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Lesson 6.11

Career Technical Education:
New Thinking

Buzzword alert! What is Linked Learning?

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Should high school prepare you for college, or for work?

Many teachers and school leaders regard this as a false choice; school should prepare you for both, right? Certainly, the Common Core State Standards were developed with the idea that all students should graduate from high school prepared for both college and career, so that the course of their high school education would not limit their life options.

California's high schools once had a strong emphasis on career. For example, in 1987 nearly three-quarters of high school students were enrolled in courses explicitly designed to prepare them for a career. By 2014-15 somewhat less than half of California high school students were participating in courses deemed to have a career-oriented purpose, according to US Department of Education data from the Perkins Collaborative Resource Network. These courses, once known as "vocational education", are now generally classified as "career and technical education" under the inevitable acronym CTE.

Over a fifth of career-oriented high school courses taken in California in 2014-15 were in "arts, audio-visual and communications" subjects

California has had several systems for the delivery of CTE: middle school and high school courses, as well as community colleges, private universities and colleges, and Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs). ROCPs provide high school students and adults training for specific jobs. Teachers in the programs come from particular industries with a minimum of five years industry-specific experience.

Differing Views on CTE

Vocationally-oriented programs, when effective, can provide a "pipeline" connection between high schools and employers. On one hand, this type of program is great, right? Participating students graduate directly to jobs in their community, and local employers build a deep connection with local schools. For some students, CTE helps increase their motivation and engagement with school by connecting schoolwork with the real world.

On the other hand, such pipelines raise civil rights concerns. A long-term study of economic microdata in the United States and other countries shows that over the course of time, students that pursue a career-oriented track in school tend to have "less adaptability and diminished employment later in life." If schools direct low-income students and students of color into career-oriented courses rather than college-oriented ones, they perpetuate economic divisions.

According to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), Californians broadly agree with the statement that "a college education is necessary for a person to be successful in today's work world." The poll found particular agreement with the statement among respondents who were nonwhite or who had lower household incomes. Only respondents who were white or who had higher incomes were more likely to agree with the statement "there are many ways to succeed in today's work world without a college education."

Californians & Higher Education Source: PPIC statewide survey "Californians & Higher Education", Dec 2016.

Linked Learning

A high school reform strategy called Linked Learning attempts to put the idea of preparing all students for both college and career into practice. The idea is to develop programs that, according to advocates, can provide all students with access to a different kind of high school education, integrating rigorous academic instruction with a demanding technical curriculum and work-based learning. This approach leans heavily on decades of experience in California and nationally with career or partnership academies. With this approach, when well implemented, students have opportunities to "learn by doing" in a work setting, sometimes including formal internships. Research on the effectiveness of Linked Learning programs has shown particularly positive results for Latino students.

College is not for me. /
I want to work and earn. /
Teach me what I need /
so I can work and learn!


For high school students, internships are rare and hard to find. In general, they provide students with direct experience in a particular field or industry. High school students fortunate enough to land an internship gain experiences that can help them see their own future, and to sense their own strengths and weaknesses in a way that classroom experiences cannot deliver. An internship can also assist a student with determining whether or not they are on the right career path. And it’s often the first time that they must prepare a resume and practice job-interviewing skills.

Setting up effective internships requires that schools include local employers in planning and developing educational programs. Crossing organizational boundaries, and creating public-private partnerships has proved to be demanding work for everyone involved. It generally requires that schools or school districts have a staff person dedicated to the effort. As the Local Control Funding Formula puts districts in charge of more of their budgets, they have the opportunity to set aside funds for such programs, if they believe them effective. Unsurprisingly, the internet has sprouted solutions that savvy students can use to search for internships and other opportunities, such as

Buzzword Summary

All of the following buzzwords relate to efforts to combine learning and career. Pay attention, now - there could be a test. Just sayin'.

  • Linked Learning
  • Vocational Education
  • Career Technical Education (CTE)
  • Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs)
  • Internships

Notice that "blended learning" is not on this list? That's because blended learning refers to the use of technology for learning in classrooms. Ah, the joys of education jargon...

Divided opinion

No, there is not universal agreement that all high schools should provide internships or use the Linked Learning approach. In fact, there are strong advocates for more traditional Career Technical Education programs, many of which are offered through ROCPs. And there are strong voices that view CTE as a distraction from the hard work of creating and executing successful college-preparatory programs.

Realistically, not all students (or parents) want the same things out of their high school education, but nearly all see some college or other postsecondary education in their future. If academic and career preparation fall along a continuum, families can choose the right mix. But local schools need to be equipped to deliver both types of instruction at a high level of quality.

California has been taking steps toward that goal for many years. In 2005, the California State Board of Education(SBE) adopted a comprehensive set of CTE model curriculum standards designed for grades 7-12. The standards specified research-based learning goals in 58 career pathways in 15 industry sectors. The standards reflected both general knowledge and specific career-related skills. In 2013, the State Board adopted model curriculum standards for Career Technical Education aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

In addition, while the state eliminated most state categorical programs in 2013 as part of the shift to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), it provided a separate funding stream to support regional Career Technical programs, particularly those that use the Linked Learning approach. Creating strong CTE offerings requires active participation and partnerships among local schools, ROCPs, employers, and colleges, particularly community colleges. By directing funds to regional centers, the state aims to make those kinds of partnerships more widespread, thus strengthening programs that include CTE.

In 2016, Education Trust-West examined the role of career-oriented courses in students' "pathways" after high school. In a study titled Meandering toward Graduation: Transcript Outcomes of High School Graduates, the authors document extensive mismatches in which courses students take vs. what they ought to take in order to be ready for college or career.

Updated July 2017


Which of the following terms is not like the others?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Jeff Camp March 10, 2017 at 10:50 am
In 2017, a multi-year study of Linked Learning efforts provided some encouraging evidence of impact, particularly in graduation rates and college credits earned. In an effort to boost quality and impact of programs, the Linked Learning Alliance has developed some standards worth attention.
user avatar
Albert Stroberg May 1, 2016 at 8:31 pm
College is just not for everybody. But learning is- and Voc Training But ls a great opening to many- especially boys. All our HS "shop" classes are gone, they sold off the wood shop machines, the "metal" class is art only. The "...often systematically tracked..." argument does not hold water- as there is no "tracking" here just letting a kid find what works for them. I am a product of the California ed system since 1956- & I have no recognition of a Tracking System that trapped some kids. The reaction to that myth has hurt us.
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder April 22, 2016 at 10:43 am
In 2016 the Fordham Foundation presented evidence that career tech in high school (CTE) improves the likelihood of graduation by 21 percentage points, with particular benefit for boys and students from low-income families. . Their research also suggests that career tech may not be a path away from college.
user avatar
Stacey W April 27, 2015 at 10:55 pm
My son's high school has a Technology Program, in which one of the requirements is for students to complete a 150-hour internship. This is an invaluable opportunity for students to gain real world work experience, as well as to give them the chance to explore an area of interest that they may be considering pursuing in college.
user avatar
g4joer6 April 19, 2015 at 12:38 pm
Just checked out, pretty cool. thanks
user avatar
CM January 19, 2015 at 3:55 pm
I don't see why high schools should not be working with local employers to create work-based learning opportunities. Cost of college is prohibitive. Not every child will have the means to go to college. If children can already learn tools of the trade, it opens up doors for economic well being.
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