The framework below describes five key elements that must be integrated into a system of multiple and flexible pathways across our region in order to realize the goals of civic engagement, as well as college and career readiness for all students. Across New England, states, regions, and schools have implemented these elements to varying degrees. Without weaving all five elements into cohesive state and region-wide systems that work together, these efforts can feel fragmentary and confusing to students and other stakeholders, and may fail to achieve the systemic improvements in education they are intended to achieve.
Each of these elements form conditions necessary for the successful implementation of pathways that will support all students.
Pathways for learning must be designed to ensure alignment and opportunity across the continuum of a state’s educational system—including primary and secondary schools; career and technical education, adult education, post-secondary institutions; and workforce partnerships—and result in the skills and knowledge required to succeed in college, careers, and civic engagement. Policy makers at the state and district levels should recognize and attend to friction between various stakeholders: students who need transferable skills, employers who want specific job training, and postsecondary institutions that may look first for traditional academic measures of success.
Pathways should be designed and evaluated based in part on access for students who have been marginalized or historically underserved. We will not improve educational outcomes for these students if barriers to participation, such as transportation and cost, are not identified and eliminated. At the same time, we should not limit access to pathways for students who perform well in traditional educational settings—for instance, by scheduling pathways opposite Advanced Placement classes. Finally, pathway programs should lead to future opportunities, such as well-paying jobs and post-secondary education.
Students should be engaged in understanding, selecting, creating, and monitoring pathways for learning, supported in navigating them successfully, and guided flexibly into new pathways based on their needs and interests. Some pathways may be predetermined based on workforce needs and requirements, but others should be designed by or with students. Without student engagement, pathways may become tracks onto which students are shunted with or without their input, reinforcing a system that already limits their options.
In order for students to succeed in robust, rigorous, and equitable pathways, adults within school systems, intermediary organizations, and workforce partners need to build and foster relationships, create cultures that support student learning and growth, and align expectations, policies, programs, and resources. Leaders responsible for managing pathways must be able to build relationships with community partners, enable communication between students and those partners, and train both students and partners in working together to improve student learning outcomes and ensure positive experiences for all stakeholders.
Our schools and systems do not prepare all students for success in their lives and careers, particularly students of color, English learners, students with disabilities, and those who live in poverty. Well-designed pathways systems are an equity strategy—a strategy to ensure that all students are ready for the futures of their choosing—and therefore must provide students access to rigorous learning opportunities aligned to state standards and local graduation expectations. They must be culturally responsive and driven by student interest. It is not enough to provide students with access to learning pathways; we have to ensure all pathways lead to readiness, and that they are accessible to all students. This requires the regular review and examination of data, as well as its public reporting. Any and all racial, gender, and socio-economic disparities revealed in the review and examination of the data must be reflected on and redressed.