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Program Profile: Pathways to Education (Canada)

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on November 05, 2018

Program Summary

This is a multicomponent program that aims to improve academic outcomes for high school students from low socioeconomic backgrounds primarily through a relationship with a student-parent support worker. This program is rated Promising. Youth eligible for the program were more likely to have graduated from high school and enrolled in postsecondary education within 5 years after starting high school, compared with youth in the comparison group. This difference was statistically significant.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Pathways to Education is a multicomponent program that aims to improve academic outcomes, including high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment, among at-risk youth who live in three housing projects in Toronto, Canada: Regent Park, Rexdale, and Lawrence Heights.

Target Population/Eligibility
The program targets high school students (entering ninth grade) who are living in public housing projects. Program participation is voluntary and requires signed agreement, from both students and parents, to comply with program requirements during each year of participation.

Program Components
The program provides assistance to eligible students in four areas: counseling, academic support, social support, and financial support. Each student is assigned to a student-parent support worker (SPSW). The SPSW is expected to provide one-on-one support to the student and his or her parent(s) to ensure academic success, including youth-centered academic planning and advocacy. SPSWs meet with students at least twice a month, at scheduled times during lunch or after school, at either the students’ school or the Pathways office. The SPSW serves as the main connection between students and the program. SPSWs monitor students’ grades, school attendance, and program participation. They also provide students with information on events and community resources. If students miss school, SPSW meetings, tutoring sessions, or mentoring workshops, SPSWs reach out to their students to encourage and support participation. If lack of participation continues, SPSWs reach out to the parents. If no progress is made, the student may be dropped from Pathways program. Each SPSW has a caseload of approximately 50 youths over the school year, focusing most of their time on those with the most need. If an issue arises, SPSWs may work with other program facilitators to address or manage the issue.

In addition, students are provided with free tutoring for up to 4 hours a week at a local church hall. Tutoring is conducted one-on-one or in small groups by volunteer tutors and covers basic academic subjects, literacy development, and general study skills. Students must attend at least 2 hours of tutoring a week unless their previous term grades are above 60 percent (for those in grade 9) and 70 percent (for those in grade 10 and higher).

Social support is provided through group mentoring, which is designed to foster social and group work skills. Groups comprise about 15 youths and three volunteer mentors, who are often university students. In grades 9 and 10, students are required to participate in at least two group activities a month, which they can select from a wide range of options (e.g., sporting events, community recycling projects, and cognitive-behavioral therapy workshops). In grades 11 and 12, students may also opt to participate in more independent activities based on their interests and talents and in coordination with their SPSWs, including career support (e.g., resume preparation, job interview practice, campus visits). SPSWs can also support students in pursuing postsecondary education, such as helping with applications and fee waivers.

Financial support includes both immediate and long-term services. Students may receive immediate support to help with attending and completing high school, including transportation tickets and school supplies. SPSWs distribute transportation tickets biweekly to students based on previous period school attendance (i.e., students who attended fewer days in a previous period receive a reduced number of tickets). Students are also able to receive long-term support to attend a 2-year college or a 4-year university. The program sets aside up to $4,000 (Canadian dollars) for each year that the student participates in the program, which is to be used toward tuition and other postsecondary education expenses.

Key Personnel
SPSWs are full-time employees of Pathways to Education. They serve as the go-to person on any issue that may arise at home, at school, or in the community. They also support the students in accessing resources within and outside the program. Tutors and group mentors are volunteers from the community, including college/university students and current or former Pathways students. See the Implementation Information section below for more information.

Program Theory
The program’s focus on providing youth with various forms of support, including from a caring adult, which is aimed at improving their educational attainment is consistent with the theories of social support and social capital (Heaney and Israel 2002; Fitzsimons 2015), and Rhodes and colleagues’ (2006) model of youth mentoring. Furthermore, the use of SPSWs to connect youth to information and resources based on their unique needs is consistent with empowerment theory (Zimmerman 2000) and the mentoring research, which indicates greater effectiveness for programs in which mentors are supported in assuming advocacy roles (DuBois et al. 2011).

