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Lesson 6.11

Career Technical Education:
New Thinking

Buzzword alert! What is Linked Learning?

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One of the first lessons in Ed100 (lesson 1.7) tackled the question of the purpose of education. A much narrower question is what the system expects students to be prepared to do when they complete high school. Attend college? Start a career? Pursue a trade? A core assumption that guided the development of the Common Core State Standards is that the goal is for all students to graduate from high school prepared for both college and career.

Charts prepared by using public data

This notion of a dual purpose flies in the face of the traditional high school approach, which treats “college-ready” and “career-ready” as separate goals for separate groups of students. In a world that increasingly values postsecondary education, that dichotomy has led to a steady decline in course offerings directed toward work, now more commonly called "Career Technical Education" (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 the schools. On the other hand, such pipelines can also be limiting. Civil rights advocates in particular put a strong critical focus on vocational education programs because low-income students and students of color were often systematically tracked into these classes and not offered the courses that would prepare them for college.

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.

A strong argument for CTE is that it helps students connect their schoolwork with the real world. That helps increase students’ motivation and engagement with school.

Linked Learning

A high school reform strategy called Linked Learning has been developed to put the idea of preparing all students for “college and career” into practice. Linked Learning has gained support from state leaders, local school districts, and communities. 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, often including formal internships.

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

Besides the opportunity to apply and expand knowledge, internships provide a student with a chance to network within a particular field or industry and to gain confidence and learn about time management as well. Students are able to learn their strengths and weaknesses in a real-world setting in a way that they are not able to in the classroom. 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.

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.

Unsurprisingly, the internet has sprouted solutions that savvy students can use to search for internships and other opportunities, such as


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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