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Career and College Pathways in Action: Top Takeaways from Experts in the Field



By: Amy Loyd, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Our nation’s future depends upon an educated and skilled workforce—especially as economic mobility is in decline and the world of work is rapidly shifting. The preparation of young people through career and college pathways is a powerful, evidence- and research-based approach to provide students with the education and experience they need and deserve to participate in our democracy and thrive in our economy. In a recent “Pathways in Action” webinar, we heard from leading experts whose work centers on young people and employers within an education-to-employment system. These experts represent several key stakeholders who are central to this work, including high schools, community colleges, workforce development, nonprofits, chambers of commerce, business and industry, and philanthropy. They also represent exemplars of cross-sector partnerships that span our nation, from California to Boston, in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and in Dallas. In this dynamic discussion, these experts shared how they engage with diverse stakeholders to drive collaboration and build systems that support all students to earn postsecondary credentials and fulfill their endless potential.

Despite working in vastly different places and political contexts, this discussion surfaced commonalities regarding the strengths and challenges of pathways that span and integrate secondary, postsecondary, and high-quality careers. These experts discussed the foundational interdependence of education, workforce development, and economic development and shared best practices to cultivate, strengthen, and grow the ecosystem necessary for employers and youth to thrive.

The Experts:

  • Mr. Farhad Asghar, Program Officer for Pathways to Postsecondary Success Program, Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Mr. Jarrad Toussant, Senior Vice President, Dallas Regional Chamber; Dallas, TX
  • Dr. Lisa Small, Superintendent of Schools, Township High School District 211; Palatine, IL
  • Dr. Eloy Ortiz Oakley, Chancellor, California Community Colleges 
  • Mr. Neil Sullivan, Executive Director, Boston Private Industry Council; Boston, MA

Top Ten Takeaways:

  1. Use data strategically
    Understanding student interests, needs, and the economy are central to the development of a rich career pathways system. The ability to understand and address system biases, address equity gaps, and align pathways to current and future careers that are high-quality is essential for stakeholders to see their role in shaping a just education system.
  2. Elevate student and parent voices
    Similarly, we need to understand student assumptions, expectations, and values as it pertains to their future lifestyle and their goals. Students and families need to be at the center of this work and in designing pathways that support and meet their needs.
  3. Embrace career-connected learning
    Career-connected learning should be an opportunity multiplier for students, exposing students to many different career paths and not in any way limiting students’ choices for their futures.
  4. Empower students to own their futures
    Our education system should provide students with exposure to and engagement in a wide array of high-growth, quality career areas throughout middle and high school. Career exploration and personalized career advising are part of student identity development. Navigation supports are essential for students and their families to make informed decisions about what they want to do.
  5. Discover and apply innovative strategies
    In everything we do, it is often easier to stick with the familiar rather than explore new ways to work. By cultivating a culture and commitment to innovation, we can break from traditional silos and work across our public and private sectors to apply diverse and innovative strategies that engage students and keep pace with shifting economies.
  6. Braid or blend funding to create sustainable pathways
    Pathways ecosystems should leverage and braid different sources of funding, including state and federal funds (e.g., Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Perkins, and Every Student Succeeds Act) as well as private and philanthropic funds. A diverse financial portfolio helps to ensure that programing is not dependent on just one funding stream and allows stakeholders to leverage human and fiscal resources differently.
  7. Intertwine college and career-connected learning
    For too long, our schools have had an either/or mindset regarding college and careers, rather than a both/and approach. Postsecondary credentials are and will continue to be essential for students to access good jobs. Every student should have the opportunity to engage in college coursework while still in high school through dual enrollment, and every student should be academically prepared to advance in postsecondary education and their career.
  8. Engage opponents and find places of consensus
    There is commonality and community in this work. Find places where trust can be established to develop an initial model and then build to an even greater scope of impact. There is also an opportunity for a wide range of stakeholders with diverse perspectives and roles to engage and lead the development of pathways that span secondary, postsecondary, and work as well as cut across formal and informal education models.
  9. Focus on the intersection of educators and employers
    Educators and employers often speak different languages, have different goals, and use different strategies to achieve success. That said, employers are often eager and willing to partner with schools, but this isn’t always easy. School and work partnerships require compromise and for each party to learn and adapt. It’s critical that we bring educators and employers together to set a shared vision and agenda for pathways, including specific and meaningful approaches to partnership and to strengthen students’ work-based learning opportunities.
  10. Partner with intermediaries
    Intermediaries can serve as connectors across the pathways ecosystem and can also provide capacity to systems agents and connect students with work-based learning opportunities. Intermediaries and other nonprofit organizations can also help to ensure that policy makers are proximate to the people and communities they serve, facilitate conversation and collaboration with diverse stakeholders, and help to provide vision and voice for pathways to focus on the needs of students, employers, and communities.

What do you wish you had known before you started this work?

Dr. Lisa Small: “You must give teachers permission to change and set the expectation that we’re going to do something different and here’s why. If I could go back in time, I needed more teachers on that advisory board hearing what businesses were saying. All my teachers, who were on those committees, walked out saying, we need to do this and this, we need to change this, this, and this. It was very inspirational for them.

