College or career? California invests $500 million in program that tackles both – Lake County Record-Bee

By Emma Gallegos

A question that has long vexed American high school education is whether to prepare students for college or a career. With the creation of the Golden State Pathways Program, California decided to invest in both.

The state budget sets aside $500 million in competitive grants to establish a new program to ensure students “seamlessly transition from high school to college and careers.” Its goal is to help students transition from high school into well-paying, skilled careers. Pathways include AG course requirements for admission to state universities and the opportunity to earn 12 college credits through dual enrollment, AP or IB classes. Work-based learning must be part of the journey, and schools must provide support for students along the way.

All of these ideas are familiar. Career technical education in California has been bolstered by federal workforce grants and earlier state efforts, such as the California Career Pathways Trust and the Career Technical Education Incentive Grant. Dual enrollment has received state funding – the latest budget calls for $200 million.

What makes the Golden State Pathways program unique is that it brings all of these goals together into one integrated curriculum for each student.

It sounds like a simple goal, but actually getting there is a tall order, said Linda Collins, founder and executive director of the Career Ladders Project, which supports redesigning community colleges to support students.

Helping students make the transition from high school to college and into careers requires K-12 schools, colleges and universities and employers to work together, but funding sources tend to silo all of these groups. . The simple fact that higher education and K-12 are funded separately creates barriers.

“Nobody’s job pays attention to that space,” Collins said.

One of the main strengths of the Golden State Pathways program is that it attempts to fill these gaps. School districts and charter schools will be eligible to apply for the program grants, but so will regional vocational centers or a community college working in concert with local K-12 schools.

Proponents say the investment is welcome and much needed for a generation of students hit hard by the pandemic, especially low-income students and communities.

Separating the path to college and career has often meant that black, Latino and low-income students end up being tracked for low-income professions while others are considered “college material,” Collins said. . That’s why she said it’s so important for every student to be prepared for both college and their career.

“What’s at the heart of this is a question of fairness,” Collins said.

The way the pathways are implemented is critical. Dual enrollment, which is one piece of the pathway puzzle, has the power to transform academic outcomes, but pathways are still not offered equitably in high schools, Collins said.

Priority will be given to applicants with below average AG course completion rates or above average poverty, homelessness and foster youth rates, school suspensions and expulsions and dropouts . A report from the Office of the Legislative Analyst questioned whether these criteria, which include more than two-thirds of school districts, will allow funds to reach the neediest districts or even the neediest schools within districts.

The Golden State Pathways program requires grant applicants to describe how they will meet the needs of underrepresented students.

“If you’re going to say you’re doing pathways, then make sure they’re fair and make sure they offer both college and career,” said Anne Stanton, president of the Linked Learning Alliance. , a non-profit organization that advocates giving young people the opportunity to learn about careers.

The new program also requires recipients to submit student performance data on measures such as meeting GA requirements, college credits earned, internships completed, and successful transition to industry for which the course prepared them.

Emily Passias, vice president of policy for the Linked Learning Alliance, applauded the state for this requirement and for setting aside 5% of grant funding for recipients to track this data.

“It is absolutely crucial that the state learns from investment,” she said.

What makes proponents of the program optimistic is that research in schools where it’s already happening shows it’s the right approach.

“The most important thing is that he’s trying to build on the success,” said Loren Kaye, president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, a think tank associated with the California Chamber of Commerce. “It’s not a new idea coming out of college. It is built on years of effort and collaboration.

Most students are aware of the kinds of jobs available to them by what their parents or the parents of their friends are doing, he said. Linked learning has demonstrated a way to introduce students and their parents to options, while providing them with structured support to make it happen.

The Golden State Pathways program prioritizes a few general pathways: education, computing, healthcare, and climate resilience involving science, technology, engineering, and math.

Eastside High School in Antelope Valley is one of the schools that has developed pathways using a linked learning approach. One of its tracks, the Academy of Biomedical Sciences, exposes students to healthcare careers at a school where 82% of students are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged. Academy students have the opportunity to participate in on-the-job learning, such as learning to provide healthcare to patients in a simulation lab.

Expectations are high for students in the program. Students take English classes, AP classes, and advanced math classes. But no one is eliminated, said Kerin Coffey, academy coordinator and program teacher. All who apply are accepted.

Coffey said there are students in the program who might not traditionally be considered successful “AP students.” This includes students learning English and students with Individual Education Plans. She attributes this to the extra supports students at the academy receive, such as tutoring and Saturday school. Additionally, the classroom has become a more collaborative atmosphere as students take most of their lessons together.

Proponents of pathways talk about the importance of cohesion in engaging students. At Eastside Union High, teachers strive to ensure their classes all feel health-connected. In the Spanish class, they learn how to write a diabetes public service announcement in Spanish. In English class, they will receive help writing a lab report.

This cohesion is also beneficial for teachers. Eight years ago, Coffey said, she felt like she was hitting a wall. She struggled to feel alone professionally. Today, she celebrates her 24th birthday in class.

“It totally reinvigorated my love of teaching,” she said. “I love being in class.”

Coffey is not alone. Although her school struggled with teacher turnover, she noticed that her colleagues at the Academy of Biomedical Sciences tended to stick around. She thinks the same thing that works for students – working together across disciplines cohesively – is also rewarding for teachers.

“Teachers are happier, kids are happier,” Coffey said. “Things are going very well.”

Norma A. Roth