When schools and districts consider implementing any new improvement approach, they obviously must consider costs. Linked Learning pathways offer elements not typically provided in traditional high schools and in some cases implementing those elements may require additional planning time or resources. It is often assumed this will cost significantly more, but in many cases, rather than pursuing new funding, districts can reallocate existing resources to address these costs.
Following are ideas for reallocating resources to address those elements. Many of the examples are contributed by those participating in the California Linked Learning District Initiative. Districts and schools can consider these as they plan pathway implementation.
Pathway sites often need to change the school schedule from a six-period day to a seven-period day or block scheduling to allow students to complete a college preparatory curriculum, technical courses, and work-based learning. While some assume that shifting to this different schedule will cost more, at least one district has accomplished the change without adding costs by working with the unions to lengthen the school day by 10 minutes and shorten the school year by 5 days.
Adopting a block schedule allows schools to offer more classes per semester, but fewer periods per day. This type of schedule also allows schools to capture class-changing transition minutes. Admittedly, block scheduling requires certain considerations—for example, to ensure that Spanish II is offered sequentially following Spanish I, without a long gap between the two courses. But many teachers find longer periods preferable because they allow students to complete projects, labs, work-based learning opportunities, and other engaging learning experiences.
Scheduling classes that are different sizes may even help save costs. For example, if you offered fewer sections of 9th grade Social Studies, resulting in larger class sizes, you could offer a smaller technical class not in the traditional high school schedule.
Integrated Curriculum Planning
Teachers from different subject areas need common planning time to develop integrated curriculum units. Instead of increasing planning time at an additional cost, many high schools with pathways assign a common prep period to pathway teachers so that they may use that time one or more days per week for curriculum planning. Using the time differently (prepping together instead of individually) results in no net increase in costs because the amount of teacher preparation time is the same.
Work-based learning, which often is not offered in traditional high schools, may require funding to plan programs, provide ongoing supervision, and offer transportation. To alleviate transportation costs, students can access mentors through a virtual platform such as ConnectEd Studios or through virtual internships such as those offered at businesses like Acme Animation. School-based experiences, which do not require transporting students, can also leverage expertise of business partners with a class or group project that is guided by industry mentors and serves a real-world need, or through a student-run enterprise. Reallocating funds for extracurricular activities to offer fun but work-focused experiences, such as Virtual Enterprise or Junior Achievement, can also help in supporting work-based learning opportunities without additional costs.
Linked Learning teachers may benefit from professional development focused on collaborative teaching, project-based learning, or curriculum integration, whereas teachers in conventional high schools might focus their professional development on other topics. Changing the focus of professional development rather than simply adding new sessions will allow districts to avoid new costs.
In some advanced technical classes, such as architecture, engineering, or biomedicine where students are working around complex or potentially dangerous equipment, smaller classes are desirable. While the initial assumption is that this will cost more, a pathway might offer a larger 9th grade survey class which would allow them to provide a smaller 12th grade advanced technical class. This concept is true in traditional high schools as well when, for example, students in AP biology would benefit from a smaller class size. Hands on experience may require more funding, but that is needed in any school.
Many features that Linked Learning provides are arguably those that all high schools would hope to offer. For example, with many disadvantaged students arriving in high school without the skills and knowledge needed to succeed, supplemental services such as tutoring and counseling are needed. And without question, all high schools could use more funding to improve student engagement and achievement.