Pathways to postsecondary and economic success: A golden opportunity for California students
The proposed $2 billion in funding for Golden State Pathways and dual enrollment in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022-23 budget is a vital investment in California’s young people at a pivotal stage of their development — and in the workforce that’s counting on these adolescents to help them innovate and grow.
We know this because we have used these pathways in our districts for nearly a decade — and we know that they work.
Historically in many traditional high schools, career and technical education has been separated from academics; students are deemed “college material” or not. By contrast, pathways like Golden State and Linked Learning integrate the two tracks, preparing students for college and work by creating rich learning experiences that combine rigorous academics with career training and quicker routes to higher education.
In our districts, Oakland Unified and Long Beach Unified, students build professional skills and networks through work-based learning. And academic subjects connect the material to students’ chosen careers. Students headed for health care jobs, for instance, see how they will use statistics in the medical field. Students can also earn college credits while working toward a high school diploma through early college opportunities, such as dual enrollment, reducing the time and financial burden of a postsecondary degree or credential.
Pathways put the student front and center. That has been key in our districts, as we each have strived to create systems that connect students deeply to their learning while preparing them for careers and college. Some people call this approach “innovative,” but we think it’s just how high school should be. And 10 years of implementation has shown us — time and time again — how it transforms learning experiences for all students, but especially students of color.
The pandemic has also raised public awareness of the systemic inequities that have caused too many young people to disconnect from learning and highlighted the need for schools to better attend to the circumstances and the wellness of the whole student. Pathways do this by creating a community of educators, advisers and mentors. They give students an identity, a sense of belonging and agency, that connects them to the wider world through an industry theme they choose themselves.
In our communities, we listen intently to student voices, and in the past two years, we have heard both their joy and their pain. The proposed pathways investment allows us, and other districts, to not just retool the student experience based on what we knew before the pandemic, but to enhance pathways based on today’s student perspective. Learner outcomes could well change because our students have changed. The world has changed.
In California and elsewhere, we have seen an exponential rise in the disengagement of youth. High school graduation rates have dropped. Postsecondary, community college and four-year college enrollment rates have also seen steep declines.
Even before the disruptions of the pandemic, many education systems were failing to engage students in relevant learning, prompting many to seek employment rather than continue their education, resulting in a cycle of low-wage jobs. This dynamic grew direr during the height of the pandemic when classes went online and students went to work to financially support their families. Meanwhile, well-paying jobs with better opportunities go begging.
The past two years have also expanded our definition of an educator: Professional educators were no longer the only teachers now. Also serving as teachers were parents, business professionals and community partners. Now that we are back in classrooms, why would we want to lose the collective efforts that helped us reach more kids? These efforts helped personalize learning and expanded the number of caring adults working together to support students. Our recovery efforts require all hands on deck, and investments in pathways would help us sustain collaborative efforts, giving students deeper community connections.
As we work in our districts and elsewhere, we’ve seen how investments like the Golden State Pathways can be the glue that holds everything together, achieving positive and equitable outcomes throughout California. Predicated on cross-sector partnerships among schools, colleges and employers, these pathways can build on past investments in education and the workforce and bring greater cohesion when implemented in alignment with local community vision.
Our students want rigorous, career-relevant learning that leads to postsecondary attainment and fulfilling, well-paying careers. Employers want schools to provide it. The Golden State Pathways investment builds on the kinds of successes we’ve seen in Oakland and Long Beach. Now is the time to extend these opportunities to more students throughout California.
Jill A. Baker is superintendent of Long Beach Unified School District; Kyla Johnson-Trammell is superintendent of Oakland Unified School District
This piece originally ran on EdSource on May 31, 2022.