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Tip sheet: Advancing Education for a Changing State; the “Pathways to Success” Initiative

April 3, 2007

EDITORS: Part of the state budget bill includes a provision for the "Pathways to Success" Initiative, a request from Indiana University that would begin a program to better prepare students for college and the life sciences workforce. The IU School of Education would work with public high schools and middle schools in Marion, Lake, and St. Joseph counties. The goal of the program is to raise high school graduation rates, prepare students for college and enhance their chances for success in postsecondary education, and also to produce teachers better prepared for those school corporations.

Mp3 audio soundbites are available for download on the School of Education Web site at Click here for full text of audio comments:

Transitioning to the new economy means training for a new workforce
A cultural challenge -- getting more students prepared for, into and graduated from college
Parents are key to getting to college and succeeding
Today's high school students may not be engaging school enough
The importance of preparing teachers from underserved areas to return and teach in their hometowns

Transitioning to the new economy means training for a new workforce. "As Indiana seeks to transform its economy from the traditional heavy-manufacturing emphasis to more of a life sciences and information-driven economy, we're going to need to have the workers who will then staff those laboratories and technical programs and all the things that are necessary to make that kind of economy work," said Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the Indiana University School of Education. "That means that we're going to have to have students who have at least some level of postsecondary education. And so Pathways, in many ways, is a complement to the Life Sciences Initiative."

Areas particularly hard-hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs are Marion, Lake and St. Joseph counties. For that reason, Gonzalez said this program is essential to keeping an area already struggling from falling further behind. "Demographics clearly indicate that most of the growth in the population, particularly in the young people population, is among groups that have been traditionally underserved by education," he said. "And in Indiana, those groups are overrepresented in those counties. And so, the goal here is to engage where there is the greatest need because, in part, we need to do what we can in every case to address the current problem, but also because in the future we're going to see the growth there and those are the issues that confront us."

Gonzalez is a believer in providing opportunity to underserved populations because of his own experience. His family came to the United States from Cuba when he was just 12 years old. He spoke no English and said he had a difficult cultural adjustment. "I was tracked into a vocational preparation program by well-intentioned teachers who wanted me to have some skills," Gonzalez said. "They never thought that I would amount to much, or be able to go to college." Although he said his parents encouraged his education, they had no such experience themselves. After qualifying for financial aid at a local community college, he said he "fell in love with learning."

"The fact that I was tracked into vocational education and people didn't believe that I was college material had nothing to do with academic ability," Gonzalez said. "Once I had the foundations and understood just how important an education is and just engaged in that whole process, I was able to do very well in my courses."

Gonzalez backs the Pathways Initiative because of both an institutional and personal drive to ensure every child has the opportunity for a quality education. "For every kid like me who had a second chance and was encouraged and was able to participate in college and ultimately get an education, there are literally today thousands, millions of kids who never get that chance."

Getting more students prepared for, into and graduated from college is a "cultural challenge," says George Kuh, director of the Center for Postsecondary Research, which conducts the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). Eight years ago, NSSE started as an annual assessment of how students participate in institution-offered programs for learning and personal development at colleges across the country.

Kuh says areas such as Marion, Lake and St. Joseph counties have populations that historically did not, for various reasons, consider college a viable option and did not prepare for it, either educationally or financially. He says for Pathways to work, "we have to become -- meaning the educational system, the university, but also schools, high schools, K-12 -- full partners with families and the communities in which they reside."

Making sure students get preparation for college life is important., Kuh says. Talking about and preparing for postsecondary education should begin as early as the elementary grades. Then the universities must make sure students get the support necessary when they arrive. "There are lots of ways we can connect students to something meaningful or to someone meaningful," Kuh said. "But most students, if they don't connect early, never stick around long enough to realize this, to have their dreams become alive, to see how they can in fact use their talents and what they're learning in some productive ways."

