Stanley S. Litow is vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs for IBM. He's also one of the primary point persons for the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, a vocational high school established by a partnership between IBM and the New York City Public Schools. The school, located in a low-income area in Brooklyn, accepts students via open lottery. The students attend school year round, and they graduate not in four years, but in six years, with the equivalent of a two-year college diploma.
People who earn master's degrees specializing in secondary education (click here to check out available programs) place themselves in a position to create innovative education models like P-TECH. Time Magazine profiled the school in February 2014, and President Obama, who has visited the campus, has called the concept “outstanding.” It's high praise for a school that has yet to graduate a single student, but it's making educators rethink the four-year model of high school education in America.
Why Do Students Need Another Two Years?
It's hard to believe that in the U.S., high school attendance wasn't mandatory until after World War II. Now, students who have only high school diplomas aren't able to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers who have only a high school diploma have a 7.5 percent unemployment rate and an average income of $651 per week. Workers with an associate degree, however, have a 5.4 percent unemployment rate and earn an average of $777 per week. “Youth unemployment rates are at the highest level since the end of World War II,” IBM's Litow told reporters, “and the high-school diploma no longer prepares someone for a middle class wage.”
As the cost of attending college rises to unaffordable levels and as student loan interest rates have doubled, higher education has become less affordable, especially for students from poor families. Having the equivalent of an associate degree upon graduation would empower many more students to find work that pays a living wage. Even more importantly, students would only have to pay for two additional years of college to complete a bachelor's degree. Workers with a bachelor's degree have an unemployment rate of 4 percent and a median weekly income of $1,108.
Focus on STEM
Another advantage of the P-TECH model is its focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses. The Obama administration has provided easier access to Race to the Top grants for programs focused on STEM education. The administration is also setting aside funds to promote public-private partnerships (PPP) to improve STEM. For example, President Obama announced a competitive $100 million grant late last year to develop partnerships between public schools, corporate partners and public universities.
What's Next for P-TECHStudents graduate from P-TECH with not only a high school diploma but also an Associate of Applied Science degree. They can major in either computer systems technology or electromechanical engineering technology. Many of their college courses begin in the 10th grade, and some take place on the New York City College of Technology Campus. IBM is also promising that P-TECH graduates will be first in line for entry-level IBM positions after graduation.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) has announced that his state will open 16 more P-TECH schools with other business partners starting in September 2014. These P-TECH schools will focus on content areas like health care, clean technology and manufacturing.
For Stanley Litow, the project is personal. He worked as a deputy schools chancellor for New York City Public Schools before joining IBM's corporate citizenship arm. In addition to helping develop the P-TECH curriculum, Litow has overseen the development of similar schools in both New York City and Chicago. He says that to address the systemic lack of 21st-century skills in America's high school graduates, the P-TECH model must extend beyond one school, one neighborhood or one city.
“P-TECH has the potential to break that pattern of complacency and stand as a repeatable model for STEM Pathway schools,” Litow wrote in a Huffington Post editorial, “anywhere that the public and private sectors are willing to collaborate to provide their children with the 21st-century education to meet the world's need for skills.”