Six is the new four

Time magazine writer Rana Foroohar explains why the nation’s top business leaders, educators and elected officials are on the same page regarding an innovative education reform — the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) concept pioneered by Business Council member IBM.

The article in the current issue is titled “The school that will get you a job.” It describes the way the P-Tech concept blends a strong academic core with elements of other promising education reform models and something unique — the promise of a good-paying job at graduation.

Foroohar writes, “P-Tech picks up certain elements of the ‘career academy’ model, which creates high schools with links to particular industries, like finance or telecommunications, and adds a dash of the ‘early college high school’ model, where small, specialized schools in deprived socio­economic areas allow kids to complete some college credits in high school, reducing the cost of a degree later and improving their chances of graduating. It throws in corpo­rate help in curriculum development and mentoring to ensure employable workers.”

“But P-Tech adds a final, crucial twist, that job guarantee for graduates. ‘“The P‑TECH model takes the best of these other ideas and then goes a step further by bridg­ing the jobs divide,”’ says Harvard educa­tion professor Robert Schwartz, author of the seminal 2011 Pathways to Prosperity re­port on career training and school reform, who lauds the model. ‘I give IBM a lot of credit for that.’”

The promise of a job, that is such a critical part of what makes the P-TECH schools unique, is the result of how they were conceived by Stanley Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs. Litow, a former New York City schools deputy chancellor, brought together IBM, the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York to create the first P-Tech school in Brooklyn, as a means to help the company close a skills gap that was preventing it from hiring workers with middle skills — jobs requiring less than a four-year degree but more than a high school diploma.

The Time article also says many of IBM’s unfilled positions are in the middle-skilled area. This underscores an interesting truth about the American economy: despite all the press about the middle class shrinking, middle-income jobs are actually forecast to grow. Accord­ing to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, middle-skilled jobs with a technology bent — which include positions like entry-level software engineers, medical tech­nicians and high-tech-manufacturing workers — will increase by 17.5 percent from 2010 to 2020, just as fast as high-skilled jobs and far faster than lower-end ones. The P-TECH concept of combining the traditional four years of high school with two years of post-secondary education is turning into the six-is-better-than-four movement. IBM has started eight P-Tech schools including one in Brooklyn. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has promised ten P-Tech schools around the state, in other parts of the country, education-reform-minded mayor and governor have P-TECH plans of their own.

Foroohar suggests the P-TECH model may be the next seminal moment in public education, as significant as post-World War II-requirement making high school education mandatory.

A companion video produced by Time provides an interesting look into the Brooklyn P-Tech academy. You watch it by clicking here.

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