In general, school is where individuals prepare for real-world careers. Today, that preparation is more important than ever and CSULB is leading the charge to do so.
“For most of the 20th century, federal funds for vocational education were focused on a two-track system,” said Jared Stallones, a professor in CSULB’s College of Education who coordinates the university’s single-subject program. “You had your general secondary education and then had vocationalized classes like auto shop and cosmetology. They were funded separately, the teachers were paid separately.”
Some of the laws, however, prevented students who were in the vocational track from taking more than 25 percent of their high school courses in the academic track, so the system was very limiting.
“As a result, you had this very undemocratic tracking system and that was kind of a problem,” said Stallones.
So, beginning in the 1970s, the federal government began calling on schools to make the academic and vocational tracks relevant to one another. For roughly 30 years, vocational education and general education were moving in the same direction. The problem was, they weren’t really integrating.
“In the early part of the 21st century, California started putting money into a program called the California Partnership Academies and these high schools really did begin to integrate the academics with the vocational track,” said Stallones.
That produced positive results. Students in those partnership academies attended school more regularly, earned more credits while they were in high school and tended to graduate with a greater frequency than others. That translated into students going into higher education at greater rates and, seven years after high school graduation, they were earning more money—all good things.
At that point, the James Irvine Foundation and other private entities, wanted to see if the vocational and academic tracks could be integrated further. They provided support for nine school districts, including Long Beach Unified, to work on a curriculum project and out of that grew what is now called “Linked Learning.”
And though the nine school districts are in California, the program has been tested in Detroit and Houston, as well as other parts of the nation. Still, with 14 percent of the nation’s students and 20 percent of the country’s low-income students in California, the nation’s eyes watch the success—or failure—of such programs.
Collectively, the nine pilot districts serve more than 315,000 of the roughly 2 million high school students in California public schools. More than three-quarters of these students are non-white and over half are disadvantaged.
“Linked Learning is a good term because it connects the traditional high school and a student’s career interests with the local community and the community connection is something the partnership academies had not really done a lot of, so this is kind of a new thing,” said Stallones.
Students in certified Linked Learning pathways take regular general education courses, but teachers in those pathways work together in teams—cross-disciplinary teams—to develop career-based projects as a basis for instruction and assessment for these students.
“One of the things that makes the Linked Learning academy a little bit different is that students are required to take at least three serious technical preparation courses and in some cases they graduate from high school with a professional certificate,” added Stallones. “There’s a work-based learning component which ties the community into the school. Sometimes the students go out and do an internship, sometimes professionals are brought in.”
There are roughly 35 certified Linked Learning pathway schools in the state aligned with California’s 15 major industry areas and, through the legislature’s leadership, California has committed $500 million to expand the program.
“The reason it’s called a pathway is because the career themes that these are built around are the 15 career themes that the California Department of Labor has identified,” said Stallones. “Things like agriculture, transportation, medical and engineering technology.”
The other thing that gets linked in Linked Learning is a connection to 21st century readiness skills for college or career, things like being able to be organized, to learn on your own, to work well with others and to articulate your ideas and your thoughts.
“Those are skills that you’ll need no matter what you do with your life,” said Stallones.
So why is CSULB so involved?
“Cal State Long Beach was chosen by the CSU Chancellor’s Office to spearhead a collaboration of six other CSUs to develop educators for Linked Learning settings,” said Stallones. “What we are finding is that in order for teachers to work well in these settings they must to work together on common curriculum areas and issues.”
For example, a history teacher still teaches the history standards, but with an eye towards what those same students are doing in their biology or algebra or English classes. The teacher can then reference those things and make learning a whole piece rather than just disciplinary silos. Of course, teachers need some special preparation in order to be successful and that’s where CSULB comes in.
In 2011, Cal State Long Beach embarked on redesigning its single-subject credential program to prepare candidates to teach in Long Beach, or anywhere else they would want to go, in those settings. That was so successful that the chancellor’s office tasked CSULB with organizing the six other CSU campuses to work on teacher preparation, administrator preparation and counselor preparation. Many of the CSU campuses had been working in relative isolation up to that point.
Stallones pointed out that while teachers, obviously are in the classroom, the role of administrators and counselors is equally important. In order for administrators to head up Linked Learning schools, they have to understand the additional time needed for faculty to plan together, the additional support they need to be able to deliver to students and they have to be able to go out into the community and make the needed contacts with business and industry.
“The teachers that I have spoken to who have been doing this for a long time now are so happy with the results for the students,” he said, “but it’s also so much more interesting for them and it builds in relevance that they otherwise would kind of have to whip up.”
And how does the popular and successful Long Beach College Promise fit in?
“It fits in quite naturally because were working on high school to two-year to four-year pathways that would stay consistent with the Linked Learning pathways,” said Stallones. “So a student, ideally, graduates from a Linked Learning pathway in, say, engineering, from Long Beach Unified, and goes into a two-year college and takes basic engineering courses and then moves right into the College of Engineering here on campus.
“I’m an education historian and I was a teacher for 20 years before I went into higher education 15 years ago,” he added. “I tend to be cynical about reform movements because they come and go, but I’m excited about this one.”