With the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards (Common Core) and the Smarter Balanced assessments aligned with the Common Core, California policy leaders have signaled the importance of preparing a larger share of students for college and careers.1 At the same time, the state has moved toward a local or regional approach for educational decision-making, and this appears to be the case for college and career readiness as well.2 For example, other states have proposed statewide definitions of college and career readiness, but California’s leaders have stopped short of doing so.3 Schools and districts are now responsible for interpreting and implementing California’s vision for college and career readiness, but to do this, they face significant challenges.
In terms of how districts are interpreting the state’s vision of increasing college and career readiness, there appears to be substantial variation— and no clear roadmap as to the direction districts should move. Some districts have adopted the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems’ “a–g” eligibility requirements for all students.4 Some have developed applied career pathways, through Linked Learning or Career Pathways Trust.5 Some districts have continued their use of externally developed college preparatory curricula, such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate. Many districts have adopted combinations of efforts. For some districts that have been sending large numbers of students to college, the Common Core might not have catalyzed significant changes in their readiness efforts.
In 2014, EdInsights conducted exploratory research in four high schools in two districts, asking teachers, staff, and administrators about how their schools were implementing the Common Core, especially in relation to college and career readiness. The educators reported that they appreciate having greater latitude in decision-making, but they also said they need more guidance and resources to understand how to increase rates of college and career readiness among their students.6 In particular, teachers said that they need:
- Clarification on what constitutes student readiness for postsecondary study and well-paying careers. This responsibility can be particularly difficult to take on for schools in regions with many postsecondary institutions and rapidly changing job opportunities.
- Assistance in developing strategies to foster critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and other skills among students. Developing these skills in students requires different instructional strategies than the ones teachers were asked to employ during the last decade.
- Better ways to assess the effectiveness of their instructional strategies—especially with regard to the knowledge and skills associated with college and career readiness. Local educators wondered if they are grappling with issues that others already might have resolved. For example, educators said that others might have developed useful templates or tools that they could use, and, if so, they were not sure where to find them.
The state has decided not to define college and career readiness or to vet curricular materials or professional development providers, but local educators repeatedly described the need for such guidance. COEs sit squarely in the gap between local educators and the state; they historically have provided to districts a range of services, including curricular and instructional support and technical assistance associated with new state frameworks, in addition to fulfilling oversight responsibilities. In its 2014 review of the California Department of Education (CDE), the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) reported, “We believe COEs and other local entities continue to be better sources [i.e., compared with the CDE] for providing most professional development, technical assistance, and other forms of ‘ground level’ support to local education agencies.”8 Some COEs have already begun helping K–12 and postsecondary educators define and understand student readiness as it pertains to their particular regions, and bringing partners together in an effort to improve alignment across segments. But several questions remain regarding the roles of COEs
in this area:
- Are COEs appropriate entities to serve as bridges between California’s college and career readiness expectations and local implementation activities?
- Does each COE have the appropriate capacity—in terms of relationships, expertise, and funding—to help its district(s) and schools plan and operationalize strategies for improving college and career readiness?
- In those regions where COEs may not have the capacity to meet local district needs in these areas, what can the state do to support districts in understanding and mapping out plans to improve college and career readiness?
Supporting High School Teachers’ College and Career Readiness Efforts: Bridging California’s Vision with Local Implementation Needs (policy brief)
This brief shares the perspectives and concerns of high school teachers in two districts regarding implementing the Common Core State Standards, specifically as the Common Core pertains to preparing more students for colleges and well-paying careers. The brief also makes state policy recommendations for ways to support teachers in their efforts to increase students’ college and career readiness, including through fostering alignment between K-12 and postsecondary workforce partners.