Promising Practices for Success in Linked Learning Schools

For Immediate Release 
March 21, 2013
Contact: Eric Wagner (510) 465-6444, ext 318
New Ed Trust–West Study Finds Promising Practices for Student Success in Linked Learning Schools; Reveals Implications for District-Level Implementation throughout California

OAKLAND, CA (March 21, 2013) – As the Linked Learning high school reform initiative expands across California, the results of a two-year study by the Education Trust–West identifies promising practices in Linked Learning schools and districts. However, the study also notes variation in districtwide implementation of these best practices. The results of the study can be found in the new report released today titled, Expanding Access, Creating Options: How Linked Learning Pathways Can Mitigate Barriers to College and Career Access in Schools and Districts.

“Too many students are not achieving college and career success in California,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust–West, a statewide education advocacy organization that works to close gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color and low-income students. “Based on our research, we see that Linked Learning has the potential to reduce these inequities and offer students a real connection between academic and career success.”

According to its proponents, the Linked Learning approach aims to prepare students for postsecondary education and careers by connecting academics to real-world applications in school and workplace settings. The study examines the impact of the Linked Learning approach in four schools and three districts. High quality Linked Learning schools mitigated or eliminated traditional high school barriers to student access and success in college-preparatory coursework.

“These Linked Learning schools showed a real commitment to providing every student with meaningful college and career preparation,” said Jeannette LaFors, Director of Equity Initiatives at The Education Trust–West. “Students, parents, faculty, and business/industry partners are all working together to link academic preparation with real life work experiences to deeply engage and motivate students.”

The authors found that students graduated from Linked Learning schools and accessed college- and career-preparatory coursework at relatively high rates. However, students had mixed results on standardized assessments of student achievement such as the Early Assessment Program (EAP). They found that districts expanding Linked Learning have made notable progress, but found wide variation in the implementation of best practices identified at the site level. For instance, districts are offering more college preparatory courses that integrate career and technical education than ever before. However, many of their schools have failed to eliminate practices that can lead to academic tracking by race and class.

The enactment of state legislation (AB 790) is expanding the Linked Learning initiative into dozens of districts through the Linked Learning Pilot Program. The authors recommend that stakeholders hold districts to rigorous standards such as those established by ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career.

“We found that when implemented with fidelity, the Linked Learning approach can fundamentally transform teaching, learning and educational systems,” said Tameka L. McGlawn, Senior Practice Associate at The Education Trust—West. “As with any initiative, expanding Linked Learning offers promise and challenges.  We can and must ensure that Linked Learning intentionally serves all students adequately and equitably,” she concluded.

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About The Education Trust—West, a California GEAR UP Partner. 

The Education Trust—West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.

CALPADS Data Reveals Poor Results for Students of Color

Today’s release by the California Department of Education (CDE) of the state’s graduation and dropout rates has good news and bad news. The bad news is clear: The data show that California students, particularly low-income students, students of color, and other high-need populations, graduate from high school at alarmingly low rates. The good news is that for the first time, the graduation and dropout rates are accurate, transparent, and are no longer estimates, thanks to the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, or CALPADS.

This year’s data tell us even more about student performance. The data show that three out of four (74%) of our state’s students are graduating from high school in four years, and that 18% drop out. Sadly, the news is far worse for the state’s African-American and Latino students, who graduate from high school at abysmally low rates—59% and 68%, respectively. Nearly one out of three (30%) African-American students and nearly one quarter (23%) of Latino students drop out. We also now know that 68% of low-income students, 57% of students with disabilities, and 56% of English learner students graduate in four years.

Given that students of color currently represent the majority of students in California and will overwhelmingly comprise our future workforce, the gaps in high school success between these students and their peers should raise serious concerns for community members, educators, and policymakers. Education outcomes for students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, and English learners, whose needs and potential are often overlooked, are particularly disturbing when compared with the graduation rates of their more advantaged peers. For example, California’s white students graduate at a rate of 83% and Asian students at a rate of 89%. These students’ dropout rates stand at 12% and 8%, respectively.

“Before we had longitudinal data, state leaders based these numbers on a ‘best guess’ calculation,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West, a statewide education advocacy organization. “With CALPADS now up and running, California’s leaders can no longer ‘pass the buck’ for the state’s high dropout rate by questioning the accuracy of the data. We need them to immediately enact policy reforms that will dramatically improve graduation rates for all students.”