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
High School Graduation Rate
Oreopoulos and colleagues (2017) found that students from Pathways-eligible sites (Regent Park, Rexdale, and Lawrence Heights) had greater improvements in high school graduation rates from baseline (pre-Pathways) to posttest (5 years after ninth grade) than students from comparison sites. This difference was statistically significant.

Postsecondary Enrollment
Students from Pathways-eligible sites had greater improvements in postsecondary enrollment rates from baseline to posttest, compared with students from the comparison sites. This difference was statistically significant.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Oreopoulos and colleagues (2017) evaluated the effects of the Pathways to Education program on graduation and postsecondary education enrollment rates among high school students living in three housing projects in Toronto, Canada (Regent Park, Rexdale, and Lawrence Heights).

At the beginning of the 2001-2002 school year, all students entering grade 9 and living in the Regent Park housing project were eligible to participate in Pathways. In the first year, 58.8 percent of eligible students registered for Pathways; registration increased to 80.7 percent in the second year and 89.3 percent in the third year. Beginning in 2007, Pathways was available for students entering grade 9 and living in the Rexdale and Lawrence Heights (LH) housing projects and had similar registration rates. Registration rates were also similar for males and females, English-speaking and non-English speaking students, and low- and high-performing students.

The primary outcomes of interests were high school graduation rates and postsecondary enrollment. Data was collected from three sources: the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the Toronto Community Housing (TCH), and Pathways administrators. Data on high school graduation was collected from the TDSB. Students who were recorded as having completed the Ontario Secondary School Diploma within 5 years of entering ninth grade or had enough credits to graduate (at least 30) were categorized as having graduated. Data from two central postsecondary application service organizations, which included whether the student had applied to, got accepted, and registered for a 4-year university or a 2-year college, was used to determine postsecondary enrollment within 5 years of starting ninth grade. Pathways participation data was collected from program administrators on students who were registered since 2001, including name, gender, date of birth, and Ontario Education Number.

TDSB data was matched with data from the TCH to identify the baseline sample, which comprised 7,770 students who had entered grade 9 between 2000 and 2008 and were living in a TCH housing project where their parents were paying rent based on their income (i.e., not market price). Of these, 1,296 lived in Regent Park, 854 lived in Rexdale/LH, and 5,620 lived in other housing projects. Each year, about 140 students from Regent Park, 90 students from Rexdale/LH, and 600 students from the other projects, all of whom were entering ninth grade, were tracked. Between the 2000 to 2001 and 2008 to 2009 academic years in Regent Park, Rexdale/LH, and other public housing projects, approximately half of the sample was female, and the average age was 14.1 years. The proportion of students for whom English was a second language was 75 percent at Regent Park, 53 percent at Rexdale/LH, and 45 percent at the other housing projects.

Students in the Pathways program met with their student-parent support worker (SPSW) about twice a month over the course of the year (participation requires students and their parents to register each year by completing an agreement form). Data for a representative sample of SPSW case notes from October 2010 showed that for students at Regent Park, 78 percent in grade 9, 32 percent in grade 10, 33 percent in grade 11, and 22 percent in grade 12 attended at least one tutoring session a month. Corresponding participation for students at Rexdale/LH was 74 percent in grade 9, 61 percent in grade 10, 58 percent in grade 11, and 61 percent in grade 12. For grade 9 students, monthly participation in mentoring activities averaged 49 percent at Regent Park and 42 percent at Rexdale/LH. For grade 10 students, participation in mentoring activities averaged 31 percent at Regent Park and 40 percent at Rexdale/LH.

Regression analysis was used to determine the differences in outcomes between students eligible for Pathways (i.e., resided in Regent Park, Rexdale, or LH housing projects where Pathways was offered to all students and were part of a cohort entering grade 9 between the 2000 to 2001 and 2008 to 2009 academic years) and students in other housing projects before and after Pathways was introduced, adjusting for demographic variables such as gender, age in grade 9, immigrant status, and primary language spoken at home. Housing project and cohort were also entered into the equation as fixed effects. No subgroup analysis was conducted.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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Additional implementation information is available at the organization webpage:

Student-parent support workers (SPSWs) are required to have a college diploma or university degree, and a minimum of 2 years’ experience working with high school youth from diverse backgrounds as a tutor, mentor, or youth worker ( SPSWs are also expected to have knowledge of the following: 1) secondary school system, gained through direct experience with teachers, administrators, and support staff, including knowledge of approaches to providing support to youth with special educational needs; 2) strengths and capacities of the students as well as barriers and challenges faced by youth in a culturally diverse, low-income community; 3) supportive counseling techniques; 4) small-group dynamics and experience in facilitation appropriate to youth and adults from a variety of cultural backgrounds; and 5) community and social service resources, especially for youth, which can support their individual emotional and social development.

