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A tale of two districts: How Linked Learning is helping two school districts improve student learning

May 15, 2012
Barbara McKenna

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                    

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Linked Learning Participating Districts
Student Data
Examples of Student Work-Based Learning

AnchorSTANFORD, CA — In 2007, John Muir High School in the Pasadena Unified School District was at risk of state intervention because of low performance on state standardized tests. But in the last few years the school has made impressive gains, including a dramatic reduction in dropout rates over the last two years and a closing in achievement gaps.
The school's improvements occurred following implementation of career academies through a statewide initiative known as Linked Learning. The initiative supports districts in implementing and sustaining smaller, themed schools known as “pathways.” These pathways integrate rigorous academic instruction with demanding technical curricula, work-based learning, and student supports.
Roughly 160 miles north of Muir, similar successes are being seen in Porterville Unified School District (Porterville USD) in Tulare County, which is also participating in the Linked Learning initiative. Across the district, students in pathways outperformed their peers in traditional school settings based on several indicators, including the state Academic Performance Index and High School Exit Exam.
These stories of the implementation and impact of Linked Learning are the focus of two new case studies written by researchers from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). The studies examine strategies for implementing the initiative and surface early indicators of student success. Download the case studies at this link.
The Linked Learning District Initiative was launched in 2008 by the James Irvine Foundation and supports nine California school districts (see list, below). This approach is also the focus of California Assembly Bill 2648 (Bass), which requires the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to examine the feasibility of establishing and expanding the initiative further (the bill uses the original name, "Multiple Pathways," rather than "Linked Learning"). The Muir pathways, for example, are business and entrepreneurship; engineering and environmental science; and arts, media, and entertainment. Each pathway offers an integrated core academic curriculum; an integrated core career technical curriculum; a series of work-based learning opportunities; and student support services.

Linked Learning is designed for high schools based on the premise that both academic and technical skills are necessary for a complete education and a successful future. They emphasize relevant, engaging, rigorous curriculum offered through pathways with a specific theme. As Pasadena Superintendent Jon R. Gundry notes, "Linked Learning is a terrific program because it gets us where we need to go in preparing students for living, working, and learning in the 21st century."  See examples of student work in pathways, below.
Despite differences in size, demographics, and structures some common issues and strategies emerge in these two case studies:
Implementation: In order to successfully implement the initiative, both districts thoughtfully developed internal structures that foster collaboration and distributed leadership. As former Pasadena Superintend Edwin Diaz noted, "If reform is implemented through a directive approach, and subsequently turnover in leadership occurs, people will just sit back and wait for the new direction."
Stakeholder engagement: A key component of Linked Learning is that it fosters ownership from the entire school community, including parents and community members. For example, in Pasadena teachers are involved in designing curriculum and program features. In Porterville, community members and businesses do everything from after-school tutoring, serving on advisory groups, fundraising, and providing field-based learning opportunities for students. The districts have also addressed recruitment and retention practices to foster school cultures in which Linked Learning is well supported.
Capacity building: Investing in staffing and professional development has been key in developing strong pathways. Schools are supported by the central office for strategic hiring, staffing, and scheduling that  strengthen pathway teams. Professional development support has come in multiple forms, including on-site professional development to address the specific needs of each school and participation by all Linked Learning districts in the statewide Linked Learning Alliance which provides intensive professional development support on the initiative to district and school-site staff.
Student improvement: Most important, of course, is whether or not the initiative is making a difference to students. Student enrollment, course completion, graduation, and postsecondary patterns are among the indicators under scrutiny by district leadership. Early indicators are showing that the pathways are positively impacting student success.


