Since 2006, The James Irvine Foundation has invested more than $100 million in Linked Learning, a promising approach to transforming education in California. In 2009, the Foundation launched the California Linked Learning District Initiative ("the initiative) to demonstrate this approach in nine districts. The multiyear evaluation for this large initiative has a two-fold purpose: to document the work, results, and lessons from districts that are applying Linked Learning systemically; and to measure the effect of this comprehensive implementation on student outcomes.
SRI International's fifth annual evaluation report on the progress of the initiative comes at a time when Linked Learning is gaining momentum among K–12 and postsecondary educators, policymakers, and business leaders as a promising approach for preparing all students for college, career, and life. In early 2013, 63 districts and county offices of education were selected to participate in the California Linked Learning Pilot Program, which serves as a test of how Linked Learning can be expanded across the state. In June 2014, 39 partnerships received a total of $250 million through the California Career Pathways Trust, a competitive grant designed to develop work-based learning infrastructure, create regional partnerships, and improve and expand career pathway programs statewide. In 2015, a second round of grants will provide an additional $250 million to district and community college partnerships across the state.
It is within this context of increased funding and policy support for Linked Learning that we present this fifth-year evaluation report. Previous evaluation reports have focused on the development of district systems and structures to support new and existing Linked Learning pathways. As we close out the fifth year of our evaluation, we turn our primary attention to the students who participate in these pathways to ask the following questions: Who enrolls in pathways? Who stays? How do students feel about their experiences? What are their perceptions of the skills they are gaining? What effect does participation in a Linked Learning pathway have on students' high school outcomes?
To answer these and other questions, this report offers updated findings on student engagement and achievement outcomes from the nine districts participating in the initiative. Additionally, for the first time, our report takes an in-depth look at the issue of student equity and access to pathways through an analysis of student enrollment patterns across pathway career themes and of pathway retention among student subgroup populations. Finally, it assesses pathway students' experiences with academic and technical curricula and work-based learning, their perceptions of the skills they are gaining as a result of their pathway experiences, and their plans for the future.
Lessons from the experiences of the nine initiative districts are highly instructive for those that are just beginning to engage with or scale up Linked Learning. As context for understanding students' experiences in pathways and their outcomes, this report provides an update on the nine districts' efforts to develop and improve systems and structures to support Linked Learning and their initial plans to use new funding sources and regional partnerships to sustain Linked Learning.