Parents are key to getting to college and succeeding, but many parents need education on higher education. Don Hossler, professor of educational leadership and policy studies says that insight became very clear through a five-year project he conducted in the late 1980's and early 1990's examining family decisions about postsecondary education. Hossler's project, funded by the Lilly Endowment, surveyed 5,000 students from 21 high schools and focused on 54 families.

"Parents provide powerful signals about what their kids can aspire to," Hossler said, "and some ways, it's as simple as whether parents say to their kids, 'I want you to be happy,' or 'I want you to be happy, and to do that you really need to plan on getting additional education after high school.'"

But while it can be that simple, he cautioned that the whole issue is very complex. Throwing on more difficult courses without support will discourage students and increase the probability they will drop out of high school, Hossler said. Students and parents must be schooled on college options, including financial possibilities and the best colleges available to them. And first-generation, low-income students must be exposed to college campuses in a way the Pathways Initiative proposes. Hossler cited the example of a student who won a full-ride scholarship to Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.

"She decided that Vanderbilt wasn't for her because she said something like, 'there were lots of BMW's and Audis around, and there I was in my 1993 Ford Pinto'" Hossler said. "And for her, that said, you know, 'I don't belong here.' So really, you have to help kids be able, in their mind's eyes, be able to see themselves situated in a setting like this."

Today's high school students may not be engaging school enough to prepare themselves for college. That's one of the findings of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP), which released its annual nationwide survey on student engagement last month. Study Director Ethan Yazzie-Mintz said the High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) indicated students are bored in school and aren't connecting to their education enough to prepare for postsecondary education. The survey questioned 81,000 students in 110 schools across 26 states.

While nearly 3 of 4 students said they go to school to earn a diploma and go to college, more than half responded that they spend less than an hour a week reading and preparing for class. "The getting of the degree, the accumulating of credits, does indicate something: the kids have passed certain classes, they've gotten enough credits, they've gotten their diploma," Yazzie-Mintz said. "But that doesn't say anything, I think, about the substantive pieces of education, which include engagement with the learning environment that's going to make kids want to keep going in school."

Yazzie-Mintz said the study indicated the importance of working with students regarding self-motivation. Many students who are disengaged with the high school learning process may have a harder time adjusting to the freedom of college. "At some point -- and I would think it's in elementary, middle, high school -- you learn how to be a student," he said. "You learn what it means to study. You learn what it means to engage in work. If those skills are not developed at the high school level, then we wouldn't, I wouldn't think, expect them to be developed at the college level."

Preparing teachers from underserved areas to return and teach in their hometowns is important. The Pathways Initiative will enhance work already underway at the IU School of Education to identify potential teachers from the areas the program serves.

Paulette Dilworth, assistant professor in curriculum instruction, says recruiting teachers from those areas is difficult for many of the same reasons anywhere -- long hours and low pay. But as director of Project TEAM -- which stands for Transformative Education Achievement Model -- she oversees an effort to prepare teachers of culturally diverse student populations. Project TEAM started at IU in 1996 to support teachers from diverse backgrounds in pursuing an education career.

Dilworth says the work is as important as ever. While much of the focus is on ensuring "highly qualified teachers," Dilworth says there's more to it than meets the eye when recruiting teachers of color for underserved areas.

"It's more than just the coursework that they take," Dilworth said. "It's sort of like building a sense of community around what it means to be a teacher, especially when you talk about teaching in places like East Chicago and Gary where there are a host of complex challenges that it's going to take more than just the school or saying it's the school's responsibility to do it. Teachers need to learn what's really going on in this community that's affecting the school."

For those areas to become better at preparing and sending students to college, Dilworth said recruiting more teachers from the area is important as a model for students. "It's not like somebody from the outside is coming in and saying 'well you guys have problems here; let me tell you how to fix it' -- as opposed to learning how to empower communities to help themselves."

For assistance with these tips, contact Chuck Carney at, 812-856-8027.

The following mp3 audio soundbites are available for download on the School of Education Web site at Click here for full text of audio comments: