Growing tech students: A new high school model
The New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York have partnered with IBM to create a 6-year technology high school in Brooklyn known as P-Tech.
January 23rd, 2012
07:45 AM ET

Growing tech students: A new high school model

Listen to CNN Radio's podcast on P-Tech from Steve Kastenbaum.

By Steve Kastenbaum, CNN

(CNN) IBM’s job listings website today shows more than 1,600 job vacancies in the United States. But despite the nation’s high unemployment rate, IBM executives say they have a hard time filling those positions because few candidates have the backgrounds in math and science to qualify.

IBM hopes to change that by fostering future employees among high school students.

The company’s plan centers around a partnership with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York (CUNY). The result is Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn– “P-Tech” for short.

“It’s a unique model,” said Rashid Ferrod Davis, the school’s principal, “A 9-through-14 model, an actual six-year school.”

P-Tech goes two years beyond the 12th grade and every high school graduate will, in theory, also receive an associate’s degree from a nearby technical college. The school focuses on giving students a strong foundation in math and the sciences so they’ll be qualified for jobs in the tech industry when they graduate.

“The goal is to say that a high school diploma is not enough,” said Davis. “In order to be competitive, students definitely need to leave with job-readiness skills so that way they can really have a shot at middle- and high-income lifestyles.”

P-Tech sits between Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, two primarily African-American neighborhoods in Brooklyn. It’s an open-admission school, so Davis cannot pick and choose who fills the classrooms. The NYC Department of Education assigns students to high schools like P-Tech based upon a list of the students’ top choices.

As a result, many members of the first freshmen class at P-Tech entered the school lagging behind their counterparts across New York. “The majority of our students are coming in below grade level” in math and reading, Davis said.

The faculty at P-Tech hopes to turn that around by showing students how things they are being taught in the classroom directly apply to the work going on at IBM.

IBM employees helped create the curriculum, and they play a daily and active role in the school. Each student is matched with a mentor from IBM and they meet twice a week online.

The school day is several hours longer than a typical public high school’s. The trade-off for staying two years past the traditional four-year high school model is a free associate’s degree in applied science and the promise of being first in line for job openings at IBM.

That’s what attracted freshman Alec Miller to P-Tech. He travels more than an hour across Brooklyn to get there each morning.

“This is a great opportunity, the two free years of college … it’s worth it,” Miller said.  After one semester he has already seen improvement in his schoolwork.

“From middle school until now I went up 3 points in my grade point average because they actually inspired me to learn more.”

Much of that learning is done on the laptop that each student has at his or her desk. When they’re done with in-classroom learning, they spend some of their time working at their own pace through online course work.

A few miles away, in downtown Brooklyn, Bonne August is looking forward to meeting the students from the school. She’s provost at City Tech, part of the City University of New York. P-Tech’s students will earn an associate’s degree at the college.

“What they need is very strong math skills, ideally up to calculus in high school, and they need physics,” said August, “not necessarily the most popular subject in New York City high schools.”

August said she believes education will open up a whole host of new opportunities to the high schoolers. “Technology is enormously diverse and will only become more diverse. So the range of specific areas that these students can go into is incredible.”

This isn’t the first time IBM has taken steps to foster students in math and science, and Stanley Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, said he believes other tech companies will follow their lead.

“We’ve been designing this for all kids, not just a few kids, designing it in a way that it doesn’t cost more than the existing system,” said Litow. Schools such as P-Tech open a pathway into the middle class for inner-city kids.

“Just look at the numbers. An average high school graduate is going to earn $15 an hour. An average community college graduate with the skills is going to earn 40-50% more than that,” said Litow.

Over the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14 million jobs will be created for students who have associate’s degree skills. Davis, P-Tech’s principal, expressed confidence that these students will be filling some of those positions.

“It’s challenging, but it’s also thrilling,”Davis said. “It’s the idea of how do we make sure that we are working with all constituencies - the community, parents, junior high schools, high schools, college, industry, teachers - everyone that says public education is important.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that the city will create three more early college high schools in the six-year P-Tech mold. And IBM is taking the model to Chicago, where plans are in the works to open five similar schools.

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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Phil

    We need more approaches like this in broader public/private partnerships. Since when did we become so afraid to think outside the box?

    February 3, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  2. Wondering

    At one time, many school systems offered this. It was called vocational school. We did away with it an now we're raising a generation of kids who either go to college or get left behind. No Child Left Behind has ruined the educational system. Sure there needs to be accountability, but you can't make everyone accountable for everyone else.

    January 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  3. S

    What a wonderful program. We need to present our children with more of these kinds of oppertunities. In Ferndale Wa they have a really cool alternative type high school that is based on technology.It is a public school but it is application only and alot of its funding comes from the Bill Gates Foundation.My son was excepted there the second year it was open unfortuonitly we had to move out of state before he started.

    January 25, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  4. BigRich

    Funny...those do not look like IBM computers on those students desks....

    January 24, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Wondering

      My first thought to BigRich!

      January 25, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • LittleRich

      IBM doesn't make laptop computers anymore.

      January 27, 2012 at 5:20 pm |