Why Pathways Matter

Graduation from high school ushers young people into an increasingly complex and unpredictable world. For these young people to succeed, they need to navigate a rapidly changing workforce, make decisions about colleges that offer more opportunity for ever-increasing cost, and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to be responsible and involved citizens when information is everywhere, yet increasingly unreliable. While some schools and districts have begun to adapt to the reality their students will face after graduation, most look largely as they have for decades: requiring credits for seat time in a core curriculum based on disconnected silos of knowledge that are often revised but rarely reimagined. That paradigm has begun to shift in recent years, however, as employers and colleges alike have continued to call for young people who can do more than rote learning, who have transferable skills in communication, collaboration, and problem solving along with more traditional credentials. States, districts and schools have taken notice and begun to support pathways for learning beyond the traditional classroom, including long-standing career and technical education programs, apprenticeships, internships, work-based learning, and student designed and driven demonstrations of learning.

There are both promising signs of progress in our regional data and persistent disparities among subgroups:

  • As educators across New England have reformed traditional practices, the regional high school dropout rate has decreased from 10.3% in 2010 to 6.2% in 2019, while the regional high school graduation rate has increased by eight percentage points, from 79.6% for the class of 2009 to 87.7% for the class of 2019.
  • At the same time, only 78.7% of economically disadvantaged students, 67.1% of English learners, and 71.6% of students with disabilities graduated.
  • Similarly, in 2019, the four-year graduation rate regionally was 91.2% for White students and 94.3% for Asian and Pacific Islander students, while it was 79.7% for Black students, 76.7% for Hispanic students, 81.2% Native American students, and 86.7% for students who identified as multiracial.

For additional data on specific New England states or specific groups of students, see the New England Secondary School Consortium Common Data Project Annual Report.

Increasing student participation in and completion of high quality, rigorous pathways for learning that lead to readiness for college, careers, and civic engagement is, therefore, not only an economic strategy, but an equity strategy. When all students, but in particular our students who have been most underserved, are guaranteed to graduate with skills that transfer across disciplines, experiences and credentials that qualify them for employment in well-paying careers, and the ability to take in and critically examine the vast quantities of competing information available in today’s social and political environment, the American promises of social mobility, liberty, and self-actualization may be realized. This report is designed to assist and guide stakeholders in any role in education in the design and implementation of equitable pathways. It includes strategies to smooth implementation, questions that test for equity, and resources that provide real-world examples and promising practices that can be used as models for any school or district.

Explore More of the Report

This report is authored by the members of the New England Secondary School Consortium Task Force on Flexible and Multiple Pathways. The NESSC Leads commissioned the Task Force, whose recommendations emerged over the course of meetings taking place between March 2019 and October 2020. While each participating NESSC state education agency is committed to equitable pathways, the recommendations included in this report do not necessarily mean that they have the formal endorsement of the participating agencies.

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Wednesday, May 19

Just in Time Session #7—Reopening Schools Equitably: Centering Authentic Student and Teacher Relationships

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