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Unique Senate field trip promotes career tech, linked-learning


SIA CABINET REPORT. MARCH 5, 2013.  Facing new threats under the governor’s proposed budget, the state’s career technical education programs are hoping to get a major political boost this week when the entire state Senate embarks on an unprecedented field trip to Long Beach Unified and its highly successful linked-learning schools.

The expectation is that as many as 30 Senators will begin this morning with a tour of Long Beach Unified’s Cabrillo High School to view first-hand its pioneering linked learning programs, designed to put students on track for success after graduation.

The tour was organized by Senate President Darrell Steinberg, a major advocate of career tech and author of legislation this session that would give tax incentives to companies that support career tech education.

The two-day policy conference will focus on how Long Beach has been able to help close the achievement gap by aligning “rigorous academics to the world of work and careers,” he said in a statement.

Linked learning – the modern-day version of career tech ed – transforms today’s high school experience by merging strong academics, demanding technical education and real-world experience to give students an advantage in high school, postsecondary education and careers.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to restructure how the state funds K-12 education, however, money previously awarded to schools for specific programs, such as CTE, GATE and class-size reduction, would be lumped into one large payment available for any educational purpose, at the discretion of local administrators and school boards.

While there is broad support throughout the education community for Brown’s overall proposal, there remains the concern that without some restrictions or oversight, many schools, still struggling financially, would abandon these programs for other educational needs, or to increase teacher and administrator salaries and benefits.

Some senators during an education budget hearing last week expressed that concern to a group of district superintendents.

“I happen to be a real devotee of career technical education,” said Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles. “The reason that a lot of my kids tell me they drop out is because their high school diploma ain’t worth nothin’ anyway so why should they stay.

“If I’m going to walk out of school with a piece of paper that says I passed a test but that test doesn’t, per se, mean anything and I have no skill – I ain’t a plumber, I ain’t a carpenter, I’m not an electrician, I’m not a mechanic,” he said.

It is exactly this dilemma – that thousands of kids are dropping out or graduating from high school without the skills needed to make a living or further their education – that linked learning addresses.

And perhaps nowhere in the state is it modeled more successfully than at Long Beach Unified.

The district – the third largest in California with 81,000 students in 84 public schools – has earned many of the nation’s top accolades, including the national Broad Prize for Urban Education, and was recently named among the world’s 20 leading school systems in sustained and significant improvements, according to a report from the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company.

“Long Beach is such a great place for [the senators] to be going,” said Hilary McLean, deputy director of the Linked Learning Alliance, a statewide coalition of education, businesses and community organizations partnering to promote and participate in linked learning programs. “Their implementation is a shining example of taking linked learning to scale district-wide.”

Long Beach, a member of the Linked Learning Alliance, has formed partnerships with some 1,200 businesses, agencies and organizations to offer what are known as ‘pathway academies’ in numerous career fields, including business, engineering and design, law and justice, health, and computer media, arts and animation.

In addition, through an alliance with two local post-secondary institutions, all graduates of Long Beach high schools are provided a tuition-free first semester at Long Beach Community College. All students who complete minimum college prep or transfer requirements are also guaranteed admission to California State University Long Beach.

Studies suggest that the integrated approach of linked learning leads to higher graduation rates, increased postsecondary enrollments, higher earning potential and greater civic engagement.

Despite the fact that state funding for career technical education, or linked learning, faces uncertainty, administrators of some of the state’s biggest districts say they, like Long Beach, have already committed to and made great strides in restructuring their academic curriculum to meet the college and career needs of their students – and the movement is still growing.

A coalition of nine school districts (including Long Beach) known as the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE – representing over a million students in the state – recently submitted a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education for relief from some of the requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law. (See Cabinet Report March 1, 2013)

As part of the Obama administration’s waiver approval process, states – and in this case – districts must agree to submit plans for graduating students who are prepared for college and career.

“It’s trying to get to a much broader, more rich and deep and complete accountability system for our kids that is more fulfilling in their educational experience,” Mike Hanson, Fresno Unified School District superintendent, told senators at last week’s hearing. “Our board took action in October ahead of Proposition 30 to invest in programs, and $4.5 million of that $13 million is going into middle school schedules to open up CTE-type coursework to give kids a run up into the high school level so that they’re more aware of what is out there as options for them moving forward.”