Multiple Pathways in High School: The Best Way Forward

Traversing through blogland today, I ran across a post titled “Texas Republican Workforce Commissioner: Testing is Choking the Pipeline of Skilled Workers” by Bob Sikes.   It referred to a posting on this topic by Diane Ravitch, and linked to the original story in the Longview News-Journal.

The focus of the news story, Texas Workforce commissioner representing employers, Tom Pauken, said “the longtime education focus on teaching students to pass standardized tests is having a detrimental effect on Texas’ job market.”  I agree with Mr. Pauken and extend it beyond Texas, where I once lived, to the entire United States.  My comments on Diane Ravitch’s blog post follow.


Mr. Pauken offers insightful thoughts and suggestions in his commentary. His suggestion to offer three pathways is on target, and could energize students who feel like pawns in someone else’s chess game. Providing families with full disclosure as to the pros and cons of each pathway proffered by Pauken empowers families enabling them to engage in the education system and not be subject to its whims. The pathways place curricular choice and decision-making in families hands where their children’s destiny is no longer based on the narrow prescription of a legislature or state board of education beholden to Washington, and its lobbyists. Instead, students, with their family’s guidance, take charge of their educational pathway based on their interests and desires. [1]

Thirty years ago, when I reported to the United States Military Academy at West Point, I learned of two education pathways available to me as a new college student whose names align nicely with those that Pauken promotes: “Humanities and Public Administration aka HPA” and “Math, Science, and Engineering aka MSE.” If this option benefitted attendees and graduates of one of our nation’s greatest post-secondary educational institutions, surely it can benefit the tens of millions of high school students across America today. [2]

While many may deride Pauken’s suggestion as reverting to the days of rampant discrimination against underprivileged students of color, they are misapplying labels to sustain the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) they have so expertly crafted these past few decades. These fear mongerers’ greatest accomplishment has been to co-opt those that would naturally oppose their initiatives, privatization namely, had they not couched their efforts as benefiting all students. With that smokescreen laid, they are free to dismantle public education to line their pockets, leaving students no better off than had these education reformers stayed away. With one major difference, the colleagues, beneficiaries, and toadies of the education reformers carved one more notch in their wealth confiscation belt. In their eyes, having transferred vast public funds into their private accounts and claiming that they acquired the wealth on their own, they see themselves like the pioneers of our country who conquered the West, very patriotic and entitled to their spoils. This time, however, instead of taking from the indigenous native Americans, or other residents, these educational reformers pillaged from our public coffers, in essence, transferring wealth from the masses to the few.

Providing students multiple pathways in educational attainment provides the opportunity for our great nation to right itself after drifting sideways. Properly connecting secondary schooling to community colleges and four-year colleges enables students who travel one pathway to switch to another if they so decide. We do not need to keep ourselves constrained to a closed, single path for all students for education to be equitable, accessible, or desirable. Opening multiple pathways, while diligently guiding students and families along these pathways, offers the greatest hope to our nation than any simple bromide an education reformer may espouse.

[1] This change need not require wholesale revisions to public education either. It can be enacted within each existing school, if desired, or shared among schools within a district. Working out these details provides even greater opportunity for communities to become more directly involved in the education of their children, and the future of the community.

[2] Pauken’s third path, with a vocational emphasis, empowers those that do not see themselves attending traditional four-year colleges.

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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5 Responses to Multiple Pathways in High School: The Best Way Forward

  1. Dave ( also a career changer Math teacher ),a few years ahead of you. says:

    Now that I see you attended USMA i better appreciate your perspectives. There used to be three tracks in NYC high schools; academic ( college bound ), general ( less demanding, also including what is today SE, but still community college eligible), and commercial ( usually secretarial and home economics types). Had its limitations but more students were less stressed even though grad rates may not have been any better ( but also maybe not much worse). A victum of the times. Your idea has interest but maybe in HS just for 3 or 4 electives. Too much basic stuff they have to know.


  2. Good point on the electives front. At USMA, both HPA and MSE paths shared a common set of core coursework, with slight subtleties in the level of difficulty therein, before branching out into electives, which truly defined the pathway. Likewise, in HS today, there needs to be a common path, covering what in the day used to the the 3 Rs, at varying levels of difficulty, as appropriate and necessary, before any student branches out into their specific pathway.


  3. Patti Harris says:

    While I agree that requiring college-readiness for all students is not working, I do not agree with the three track plan proposed in Texas. As an Engineering Technology teacher in a career academy which combines the arts (industrial and fine) with science and engineering, I disagree that the two should be separated. The concept of design embodies both arts and sciences. Wholistic thinking is generally a shortcoming for high-schoolers, and to separate humanities and sciences into their own boxes hinders the “big picture” thinking we need to foster.

    I do believe the in the career academy/small learning community model we have spent so many resources developing. Instead of now switching gears, perhaps we could take advantage of the academies that exist to put more focus on helping students finding their niche and guiding them to pursue it rather than imposing a goal of attending college which is neither practical not attainable for a significant percentage of our population. Students are motivated to learn and achieve when they see a purpose. Choosing a career path, setting goal, then making a plan to achieve those goals is much more likely to succeed in preparing students for graduation than forcing remediation for


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