IBM-Backed High School Gets Obama Plaudits

P-TECH, a partnership among New York Public Schools, IBM and the City University of New York wins praise for boosting technical education with combined high school and associate's degree.
P-TECH is designed as a grade nine through 14 school, with years 13 and 14 representing the college portion. After enrolling its first students in the 2011-2012 school year, it currently has 228 students in grades nine and 10 with the other grades to be added as those students progress. Many of the students are already taking college courses, and Davis said he expects to see some graduate in four or five years, rather than six.

Although the IBM blueprint for science, technology, engineering and math education talks about the use of classroom technologies, the emphasis at P-TECH is less on tablet computers in the classroom than on training the sort of people who will design and build tomorrow's tablet computers. Many student projects are built around goals like that, where students might design a tablet (or, for that matter, a new sneaker) and create the associated business and marketing plans in a way that integrates all the disciplines they are studying, including writing, math, science and business, in a "very practical and project-oriented way," Litow said. "We get everyone participating because it's exciting work."

A school like P-TECH also addresses the gap in the education system left by the collapse of the kind of vocational education that was successful in the years after World War II, when training in a trade discipline like machine shop could lead directly to a good factory job. As the nature of the economy and the job market have changed, educators have been looking for a new model to replace the old Vo-Tech schools, and that could be one of the roles the P-TECH model plays. Even those P-TECH graduates who never go farther with their education will escape the path to minimum wage employment, Litow said, since a typical associate's degree graduate earns about $40,000 today.

Policymakers need to "look at what that would mean for tax revenue and do the math," he said.

Even with the expense of adding two years on to high school, the P-TECH model would really be a "redistribution of money" away from programs like dropout prevention, both at the high school and community college levels, Davis agreed. "You'd be saving money from interventions that did not need to happen."

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