Hudson Valley to snare P-TECH-style school, IBM exec says

Published: February 28, 2013 6:23 PM

via Newsday

The Hudson Valley will be in line for one of 10 P-TECH-style schools that could open as soon as September 2014 in a collaboration among New York State, local school districts, IBM and other corporate partners, an IBM executive said.

The initiative seeks to replicate the success of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn, a school that melds high school, community college and career training into a six-year, tech-oriented program for grades 9-14.

Stanley Litow, an IBM executive and former deputy chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, said that P-TECH, which opened in 2011, is off to an auspicious start.

“About 50 percent of the 10th-graders are in line to have 14 college credits before they complete the 10th grade,” he said. “Students are completing college courses and doing very well in them.”

Unlike more traditional schools, where subjects are studied separately — and mostly in the abstract, through textbooks — the P-TECH model unifies learning based on hands-on projects, said Litow, IBM’s vice president for corporate citizenship & corporate affairs.

For example, students might be asked to create a business plan to take on Apple‘s iPad. In the process, they would might tap algebra, geometry, language and presentation skills. Though the schools use innovative teaching methods, the per capita cost of educating the students is not any higher than in a traditional curriculum, IBM officials said.

Both P-TECH, located in Crown Heights, and the Sarah E. Goode STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Academy on Chicago’s South Side — a school that follows a similar model — are designed to equip students with skills in science, technology and math and aim them toward careers in areas where U.S. companies have plenty of open jobs.

“Around the United States, there are jobs that are going begging for people who have these skills,” Litow said. “The problem is clear: low graduation rates from community colleges. We’ve got to do something different.”

Only 25 percent of the country’s community college students complete a degree, Litow said. Although high school graduates earn about $15 per hour, or $31,000 a year — when they can get jobs — computer science graduates with an associate degree begin at $40,000 a year, he said.

“If this model is successful, not only does it guarantee that students get degrees, but that they get connected to jobs that exist,” he said.

P-TECH and Sarah E. Goode have been held up as models nationally. U.S. Education SecretaryArne Duncan visited P-TECH in October and President Barack Obama cited the school in his State of the Union address as a new model for education and training.

“We need to give every American student opportunities like this,” Obama said.

Steven D’Agustino, a Fordham University education professor and director of the Regional Educational Technology Center on the Bronx campus, said the state’s program is a “step away from the traditional liberal arts education” and a step toward “competency-based” education.

“I think it’s an innovative attempt,” he said.

D’Agustino cautioned that it’s too early to assess how successful the initiative will be.

Lisa Davis, director of the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association, said it remains unclear how the program would work in a suburban setting.

“It’s a great concept, but then there’s the question of what it’s going to look like when you roll it out,” she said.

Among the questions: Who will pay for the students in the 13th and 14th grades, when students ordinarily would have graduated from high school? A call to the governor’s press office was not immediately returned.

The 10 new schools will be sited in 10 economic development regions defined by New York State. Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Dutchess, Ulster and Sullivan counties constitute the Mid-Hudson region. New York City and Long Island are among the other 10 regions.

Under the program, school districts would apply to state officials to land one of the schools, which could be located in a free-standing building or share space with another school.

Funding would come mostly from the sponsoring school districts, with support from both the state and a corporate partner. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has allocated $4 million in aid for the program. Armonk-based IBM has signed up to act as corporate partner for two of the schools. The company also will help recruit other private-sector partners and provide training for mentors from the business world.

The schools will use a “blueprint” designed by IBM to replicate the P-TECH model. The blueprint tells school districts how to build a P-Tech program.

Cuomo announced the P-Tech initiative as part of his 2013-14 executive budget.

Litow said it took about 12 months to open P-TECH and Sarah Goode, making a September 2014 opening for the new schools “aggressive” but not “impossible.”

Ellen Cutler-Levy, program director of Yonkers Partners in Education, a not-for-profit organization that provides SAT preparation, college visits and other services to get students ready for college, said the program’s thrust is encouraging.

“We’d like to see more students prepared in the engineering, math and science fields,” she said. “If that’s where the jobs are in the future, we’d like to see it happen.”

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