Linked Learning Participating Districts

Antioch Unified School District
Local District 4 of the Los Angeles Unified School District
Long Beach Unified School District
Montebello Unified School District
Oakland Unified School District
Pasadena Unified School District
Porterville Unified School District
Sacramento City Unified School District
West Contra Costa Unified School District

Porterville Work-Based Learning Stories

  • Students from the Academy of Engineering at Harmony Magnet Academy created plans for a proposed street upgrade adjacent to a new courthouse. Students created renderings, developed a budget, and researched local culture to include in their renderings. After city engineers reviewed the work, they were so impressed, they invited students to present their proposals to the Porterville City Council.
  • Students from the Multimedia and Digital Technology pathway at Monache High School, Digital Design and Communication at Granite Hills High School, and Academy of Performing Arts at Harmony Magnet Academy, filmed the documentary, “A Day in the Life of a Cowboy” for their work-based learning internships. This was one of many videos students created. Videos can be seen at this link. To see "A Day in the Life of a Cowboy," select the "Equestrian" link.
  • Harmony Magnet Academy students participated in several ways in the Porterville Air Faire. Engineering pathway students learned the science and engineering of hot air balloons and then applied that learning by helping to launch balloons, measuring and marking targets for pilots, and practicing on their own targets by dropping a flour-filled balloon from above. Students in the Multimedia & Technology pathway designed and produced a brochure for the event, getting a chance to apply their learning on marketing and production.
  • Producers of the movie, "The Devout," filmed in Porterville, provided Porterville students with the opportunity to participate in internships in a variety of ways: Monache High School’s multimedia program students produced a behind-the-scenes documentary of the process; students from the Porterville High School Health Academy interned with Imperial Ambulance to run the first-aid tent; and 10 students from Granite Hills High School’s digital designing class followed the progress of the film with interview spots on local KTIP Radio. In addition, a Monache High student, created the film’s Facebook page. The connection was made through the Tulare County Film Commission who connected producers to school administrators. 


Pasadena Work-Based Learning Stories

  • Through a collaboration with Pasadena's Light Bringer Project and the Art Center College of Design, students in John Muir High School's Arts, Entertainment & Media (AEM) pathway will participate in six workshops exploring the foundations and future of advertising. Looking at the use of symbols, typography, trigger words, the anatomy of a television commercial, and social media campaigns, the students will use their new skill sets to ultimately create campaigns to re-brand local nonprofits in their community.
  • A group of ninth and 10th graders in the AEM pathway are learning with artist-in-residence Elizabeth Goetz, an installation artist and former fabricator for the Television series "Wipe Out." Students are working with Goetz this semester designing and developing both a textile art installation piece and videos that will be projected onto the artwork.  Along with Goetz, a small team of teachers are mentoring students in the project.
  • During the summer of 2012, many students from all pathways will participate in internships with Pasadena and Los Angeles companies aligned to their pathway focus. The internships are managed by Ideal Youth, which selects student interns based on applications, provides four internship preparation workshops, and monitors students at the job site throughout the summer. Last Summer, this partnership yielded internship placements with: Pasadena Water & Power, PUSD Facilities Division, RAC Design/Build Architects, Levitt Pavilion Pasadena, and the Los Angeles Sparks basketball team.

Student Data

muir high school drop out rates
muir high school api


Granite Hills High School (Porterville)

porterville cahsee

porterville star test results
Source: Porterville Unified School District

Linked Learning Participating Organizations

The James Irvine Foundation
The James Irvine Foundation is a private, nonprofit grantmaking foundation dedicated to expanding opportunity for the people of California to participate in a vibrant, successful and inclusive society. The Foundation’s grantmaking focuses on three program areas: Arts, California Democracy, and Youth. Since 1937 the foundation has provided over $1 billion in grants to more than 3,000 nonprofit organizations throughout California. With $1.6 billion in assets, the foundation made grants of $65 million in 2010 for the people of California. Web site.

ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career
ConnectEd manages the Linked Learning District Initiative and was founded in 2006 with a grant from The James Irvine Foundation. As a hub for the Linked Learning field, ConnectEd develops tools, supports demonstration projects, provides technical assistance. leads collaboration, and promotes policies that expand pathways preparing young people for success in college, career and life. Web site.

Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE)
SCOPE is leading the Linked Learning District Leadership Series — providing research and professional development for district, school, and community participants. The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) was founded in 2008 to foster research, policy, and practice to advance high quality, equitable education systems in the United States and internationally. Web site.