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Open Access Publications from the University of California

IDEA is a network of UCLA scholars and students, professionals in schools and public agencies, advocates, community activists, and urban youth. IDEA's mission is to make high quality public schooling and successful college participation routine occurrence in low income neighborhoods of color. Research and advocacy are the tools IDEA uses to empower individuals, build relationships, and create knowledge for civic participation and social change. Linking a great public research university with committed educators and supportive community alliances, IDEA seeks to become the intellectual home of a broad based social movement that challenges the pervasive racial and social class inequalities in Los Angeles and in cities around the nation.

Cover page of Pipelines, Pathways, and Payoffs: Economic Challenges and Returns to Changing Demographics in California

Pipelines, Pathways, and Payoffs: Economic Challenges and Returns to Changing Demographics in California


For individuals, success and persistence in schooling has a huge economic impact on their lives. Educational attainment affects the kinds of employment job seekers can find, the amount of money they earn, the housing conditions and lifestyle they can afford, the level of savings they can accumulate for retirement, their risk for incarceration, and the likelihood that they will live in poverty or need to rely on transfer payment for basic needs. Perhaps less obviously, the state also has a strong stake in the educational attainment of its residents. One element of the state's economic stake is its financial balance, since the demand for incarceration and poverty-related state services declines with higher levels of educational attainment, while higher rates of per capita income permit the provision of a fixed set of state services at lower average rates of taxation.

Historically, California has experienced a "brain gain", as the flows of highly educated and skilled workers supplemented its own investments in developing educational opportunities for its residents. Long-running transitions toward migration flows in which lower levels of education are more heavily represented, in conjunction with projected demands for increasing numbers of well-educated and skilled labor in California, will require the state to either substantially improve educational success among its next generation of students or suffer from a shortfall of skilled workers.

Responding to the changing demographic features associated with shifts in migration and the emergence of a "Tidal Wave II" generation presents a challenge to providing broad-based educational success for Californians. First and second generation immigrants comprise a large fraction of California's K-12 students and the composition of California's students in term of immigrant generation differs substantially by ethnicity. Factors which place students at a disadvantage - poverty, single-parent households, low levels of parental education and linguistic isolation - also vary substantially by ethnicity and immigrant generation, and the effects of these disadvantages are apparent in rates of high school graduation, college-going, continuation and completion.

In order to reap the labor market rewards of education and meet expected demand for a well-educated labor force, improvements in continuation and completion rates as well as the situated integration of curriculum with the knowledge and practices of California's evolving industries are needed. To be broadly effective, education must be relevant to student aspirations and industry needs and provide a solid academic foundation for students to continue their educations in subsequent settings. Within these broad constraints, however, an overemphasis on a single discipline, instructional setting, style of learning, set of instructional supports or academic level is unlikely to address the varied needs of California's diverse student populations. Improvements in the K-12 setting are especially critical because enrollment is mandatory and broad, attrition is currently substantial, and the knowledge and skills acquired in this setting are fundamental to subsequent success in college and the workplace. Countering attrition is likely to entail the provision of supportive services tailored to the specific needs of students laboring under the disadvantages of poverty, limited English skills, and parental supports which may be restricted as a result of parents' own limited educations or single parenthood. Because students' own motivations are essential in their educational success, the integration of professional and technically-related training which provides clear context and relevance of the knowledge they learn in school is equally important, both in countering attrition and solidifying their new skills.

Cover page of Restructuring and Reculturing Schools to Provide Students with Multiple Pathways to College and Career

Restructuring and Reculturing Schools to Provide Students with Multiple Pathways to College and Career


The prevailing way of conceptualizing multiple pathways to college and career segregates or “tracks” students into college prep or voc-ed curriculum. Recent research and public commentary have shown that tracking neither provides students with equal educational opportunities nor serves the needs of employers for a well-educated workforce. Recognizing that tracked schools are both inequitable and ineffective, educators have been exploring alternatives to tracking practices since the 1980s.

This paper focuses on one attempt to redefine and restructure the academic curriculum, pedagogy, and course structures of California schools into “multiple pathways” to college and career. The Preuss School at UCSD “detracks” its curriculum, i.e., establishes high instructional standards and presents rigorous curriculum to all students while varying the supports available to enable all students to meet high the school’s academic standards.

Detracking high schools can provide students with access to multiple pathways when they complete high school. By gaining access to a rigorous academic curriculum, they are well prepared for both college and career. This approach requires a school district to assemble a portfolio of schools, each with a different theme or focus (such as performing arts, science academies, interactive technology, etc.). When a district assembles a portfolio of theme-based schools, each of them rigorous, then students (and their parents) are enabled to choose from an array of possibilities. This form of curriculum differentiation aligns well with the democratic project of providing equal opportunities for all students to learn and to have significant life choices when they complete high school.