The connection between local industry and the teachers. Local industries have the knowledge and understand of what it is going to take to be successful. And it’s the teacher who is standing across from the kid every day who has the ear of the student to say here’s the connections that they can make within their own curriculum and instructional choices—and actually have the conversation with the student. I would have started our advisory groups way at the beginning.”

Chancellor Eloy Oakley: “Don’t assume that employers know exactly what they’re looking for, and don’t assume faculty and advisory boards know exactly what you should be targeting. Partner with intermediaries to help you actually look at the data to untangle what is happening in the industry sector that you’re focused on. Don’t assume just because you have people around the table that the right information and data is reaching you. Use the data that’s available to drill down and help both the employer and your program to better serve students.”

Jarrad Toussant: “Find where there is consensus and build from where there is the ability to bring together a broad coalition. I’ve got to be honest with you, when I was at the state education agency, we were looking at Dallas with some skepticism because of how bold much of their work was. But they started where there was consensus. And they used the data to undergird and make the work sustainable across transitions of mayors, superintendents, and systems. In sum, start where there is consensus and data data data.”

Neil Sullivan: “I wish I had understood the politics of public support for career-oriented education better. I’ve only testified before Congress once in my life, and that was in the proceedings that led to the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. I argued vehemently that it should be School-to-Career – because the message to parents needed to be aspirational. I missed the preposition. By saying school-to-anything, the public heard it as tracking or predetermination. 

And I still think we run that danger that we’re seen as trying to determine or prematurely get students to decide on their future. Whereas adults we know that is not how career paths actually work. We need to embrace career connected education as a lens for learning. That’s what we mean by relevance. These experiences, this transformation of instruction through applied learning and other project-based approaches is a lens for learning. It is not an attempt to control the future of fiercely independent people. And when you’re working with people who have been victimized by systems, you have to empower them first, or they won’t own the future of that. That‘s the relevance piece [essential for some, beneficial for all].”

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Adnan Syed of ‘Serial,’ Newly Freed, Is Hired by Georgetown University



Adnan Syed, who was freed in September after he spent 23 years in prison fighting a murder conviction that was chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial,” has been hired by Georgetown University as an associate for an organization whose work mirrors the efforts that led to his release, the university has announced.

Mr. Syed, the subject of the 2014 podcast and pop-culture sensation that raised questions about whether he had received a fair trial after being convicted of strangling his high school classmate and onetime girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, will work for Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative.

Mr. Syed, who was 17 at the time of Ms. Lee’s death in Baltimore, has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

The university said that Mr. Syed, now 41, will help support programs at the organization, such as a class in which students reinvestigate wrongful convictions and seek to “bring innocent people home” by creating short documentaries about their findings. The program, founded in 2016, “brings together leading scholars, practitioners, students and those affected by the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of mass incarceration,” according to its website.

Georgetown University, which is in Washington, said that in the year leading up to his release, Mr. Syed was enrolled in the university’s bachelor of liberal arts program at the Maryland prison where he was incarcerated.

“To go from prison to being a Georgetown student and then to actually be on campus on a pathway to work for Georgetown at the Prisons and Justice Initiative, it’s a full circle moment,” Mr. Syed said in a statement. “P.J.I. changed my life. It changed my family’s life. Hopefully I can have the same kind of impact on others.”

He added that he hoped to continue his education at Georgetown and go to law school.

The new job this month culminated what has been a remarkable year for Mr. Syed, whose case has again received widespread public attention after a flurry of recent legal activity.

In September, Mr. Syed was released from prison after a judge overturned his murder conviction. Prosecutors said at the time that an investigation had uncovered various problems related to his case, including the potential involvement of two suspects and key evidence that prosecutors might have failed to provide to Mr. Syed’s lawyers.

In October, prosecutors in Baltimore dropped the charges against Mr. Syed after DNA testing on items that had never been fully examined proved Mr. Syed’s innocence, officials said.

Ms. Lee’s family filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals after prosecutors dropped the charges.

On Nov. 4, the court said in an order that the appeal could be heard in court in February.

Marc Howard, the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, said in a statement that Mr. Syed’s “commitment to the program and to his education was clear from the moment he stepped into the classroom.”

He added that Mr. Syed “is one of the most resilient and inspiring people I’ve ever met, and he has so much to offer our team and the other students in P.J.I. programs.”

In a Georgetown University article about the hiring, Mr. Syed said that he was in disbelief when he first saw a flier for the program.

“It became this domino effect to see us be accepted,” he said. “It made it become something real in the eyes of others, that there are opportunities. There can be a sense of hope: a sense of hope that things can get better, a sense of hope that I can work hard and still achieve something, a sense of hope that I can still do something that my family will be proud of.”

His attachment to the school was evident on Sept. 19, when he walked out of prison for the first time since he was a teenager.

Amid a throng of reporters and his supporters, Mr. Syed walked down the courthouse steps in Baltimore, smiling. He gave a wave.

And in his hand, he carried a binder with a Georgetown sticker. His graded papers and tests were inside.

