Pathways to …… where are we headed exactly?

Since Pathways to Education is advertising for a new CEO, Your Working Girl reckons it’s as good a time as any to look at the rapid trajectory of an organization that originated in the housing projects of Toronto’s Regent Park in 2001.  After 12 years of incredible growth, she wanted to see what’s what, who’s who and where the dust has settled, as it were.

When Pathways hung up its shingle, it was a dark time in Regent Park.   Drugs, violence, poverty, joblessness and their constant companion, alienation, ruled the day.  The nasty hand of poverty held the people of Regent Park, especially youth, firmly in its grip.   High school drop out rates were twice the city’s average.  There were nine murders in Regent Park in 2001.

The Pathways’ founders were armed with nothing more than a few thousand dollars and the idea that a combination of tutoring, monetary reward and parent support would make a dent in the high school drop out rate.  The first year the program was offered to a small group of Regent Park youth.   From there, it grew… and grew..

Between then and now, the Pathways narrative has become the stuff of legend. After the first six years, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global management organization, measured Pathways’ outcomes and found them to be outstanding.   Dropout rates had fallen by 70%.   Accolades poured in.  Carolyn Acker, Pathways founder and CEO until 2009 when David Hughes took over, was awarded the Order of Canada and a honourary degree from the University of New Brunswick.  She was recognized for being a “Canadian pioneer in poverty rreduction.”

Money also poured into Pathways from government and the private sector.  According to annual reports, it had revenue of $6 million in 2010, $10.6 million in 2011 and $21 million in 2012. Yet Pathways has even bigger hopes and dreams.  In 2012, it launched Graduation Nation, a $170 million national campaign to “close the achievement gap in low income communities” and bring “Pathways to 16 sites in 7 provinces.

Have we found a cure for poverty?  Is Pathways to Education  it?

Well, Your Working Girl can assure her Gentle Readers that poverty has, at least, been eradicated from the Pathways’ front office. Her hairnet pretty nearly popped off her curls when she checked out Ontario’s Sunshine List of public sector employees earning more than $100,000 and saw that Pathways CEO, David Hughes, and his five top fundraising and financial lieutenants, were paid a total of $999,961.74 of compensation 2012, not including taxable benefits.   If they had been paid $ 38.26 more, they’d have made the million-dollar mark.  That’s an average top management salary of $166,660. (Your Working Girl is, happily, not overly superstitious.

The biggest earners wwere Chief Executive Officer, David Hughes and Chief Development Officer, Cathy Yanosik, who topped the chart with salaries of $268,865 and $221,935 respectively

“Ooooo-eeeee,” as Burma Jones, the janitor of the Night of Joy in John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces (and a favourite of Your Working Girl) would say if he weren’t a fictional character

But while poking around the Sunshine List, Your Working Girl found a fly in that hairnet of hers. While David Hughes replaced Carolyn Acker as CEO in 2009, she continued to be paid as “Founder” $150,000 a year for two more years .  Is there anything we need to know here? Your Working Girl understands there could be many reasons why a Founder might continue to draw a salary for two years after she stops her work as a CEO. She’d just like to know what they are..

On the community side of the coin, and in keeping with plans to export its model, Pathways launched a program with some fanfare in the north end of Winnipeg last year, where, according to a Pathways backgrounder, there is:

  • A higher than average dropout rate
  • Lack of early childhood education
  • A high incidence of parents with mental health issues
  • A high number of children with long-term disabilities.

Disabled children with no early childhood education and parents with mental health issues.  These little ones, do not, as they say, have an easy row to hoe. So Your Working Girl supposes they must feel pretty happy that help is on the way.  She imagines they are grateful in their own way that Pathways to Education, founded by a well-paid “Canadian pioneer in poverty reduction” and led by a million-dollar leadership team, are in the house..

Pathways to Education doesn’t deliver the actual day-to-day programming, however. Their job is to supply the successful model.   There is a community partner that actually executes on the ground. In North Winnipeg, that community partner is the Community Education Development Association (CEDA).

A visit to CEDA’s website told Your Working Girl it was “formed in 1979 when seven inner city parent councils agreed … to build a voice for inner city parents and residents to more effectively address education and community improvement concerns and issues.””

Your Working Girl has a real soft spot for community organizations like CEDA.  Those people are living testament to the adage, one step forward, two steps back. They spend year after dogged year, with little fanfare and a lot of agro, seeing a lot of failure in their communities along with a few well-earned successes. And Your Working Girl can tell you, because she knows, that these people are not in it for the money. The total amount of money spent on compensation for the entire 61 full and part time members of CEDA’s staff in 2013 was $1.28 million, not much more than the $1 million taken in by Pathways’ top six staff.  The CERA average salary is about $21,000

That lets you know whose side of the bread is buttered, as Your Working Girl’s dear father used to say..

