How to Fix a Broken High School (Hint: start with fixing broken paradigms...)

There was an interesting episode of Freakonomics in early December entitled "How to Fix a Broken High Schooler in Four Easy Steps" (yes, meant with sarcasm--I think) chronicling the Pathways to Education program in Regent Park Community Health Center in Toronto (good name!) and investigating its purported outsized impacts.

It delineates four essential ingredients: counseling (through a paid student parent support worker (SPSW) who meets with each student on a regular basis), academic tutoring (up to four nights a week), social activities (at least one group activity required a month), and financial incentives (free public transportation and a college scholarship up to $4000 based upon positive engagement.)  A probono study in the mid2000s asserted that after the introduction of Pathways community program, the dropout rate of participants dropped from 56% to 10%--a miraculous enough number to make an economist very suspicious and so University of Toronto economist Philip Oreopoulos (a tasty name for an economist) did deeper researcher.  Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner interviews him about whether the results are real and if so, how to disentangle and analyze what led to Pathway's success--that is, what weight to give individual elements vs their integration--so that we can figure out how to replicate it on a broader scale.  Of course such disentanglement can't really be done.  Oreopoulos basically concludes that the synergy is advantageous and that the results, while not quite as high as the probono study concluded, are pretty significant, in terms of a sustained 40% increase in high school graduation and college going. That said, the program costs $5000 per student per year--significantly more than we tend to invest in a community program supporting low-income students in the US.  Given that this aired on Freakonomics, host Dubner (bless him!) probes on return on investment and the economist-evaluator notes that in terms of the benefits in lifetime wealth, the tax implications far supercede the investment. Sadly, public and private funding sources rarely take this long view here, but it's well worth pushing on since we need to change some foundational understandings and investments if we are to achieve significantly improved outcomes.  You get what you pay for as they say.  Check out Pathways to Education to learn more.