California GEAR UP serves the populations of students most in need and identified as underperforming with these data, and our numbers are promising. California GEAR UP Students showed:

  • Significant increases in the proportion of students scoring Proficient or Advanced on the California Standards Test in 8th Grade Algebra, Geometry, English/Language Arts, Science, and History (55%, 28%, 49%, 69%, and 93% respectively).
  • The proportion of students at GEAR UP schools scoring Proficient or Advanced on the Adequate Yearly Progress measure in mathematics increased by 27 percent; the statewide increase during that time was 15 percent.
  • Significant increases in the proportion of cohort students in the 11th grade scoring Proficient or Advanced on the California Standards Test in English/Language Arts, Algebra 2, Geometry, and Chemistry above the previous class of eleventh graders (16.5%, 100%, 12.5%, and 22.6% respectively)
  • Valley High School in Elk Grove, CA, a California GEAR UP school, graduated 94% of their senior class (the GEAR UP cohort) and received their diplomas.

More information on the Impact of California GEAR UP can be found on our website HERE.

How are you addressing the needs of students identified in this article?

Governor Brown’s Budget Cuts Education

The California Governor’s new budget slashes education across the board, including K-12 and higher education. Despite the dire economic situation in California, educators and voters alike were hoping to restore funding to their needed levels.

Dr. Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust—West, issued the following statement regarding the release of Governor Brown’s proposed budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year:

“The proposed budget by Governor Brown identifies painful cuts in education. These could be worse without legislative action and public approval of a potential proposition to extend tax increases – both of which have been difficult to secure in the past.”

“We are deeply concerned about the cuts to education and the potential for deeper cuts. Over the past three years, our state’s budget has been balanced on the backs of our children.  These cuts have disproportionally impacted students of color and students in poverty by increasing class sizes, cutting summer school and eliminating intervention programs that support student learning in districts across California.  For far too long, our education decisions have been made based on adult interests, not the needs of students.” READ MORE HERE.

Brown proposes spending $63.8 billion for K-12 schools next year, down $2.6 billion from this year’s budget, with much of the difference coming from the loss of federal stimulus money. The governor said state funding of schools is “generally even” next year compared with this year because schools have borne the brunt of past spending reductions.

However, some $2 billion of the school money would disappear if voters do not approve an extension of existing taxes in a ballot measure this summer.

The reduction in the education budget alarmed Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers.

“The proposed state budget continues to threaten the future of California by reducing our investment in public education and the students who will lead our state in the coming years,” Hittelman said, adding that the proposed new cuts in education would come on top of $18 billion in school-funding decreases over the last three years.

Brown proposed to reduce funding for the University of California and California State University systems by $500 million each, which he said was “a very difficult cut.”

For Cal State the reduction represents an 18% cut in funding from the state general fund, according to CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed, who predicted it will “have serious impacts on the state’s economy, limit access for students seeking entrance into our universities, and restrict classes and services for our current students.”

UC President Mark G. Yudof called it “a sad day for California” but said “the university will stand up and do all it can to help the state through what is a fiscal, structural and political crisis.”

The proposed budget will also be painful for community college students, who would see their fees climb from $26 per credit unit to $36.

What do you think about the governor’s budget?

When Minorities are the Majority.

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust West, contributed a recent open forum letter in the San Francisco Chronicle titled ‘When Minorities are the Majority.’  For the first time, Latinos students are the majority of California’s student population. Putting this demographic shift into an education perspective, Arun describes the transition from old notions of education policy and the potential impacts across the state of California.

Unfortunately, our political and educational systems have a long way to go before they catch up with the needs of the new majority.Too many California students fall through gaping holes in our college and career pipeline. On average, only six of 10 African American and Latino students graduate from high school. Last year, there were more Latino 12th-grade dropouts than Latino freshmen on a UC or CSU campus. For those African American and Latino students who get into our California State University system, less than four of 10 graduate in six years.

This article will certainly bring about renewed debate regarding race, ethnicity, and family engagement within the sphere of education. As Arun is quick to point out, this is not a ‘minority’ issue but rather an issue of framing the conversation around the old majority-minority paradigm and associated negative view of communities of color is not merely offensive, it’s downright dangerous and is does nothing other than continue to be a dis-service to our students.

