CTE courses, provided they are grounded in state-approved industry and academic/ technical standards, play a central role in student learning.
On the contrary, the Linked Learning strategy rejects the practice of tracking that has negatively affected students who are predominantly low-income, Latino, and African-American. Linked Learning allows us to recognize that students will pursue a variety of options after high school. However, unlike tracking, in which judgments are made early in high school (often based on highly suspect criteria) about which students should be prepared for different postsecondary options, Linked Learning preserves the full range of postsecondary and career options for all students. And it allows students to select their own future directions after high school graduation. To be specific, a Linked Learning pathway does not offer a remedial, general, and college preparatory mathematics class. All students are offered the college preparatory class.
Yes, it is both unrealistic and wrong, and choosing a career path is not the objective for students enrolling in an industry-focused pathway of academic and technical study. Rather each pathway adopts an industry theme to offer students a real-world context for better understanding the academic and technical foundation they will need to succeed in whatever future postsecondary option or career path they choose. And, precisely because mastering the broad foundation of academic and technical knowledge is the primary objective of each pathway, students can easily switch pathways should they decide that another industry focus is more attractive. Nothing about Linked Learning should cause students to feel "locked in." That said, for students who do have a strong sense of what they want to do—in both career and further education—Linked Learning offers the opportunity to pursue that interest in depth. Students not only will develop a deeper understanding of the academic and technical knowledge relevant to their career choice, but also will have the opportunity to develop more specific occupational skills that will give them a leg up in the labor market.
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With Linked Learning, students in a building and engineering pathway might learn about geometry and algebra while designing and building a structure. Students in an arts, media, and entertainment pathway might learn persuasive writing skills while developing business plans, or creative writing skills while drafting scripts. The success of Linked Learning is grounded in its relevancy and rigor. Pathways connect learning with students' interests and career aspirations. They also connect to actual needs in our state's economy, and they help motivate young people to learn by answering the question: "Why do I need to learn this?"
While any school can be theme based, a key difference with pathways is that academic course content is coordinated with and reinforces technical course content and vice versa. The science teacher learns from the technical teacher what students did not understand in class and then can review those theories. Likewise, the technical instructor learns what theories to bring to life in the next hands-on technical class. This coordination helps students gain a greater depth of knowledge by seeing the connection between academic theories and real-world applications.
While Linked Learning is hardly the norm, it is already a powerful—and proven—approach in communities across California. It is operating in places like the School of Digital Media and Design at Kearny High in San Diego, Arthur Benjamin Health Professions High School in Sacramento, the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering Academy at Jordan High in Long Beach, the Academy of Business and Finance at Porterville High in the Central Valley, the Los Angeles High School of the Arts, and the Law Academy at Richmond High School.
Linked Learning is a flexible approach that can be implemented through various models such as California Partnership Academies, career academies, charter schools, and small-themed schools to name just a few. Today in California, 500 Partnership Academies are organized around one of the state's 15 major industry sectors, and another approximately 300 career academies are in operation. Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs) play an important part in many of these academies. In many other high schools, ROCPs are experimenting with innovative approaches to integrate academic and technical education.