But forget the highly paid executives at Pathways for a moment.  The Pathways’ model is the thing, right?  It’s that magic combination of tutoring, mentoring, monetary reward and parent support that slays disadvantage and produces the results that are good enough to  lead a press release.  In fact, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reports:

  • Every $1 invested generates $24 through decreased social spending and increased tax rates
  • 70% decline in drop out rates
  • 300% increase in students going to college and university
  • 2X graduation rates

But you don’t have to take BCG’s word for it.  Pathways’ 2012 Annual Report quotes other experts such as:

  • McKinsey & Company’s report on student retention and success in Quebec calls Pathways one of four programs most likely to succeed
  • Monitor Group partner of Forces for Good author Heather McLeod Grant says she’s “never before seen such impressive results”
  • United Nations independent expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall calls Pathways one of the most outstanding educational models she saw on her 2009 trip to Canada.

The issue with those endorsements is that neither McKinsey, Monitor Group, Grant or the United Nations has conducted independent research into Pathways programs.   They appear to have seen information quoted from the BCG report and are commenting on those results.  (Click here if you’d like to see the full McKinsey report.

And it would be a stretch to call the BCG report independent

According to Pathways’ 2007/2008 Annual Report, the late David Pecaut, a Senior Partner in BCG and a Pathways board member at the time, led the study and BCG provided it pro bono.  A later study reported in the 2010/2011 Annual Report was also provided pro bono by BCG and re-affirmed the original claims

This information trail reminds Your Working Girl of the debacle caused by the now-disgraced New York Times reporter, Judith Miller who, boasting impeccable sources, consistently reported the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.    Other reporters trusted her and her sources so much (after all, it was the New York Times), they based their reporting on her reporting, not on independently verifiable facts.   In the aftermath, wrote, “Our WMD expectations, such as they were, largely grew out of Miller’s stories.“”

Sadly, as it turned out for the people of Iraq and many others, Miller’s reports turned out to be false. While we’re not talking about WMDs here, we are talking about people’s lives, especially the lives of the terribly disadvantaged children living in communities that Pathways has been given millions of dollars to target.

A recent study conducted by Jensen Kettle-Verleyen of the University of Ottawa looked at the evaluation practices of Pathways to Education.  Is Pathways To Education An Effective Program? is well worth reading in its entirety and concludes

“Due to its positive results, Pathways to Education is attracting funding from governmental, private, and charitable contributors.  The existing evaluations of Pathways to Education are conducted internally, and by the BCG, which is a paid consulting group.  These reports are not objective, reliable, replicable, or generalizable and so it is imperative to question the existing evaluations.  This is important to determine whether scarce resources are best allocated to Pathways to Education.”  (Click here if you’d like to read the full report.))

It’s a lot for any new CEO to think about.   How much time will they have to do it? Some of the new CEO’s priorities as outlined in the job posting are (Click here to see the full posting):

  • Consistently drive improved results in fundraising
  • On an annual basis, present to the Board for approval an assessment of each member of the management team
  • Continually seek out new funding opportunities for the organization
  • Proactively seek out opportunities to raise the profile and support of the organization among new constituencies
  • Ensure brand and campaign alignment with new Strategic Direction

Your Working Girl has worked and volunteered alongside Pathways’ Parent Support Workers, managers and graduates, and counts them among her friends and colleagues.   She has seen the program up close in Regent Park and knows great work being done there by front line staff. But after two months of research and one unhappy surprise after another, Your Working Girl finds the motivations of Pathways current leadership baffling and the course it is charting troubling.

The lessons Pathways is putting out there – lessons that include a keen demonstration and propagation of inequity, overreach of effectiveness claims, and the commercialization of community organizing – may not be the ones it is intending to teach.

Epilogue Just so you know: For three years running (2009, 2010 and 2011), Charity Intelligence Canada named Pathways to Education a recommended charity, recognizing it for “excellence in addressing a social issue, cost efficiency and track record of producing outstanding results for Canadians in need.”  In 2012, Charity Intelligence had its charitable status revoked for failing to file its T-3010.  Charitable status was reinstated in 2013 and Charity Intelligence continues to rank charities on their effectiveness.

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  1. Marzi Pandora says:

    Mussolini Hitler Stalin Hughes in no particular order

    • Gregory Tofta says:

      You are forgetting that Mussolini did get the trains to run on time! David Hughes on the other hand has accomplished absolutely nothing except to destroy what was good about the Pathways’ organization and line his own pockets and the pockets of his friends and cronies in the process! $1M in salaries alone is criminal! If he wasn’t fired he should have been. What a disgrace!

  2. In today’s (Nov 4-2013) Globe and Mail the highlighted the 158-page report called Talking about Charities 2013. This is the fifth survey the Muttart Foundation has conducted and with the results on levels of trust to some charities. The numbers are inching to the same levels of trust enjoyed by used car dealerships. Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai said, “There are some parts of the picture that some will like; while there are others that clearly indicate a need for action”.

    Your Working Girl, I believe the same thing can be said about this particular Blog. There are now over 85,600 Canadian charities with the vast majority underfunded, including those organizations who adopted the Pathways to education model.

    After reading about Community Education Development Association (CEDA) in Winnipeg, I wondered if they had to pay a licencing fee or a consulting fee to have the privilege of using the Pathway model. I too have known people that worked and work at Pathways and they deserve better than the negative financial legacy that David Hughes and Carolyn Acker have left them.

