New Center Aims to Help Motivate Calif. High Schoolers

Related poll shows student support for career-related schools.

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Hoping to motivate more California students to finish high school and find future success, the James Irvine Foundation last week announced a new center aimed at expanding work-based learning programs that integrate high-level academics.

Called ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career, the new project will seek to provide solutions to the problems highlighted in a new poll, also sponsored by the foundation.

ConnectEd, based in Berkeley, will serve as a hub for creative practices, policies, and research on how to ensure that more of the state’s students complete high school and have the skills they need for a job or for college, organizers say.

The center will stress “real world” learning that blends high-quality technical and career education with rigorous academic content.

Concerned about global competition and widening income gaps in the U.S. economy, policymakers across the nation are turning with increasing urgency to the issue of college and workforce preparation. ("Economic Trends Fuel Push to Retool Schooling," March 22, 2006.)

Examples of what the center’s organizers would like to see replicated across the state include Health Professions High School, which opened last fall in Sacramento. With 150 freshmen this year, the school uses a health-care theme to provide an academic curriculum, leadership experiences, and opportunities for students to apply what they’ve learned.

Board members for ConnectEd include Jeannie Oakes, an education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles; Ramon C. Cortines, a former district schools chief in New York City and San Francisco; and Ted Mitchell, the chairman of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Advisory Committee on Education Excellence.

Survey Findings

The poll released last week by the foundation found that fewer than 40 percent of California’s 9th and 10th graders say they really like going to school and feel high school does a good job of motivating them to do their best work.

Motivating Students

Ninth and 10th graders could be motivated to work harder and do better, according to a California survey.

*Click image to see the full chart.

The poll results also show that almost three-fourths of the students surveyed said they could be doing better if they felt motivated to work harder.

“It’s so clear that we have to do a better job of preparing students for both college and career,” Gavin Payne, California’s deputy superintendent of education, said during a teleconference on the poll. He added that many students “have interests and learning styles which don’t fit the pathways that are offered” in traditional high schools.

Roughly 75 percent of students polled agreed that the idea of a school that prepares them for college and employment is appealing. Seventy-six percent said they would like to attend school in “small learning communities” focused on a particular profession.

“California high schools’ current structure works well for many students, but there is clear room for improvement for the majority of students,” the report on the results says.

For the poll, Peter D. Hart Research Associates, based in Washington, surveyed 619 9th and 10th graders in California who are deemed at risk of falling behind academically. The margin of error is 4.1 percentage points.

Governor’s Plan

The Irvine Foundation, based in San Francisco, sponsored the poll as a follow-up to its funding of a study last year on California’s high school dropout problem. That study was conducted by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and showed that only 69 percent of the state’s students graduate from high school on time. The rates are even lower for African-American and Hispanic students.

The new poll results come as Gov. Schwarzenegger is drawing more attention to career and technical education as a way to keep students interested in school. He is recommending $50 million to expand such programs in middle school through community college and to help high schools link their vocational programs with those in community colleges.

Vol. 25, Issue 31, Pages 5, 16

Published in Print: April 12, 2006, as New Center Aims to Help Motivate Calif. High Schoolers
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