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Connecting school to life: what we can learn from California’s career pathwaysPosted on February 1, 2017 at 6:08pm by Alex Harris

Hawaii faces turbulent times in public education. Our Governor has called for a “reboot” of the system that is forward focused and helps students to innovate for jobs that do not yet exist. Meanwhile the State Board of Education has decided not to renew Superintendent Matayoshi’s contract and Deputy Superintendent Schatz has announced his departure. All of which leaves the Department rudderless for now.

For teachers and school leaders, it feels like the terrain shifts beneath them on a daily basis. Most hunker down just hoping for the storm to pass. This is a really hard time to grow anything new.

And yet, our students cannot wait. For Hawaii’s economic landscape is increasingly defined by “educational haves and have nots”. At no time in our state’s history has it been more important for youngsters to obtain a postsecondary degree or credential and demonstrate employability skills like teamwork and communication.

So where is there space for stakeholders to come together? Politics aside, what issues are ripe for collaboration? Better preparing students for the world of work is one such issue upon which we all can agree.

Students work harder and dream bigger when they understand exactly how their learning is linked to their life and job prospects. Thanks to the James Irvine Foundation and visionary leaders like Gary Hoachlander and Anne Stanton, the state of California has pioneered this “Linked Learning” approach. So I recently attended their annual conference to understand what the work looks like.

Linked Learning pathways integrate four components in high school; rigorous academics that prepare students to take college courses without the need for remediation, technical training around high-need, high-skill occupations, work-based learning that lets students apply their knowledge within the workplace, and support services like career counseling.

The work is hard but starting to return results. In its seventh year, an external evaluation by SRI International found that Linked Learning pathways organized around industry themes lead to lower dropout rates, higher graduation rates and more credits earned. The Linked Learning approach closes the achievement gap by a third. Students also report they are developing key employability skills and higher wages.

I had several takeaways:

First, intermediary organizations must do the heavy lifting of training, coordinating, and connecting – taking these functions away from high schools, colleges and industry. Organizations like ConnectEd, Pivot Learning, National Academy Foundation, Jobs for the Future and local Chambers of Commerce have stepped into each region of California to provide glue that holds these efforts together.

Second, industry partners need clear parameters of how to engage. Giving students work based learning opportunities occurs within set categories, from guest speakers, job shadowing, internships, mock interviews and career fairs. Data systems linked to district student information systems track the intensity of these experiences and promise to answer looming questions about the impact of this work.

Third, guiding students through these new career pathways becomes increasingly important. Organizations like the Career Ladder Project are strengthening counseling at both the high school and community college levels. Rapid mapping of career pathway options helps students to see the way forward.

And fourth, the Linked Learning field has begun to professionalize itself. New certification systems describe a standard for excellence, revealing which career pathways truly offer quality. Data analytics are mining information for early impact. And evangelizing early adopters are giving way to more traditional leaders in school districts and community colleges.

By reading ahead a chapter or two, we see what it truly takes to help our youngsters develop the skills necessary to succeed in uncertain times. Linked Learning holds many lessons for Hawaii, if only we are willing to listen.

Alex Harris is the Senior Program Officer for Education at the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation. Alex has over fourteen years of professional experience spent improving the educational outcomes of children.

This blog post was originally posted on Harlod K.L. Castle Foundation. Founded in 1962, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation works to build resources for Hawai‘i’s future by investing in promising initiatives and organizations through grantmaking, using their convening power, and introducing and spreading new ideas and approaches to help solve some of Hawai‘i’s most pressing problems.

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