    Keep up the good working Our Working Girl and I would love to read a follow up, or perhaps a comment from Pathways to Education. That’s if your bankers and the corporate directors let you speak

  3. E. Brighton says:

    Thank you for your diligent fact finding on the workings behind this ‘charitable’ organisation. It is very sad to think that David Hughes thought all of this was not going to come to light at some point. Perhaps though, like so many of his kind, you can replace pig with David Hughes; he felt he was above it all –

    “Comrades!’ he cried. ‘You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink the milk and eat those apples.”
    ― George Orwell, Animal Farm

  4. Trevor R. says:

    Pathways is no more than a Ponzi scheme perpetrated by David Hughes and his sycophants and suck-ups who fed at his trough. A system obviously was created to give the guise that help was on its way to the many communities Pathways was created to help and serve. In reality only David Hughes was helping himself. You don’t have to dig too deep into the reports on Pathways to quickly understand the pseudoscience which has led to the creation of this so-called do-gooder David Hughes. The only difference between Bernie Madoff and David Hughes is that one of them is in jail.

  5. Shauna Smith says:

    After a rather surprising search I found David Hughes’ name appearing in the lowest category of Pathways Canada Donors List. Yes you heard me right, although as this article points out; that David Hughes is in the top most level of salary earners for the not-for-profit sector in the entire country; he is in fact at the bottom of the list when it comes to donations being made to an organization he so ‘strongly believes in’ – a quote from his Twitter (why he was visiting Qatar is anyone’s guess as I’m sure whatever award he was picking up could have been sent in the mail). But assuming that David Hughes gave the high range to Pathways Canada’s lowest donor category ($4,999) you can start scratching your heads when you add his cumulative salary over his time as CEO at Pathways which is $1,075,460. I have not included his bonuses. Greed Greed Greed and more Greed.

  6. C. Stewart says:

    About a year or so ago, I was at the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) forum where David Hughes was a guest speaker and presented findings from the research that was being done at Pathways. While he got through his speech barely, which was read from note cards; my colleagues and I watched in awe as he fell apart during the question period. It made most of us think that at the very least he was a fraud and at the very worse that the Pathways’ numbers were cooked and unverifiable. Meeting him after I tried to prod him further for some simple answers to what he had presented. His demeanor was that of an aloof autocrat. I now realize that it was all a show; a show by a man that clearly lacks integrity, decency, honesty and intelligence.

  7. Pamela Bowen says:

    When Prime Minister Stephen Harper, announced a $20 million investment over four years in Pathways to Education Canada in March 2011, the following was said by Pathways President & CEO David Hughes – “With the support of the federal government, Pathways will continue to expand across Canada, helping thousands of students graduate high school and achieve their full potential.”

    David Hughes went on to say, “Pathways will use the investment to help establish and sustain high-performing programs in up to 20 high-need communities by 2016, supporting more than 10,000 students when these programs are at full capacity.”

    Pathways current Results Summary states – “Pathways serves almost 4,500 students across four provinces”. “Since 2004, more than 1,550 students have graduated from Ontario sites”.

    Notwithstanding that $1million of this funding went directly to Pathways’ President & CEO David Hughes and then a few million more to a varied list of dubious Pathways’ Vice Presidents and over-paid staff (Charity Intelligence reports that Pathways has full time staff of twenty and the average compensation is $111,077); it makes us all wonder where actually did this money go Mr. Hughes – expansion, number of students, where exactly if not there?

  8. Jay Donaldson says:

    If you want to know what happened to the Pathways’ model, look no further than the Rogers Youth Fund which today has a national focus, is responsibly funded, and does exactly the work Pathways had set its sights on doing; that is until David Hughes arrived and gutted it for personal gain and profit.

  9. Last week in Maclean’s Business section (November 7th) an article came out entitled ‘Really bad bosses’. Reading through it, I was half heartedly expecting to see David Hughes’ name as I suppose there is a real story here if someone wanted to dig and discover why Pathways fell into a malaise of hiring and firings, and an employee revolving door of comings and goings that would make any engine turbine jealous of its regularity (this information I have taken from Pathways’ staff list which changes daily). But alas this “Nonprofit leader & change agent”, a self title to be found on David Hughes’ Twitter and Linkedin accounts and anywhere else you care to look; will most likely slither out of the mess unscathed and re-invent himself and once again champion some cause that he can feel a part of; for “the welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants” – Albert Camus.

  10. Mahmoud Ardakani says:

    What David Hughes, and degenerate people like him never understand; is that he is not the reason an organization like Pathways exists but rather he is only one piece in a layered community puzzle board that is providing help where help is needed. His misguided belief that he is in some way an authority on the subject of low-income poverty is delusional and alarming but I clearly feel that his methods used to drain resources away from fighting the issue of high school dropouts and placing these resources on himself should be studied at places like Schulich or Ivey Business Schools for what not to do and how not to lead. Disgraceful. Disgusting.

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