One of the examples cited in the State of the Union address by President Barack Obama of technology applied successfully to education was the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn, New York. The revolutionary program, supported by IBM, allows students to graduate not just with a high school diploma, but – thanks to a collaboration between the company, the school and City University of New York – also with an associates degree either in computer science or engineering.
It serves as a standard for the way the goal of aligning education with the marketplace outlined by President Obama might be achieved. Rashid Davis, the founding principal of P-TECH, spoke with GigaOM about what makes the school a success and how this success might be replicated in other areas of the country.
One of the main things that set P-TECH apart is the fact that students commit to staying there for six instead of the customary four years. At the end, not only do they get a substantial leg up towards any higher education aspirations that thy might have, they also have an opportunity to apply for entry-level positions at IBM. Davis believes that it is this close partnership between the school and the tech industry that makes the model so promising. Instead of bemoaning the lack of skilled employees, programs like P-TECH allows companies to have input into the kind of training students should be receiving in order to play a vital part in the country’s economy.
GigaOM: Corporations have worked with educators in the past but what really distinguishes P-Tech’s model?
Davis: Every student has a mentor from IBM and the expectation is for students to complete the post-secondary credential, not just earn a college credit. And it’s an open-admission school that starts in grade 9. We’re not taking students that have taken an academic test or have been academically screened for this particular model.
This kind of partnership has the potential to transform not just technology education. Any industry where companies are looking for particular skills can invest effort and money in schools that teach just those skills to their students. Davis pointed specifically to manufacturing and even fashion as the fields that would substantially benefit for similar partnerships.
GigaOM: If you could do more to make this model a success, what would it be?
Davis: I would add a boarding component for six months in the summer and I’d try to find a way to house the students for the last two years… 85 percent of my students are on free or reduced lunch and they’re not coming from within walking distance of the community. And it’s important to remember that 76 percent of our population are boys, with 73 percent being young men of color. Every day they go into their communities and we’re at risk of losing them or having them sidetracked to other realities. With boarding, I think it’s essential to make sure we can continue the learning.