“Pathways to Prosperity,” released Feb. 2 by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, argues that our high schools are overemphasizing a single pathway to four-year college. The report calls for a broader vision with diverse high school experiences for young people.
The report quickly drew criticism from some who fear that this call will legitimize the pernicious tracking that has pervaded education in America. The polarization around this report, which raised some tough questions, underscores just how difficult it is to have constructive conversations about new directions for American high schools.
Yet we must recognize that there are many different ways for high school students to pursue and achieve excellence. Imposing a uniform academic experience on everybody, simply to avoid the specter of tracking, is not in the best interest of all students. What engages and motivates some students will not excite and move others. Until we accept this simple fact, we will not make much progress on our nation’s shameful dropout rate and substandard achievement.
Let’s be clear: This is not about accepting low standards for some and high standards for others. Rather, it is about recognizing that in our full and complex world, excellence and success take many forms—a single pathway is very much at odds with promoting widespread accomplishment for all students. Uniformity simplifies policymaking; it does not nurture deeper learning.