Tutors are expected to have a range of abilities in high school subjects and to specialize in at least one subject (math, sciences, English, French, social sciences, or literacy). Volunteers must complete a volunteer intake package, have an interview, and attend mandatory training sessions for the position applied for ( Tutors must commit to one evening or afternoon per week for 3 hours to tutor students in small groups or one-on-one; group mentors must commit to mentoring a group of 15 students with one or two other mentors once every week for 2 to 3 hours between October and May.
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Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)

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Oreopolous and colleagues (2017) also collected data on academic performance from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). For grade 9 students, failure in at least one grade 9 math or English course was used to measure academic performance (scored as a 1 for any failure and 0 otherwise). For grade 10 students, academic performance was assessed by whether the student passed both the reading and writing components of the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test. For grade 11 and grade 12 students, the academic performance was measured by the average grade in all courses taken, regardless of when they were taken and whether the student passed or dropped the courses. TDSB data on the types of courses selected by the student was used to indicate whether the track chosen by each student was directed toward university admission, 2-year-college admission, or toward the workplace. Students in the intervention group at Regent Park showed statistically significant improvements in grade 9 English and math scores from baseline (pre-Pathways) to 1 year later (grade 9), compared with students in the comparison group. Students in the intervention group in grades 11 and 12 at Regent Park also showed statistically significant improvements in performance scores from baseline (pre-Pathways) to 3 to 4 years later, compared with students in the comparison group. However, there were no differences between the intervention and comparison groups at Regent Park in grade 10 literacy test performance. Students in the intervention groups at both Rexdale and Lawrence Heights did not differ from their comparison groups on any of the measures.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Oreopoulos, Philip, Robert S. Brown, and Adam M. Lavecchia. 2017. “Pathways to Education: An Integrated Approach to Helping At-Risk High School Students.” The Journal of Political Economy 124(4):947–84.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

DuBois, D.L., N. Portillo, J. E. Rhodes, N. Silverthorn, and J. C. Valentine. 2011. “How Effective Are Mentoring Programs for Youth? A Systematic Assessment of the Evidence.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 12(2):57–91.

Fitzsimons, P. 2015. “Human Capital Theory and Education.” In M. E. Peters (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. Singapore: Springer,1–4.

Heaney, C. A., and B.A. Israel. 2008. “Social Networks and Social Support.” In K. Glanz, B. K. Rimer, and K. Viswanath (Eds.), Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice (Fourth Edition). San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 189–210.

Rhodes, Jean E., Renée Spencer, Thomas E. Keller, Belle Liang, and Gil Noam. 2006. “A Model for the Influence of Mentoring Relationships on Youth Development.” Journal of Community Psychology 34(6):691–707.

Zimmerman, Marc A. 2000. “Empowerment Theory: Psychological, Organizational and Community Levels of Analysis.” In Julian Rappaport and Edward Seidman (Eds.), Handbook of Community Psychology. New York, N.Y.: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

This practice provides at-risk youth with positive and consistent adult or older peer contact to promote healthy development and functioning by reducing risk factors. The practice is rated Effective in reducing delinquency outcomes; and Promising in reducing the use of alcohol and drugs; improving school attendance, grades, academic achievement test scores, social skills and peer relationships.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Drugs & Substance Abuse - Multiple substances
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Multiple education outcomes
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Psychological functioning
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Program Snapshot

Age: 14 - 19

Gender: Both

Setting (Delivery): School, Other Community Setting

Program Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Mentoring

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide

Philip Oreopoulos
University of Toronto
150 St. George St., Suite 308
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G7
Phone: 416.946.3776