The true heroes of California’s public schools are the children and their parents who desperately want a better future. What they need are courageous political leaders willing to grasp the scope of our demographic change and capitalize on the benefits of our students’ linguistic and cultural diversity in an increasingly globalized world…This means breaking free from the orthodoxy of both political parties – with public-employee unions on the left and taxpayer associations on the right, and shutting down the sideshow debates over charter schools or math pedagogy. It means finding Democrats willing to stand up to those teacher unions focused on meeting the demands of their longest-tenured members and Republicans willing to stand up to taxpayer associations that refuse to fund the educational needs of the new majority.

It means finding politicians of all stripes willing to focus on investing in the future of California instead of refighting the issues of the past.

It seems what he is asking is for us to adopt a new understanding of the political system that decides the most important aspects of our student’s education experience.

This supports the GEAR UP focus on middle schools and families in supporting their children as they transition to high school.  The next level of family engagement is political.  The leverage we all have over political decisions is our vote for our representatives.  Traditional family support organizations, with political representation systems already in place, are another avenue for family engagement.  As families formerly know as minorities become majorities, the potential for influencing policy and practice grows.

How can the potential become manifest?

-Don Watson, Ed.D, Watson Education Services

How difficult will it be support the new paradigm when the institutions are designed to resist them? Where do we start making the hard decisions? Who are these next generation of education leaders?

Neediest schools should be able to keep their best teachers

We are sharing with you excerpts from a recent San Joes Mercury News opinion article written by Arun Ramanathan, the Director of Education Trust-West. The article discusses the merits of SB 995 which would allow schools to hire, fire, and reassign teachers based on effectiveness, subject matter and programming need without regard to seniority. We have included the California teachers Association stance on the bill as well.

From the Mercury News opinion article:

Last month, school districts around California issued layoff notices to 30,000 teachers because of the state budget crisis. It is deplorable that our state has forced the education system to take a disproportionate share of our state’s budget cuts over the past three years, forcing this annual layoff process.

But what’s just as unfortunate is the way that these layoffs are implemented. Instead of keeping the best teachers and laying off those who are least effective, districts were forced to let the newer teachers go first, regardless of how well they did their jobs.

SB 955 takes the first step in this process by permitting local schools to make their own staffing decisions that place a higher priority on teacher effectiveness — shown to be the single most important school-based factor in determining student achievement— versus years of service. This approach has several benefits, including recognizing that skills, talent and results matter in addition to experience.

Most important, quality-based layoff rules would allow schools to protect their best teachers at a time when great teachers are more important than ever. And, rather than being a state mandate, the bill provides districts the flexibility to make these decisions based on an assessment of their students’ needs.

The CTA feels differently:

SB 955 is an outright attack on teachers and ignores real problems facing our schools. It’s outrageous that same lawmakers are scapegoating teachers during these tough economic times and robbing them of due process rights, while at the same time–because of $17 billion in budget cuts the last two years–neighborhood schools are eliminating entire programs and teaching positions, and in some cases closing doors for good.

SB 955 won’t save the state one dime or do anything to improve student learning. Instead or blaming teachers, the governor and lawmakers should be working with educators to support public schools and provide all students with a quality education.

We must work together to reverse this dangerous trend of punishing students and robbing them of educational opportunities in order to balance the state budget. SB 955 is unnecessary. There is already a process to remove ineffective teachers. During their first two years of employment, teachers can be fired for any reason. In their third year, teachers have a right to a hearing before being laid off. This process allows districts to consider student needs when making layoff decisions.

What do you think?

Ed-Trust West Launches Blog: EdVocate West


Education Trust-West, often considered the most important truth teller in American education, announced this week the launch of their new blog, EdVocate West.

The Education Trust-West is thrilled to announce the launch of our new blog: The Edvocate West.  Authored by Executive Director, Arun Ramanathan, The Edvocate West will explore and critique California’s most pressing education reform issues.  Specifically, we will examine those issues impacting low-income students and students of color and utilize our voice to advocate for an equitable and excellent education for those students most often left behind.

Check out the blog and let us know what you think.