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At Berkeley Law, a Debate Over Zionism, Free Speech and Campus Ideals



“Supporting Palestinian liberation does not mean opposition to Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” the group said in a statement to the Berkeley law community. Members of the group did not respond to messages seeking an interview.

After learning about the bylaw, Mr. Chemerinsky met with the university’s Hillel rabbi and spoke with several Jewish students, but, aside from concerns within the law school, the reaction was relatively muted, he said.

That changed, he said, after Kenneth L. Marcus, the civil rights chief of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration, wrote about the bylaw in September in The Jewish Journal under the explosive headline “Berkeley Develops Jewish Free Zones.”

Mr. Marcus wrote that the bylaw was “frightening and unexpected, like a bang on the door in the night,” and said that free speech does not protect discriminatory conduct.

The article went viral.

Mr. Chemerinsky said he learned about Mr. Marcus’s article, which he described as “inflammatory and distorted,” while he was in Los Angeles for a conference. Mr. Chemerinsky said he typed out a response to the article, which was appended to it, and then didn’t think much of it. That afternoon, he was deluged by emails. At an alumni event that night, the law school’s perceived hostility to Jews was “all anyone wanted to talk about.”

In an interview, Mr. Marcus, a Berkeley law school alumnus, said that he was contacted by law students there who were concerned about the bylaw. He said he spent weeks trying to support them and wrote his article after Berkeley did not “rectify the problem.”

Not allowing Zionist speakers, he said, was a proxy for prohibiting Jews. The provisions, he said, are “aimed at the Jewish community and those who support the Jewish community,” even while acknowledging that the policy could allow Jewish speakers and bar those who are not Jewish.

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‘Better Defined By Their Strengths’: 5 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences



“People with learning differences are human,” wrote Deanna White, a neurodiversity advocate and parent learning coach in response to a question we posed on LinkedIn. “Unique individuals and wonderful humans that are better defined by their strengths. So stop focusing on the weakness.”

We invited our social media followers across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to weigh in on the most effective way schools can better support students with learning differences.

Responses ranged from shifting educators’ mindset—like highlighting student strengths—to more far-reaching changes that would require schoolwide or district support.

Focus on students’ strengths

There are many ways of encouraging students to play to their strengths, as educators Winston Sakurai and Phyllis Fagell demonstrated in an August 2022 article by Education Week Assistant Editor Denisa Superville.

They detailed how they shared their own learning struggles as a way to connect with their students. Their personal successes show students, who may be struggling academically or socially, that anything is possible.

Here’s what other educators had to say.

1. Help them understand their learning strengths and challenges and growing them as strong self-advocates.

2. Devoting time and money to developing teachers’ abilities to differentiate.

– Amy S.

By having high expectations and giving them exposure to high-quality materials and experiences, even ones that seem “above them.” They will shock us with their insights every time.

– Angela P. 😒😒🥴

Meet students where they are

In a 2015 primer on the topic, EdWeek Assistant Editor Sarah D. Sparks wrote about how “differentiated instruction”—the process of identifying students’ individual learning strengths, needs, and interests and adapting lessons to match them—became a popular approach to helping diverse students learn together. Respondents largely agreed.

Time to work with every student. If you can meet with a child for a bit of time to help with exactly what she or he needs, it might ignite both learning and understanding.

Alison K.

So many ways…start with environment, a.k.a. The Third Teacher.

  • Reduce obstacles

  • Increase supports

  • Meet kids where they are

(h/t @drncgarrett)

Matt R.

Small class sizes, strong positive teacher/student relationships, differentiated instruction, and reflection.

Yvonne E.

Smaller class sizes

In a 2017 Opinion essay, former teacher Marc Vicenti wrote about “the daily wear and tear on educators when trying to juggle a full teaching load and meaningful relationships with lively young people who all have different needs and experiences.”

“We can either choose to be less effective in our practice or exhaust ourselves—neither of which is beneficial to students or our own well-being,” he wrote.

Smaller class sizes are one way of mitigating the risk of burnout while working to meet each student’s needs.

Small classes, small schools, local control. I am the principal in a pretty small school in a small community and I know every child, and every family and we can build programs to meet our students’ needs. A country run or state run school system can’t do that.

Ryan G.

Increase funding to actually lower the student-to-teacher ratio. This allows teachers to give more time to the individual.

Cathleen W.

Fewer standardized tests

Standardized tests have long been criticized for narrowing instruction and for holding all students to the same standard when “students enter school at varying levels and learn and grow at different rates.”

The backlash against standardized testing renewed interest in alternative ways to evaluate students’ learning progress, like “performance assessments—the idea of measuring what students can do, not merely what they know”.

STOP standardized testing.

Dawn W.

Fewer standardized or timed tests, teaching to mastery, not according to a schedule.


Give students a voice

Sometimes it’s best to go to the source to discern how to best tackle an issue. Giving these students a voice can not only empower them in their learning, but also help educators understand how to have the biggest impact.

Ask them how they learn and what helps. Give them a voice!

Grisel W.

Yes! Listening to what students need and giving them a voice is something we need to do for all students, but especially those who need more help in the classroom.

Victoria D.

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