The study took place in high schools in nine school districts in California: Antioch, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Montebello, Oakland, Pasadena, Porterville, Sacramento City, and West Contra Costa. These districts range in size from around 14,000 to 640,000 students and represent a wide variety of geographic regions in California. Outcomes were measured for students in the class of 2013 (in 4 districts) and 2014 (in 9 districts).
Just under half of students in the sample were female. 78.7% of students were considered to be low SES based on their parents' educational attainment and their participation in the National School Lunch Program. Over half of students were Latino, just under 15% were African American, and just over 12% were White. Nearly one-quarter of students were classified as having low prior academic achievement based on their score on the English Language Arts California Standards Test. Over 20% of students were classified as English Language Learners.
Linked Learning career pathways consist of comprehensive programs of study that combine classroom learning with real-world application outside of school. The Linked Learning approach has four main components: 1) rigorous academics, 2) career-technical education, 3) work-based learning, and 4) comprehensive support services. Pathways focus on a variety of topics, such as media and communications, business and tourism, and computer science. As of November 2015, there were 40 certified pathways offered in the nine districts included in the study. Students could enroll in a pathway beginning in 9th or 10th grade (depending on the district) and continue their enrollment until the end of high school.
To become a Linked Learning career pathway, a program had to be certified by one of two organizations, ConnectEd or the National Academy Foundation (NAF). The present study also examines the effects of non-certified career pathways. These programs typically share some characteristics with Linked Learning pathways, such as their focus on a career theme, but they vary in their fidelity to the Linked Learning approach.
The comparison condition consisted of students in traditional high school programs (i.e., those who were not enrolled in a certified or non-certified career pathway).
Support for implementation
Most school districts hired dedicated work-based learning staff and internal coaches to build and sustain strong industry connections between the community and the district, and to develop high-quality work-based learning structures within schools. ConnectEd, NAF, and a handful of other regional consortiums provided technical assistance for these work-based programs and helped train work-based staff. However, the study does not provide additional details on the staff training necessary to implement the intervention.