Obama Touts ‘P-TECH’ Early-College High School in Address

By Erik W. Robelen — February 13, 2013 3 min read
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In his State of the Union address last night, President Barack Obama highlighted a new early-college high school in Brooklyn that’s been getting quite a bit of notice lately. It got me curious to learn more about this public school, Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH. It turns out that the P-TECH model is already being replicated in New York City, as well as Chicago, and even Idaho.

First, here’s what the president had to say:

Let's also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges. ... Now at schools like P-TECH in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York [City] Public Schools and City University of New York and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate's degree in computers or engineering. We need to give every American student opportunities like this.

(For more on the education proposals in Obama’s address, check out this overview at Politics K-12 and a post by my colleague and co-blogger Catherine Gewertz about the call to promote improved high school curricula in the STEM fields.)

I reached Rashid Davis, the founding principal of P-Tech today. (His school, as you might imagine, has been deluged with calls today.)

Davis said he was not aware that his school would get a mention in the State of the Union.

“I was definitely surprised and thrilled and have not slept since,” he told me.

That said, the president and his administration have apparently been aware of P-Tech for some time. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited P-Tech last fall, and President Obama mentioned it during an electronic town hall address in 2011. “So we’ve been on the radar.”

Rashid emphasized the grades 9-14 model, and the close partnership with its industry partner, as key to the P-Tech approach. In designing the curriculum, he said the school consulted with IBM on some of the skills students would need to succeed in computer and information systems.

Asked whether he thinks of P-TECH as a “STEM school,” Rashid said yes, but not just that.

“We are a myriad of opportunities,” he said. “We’re a STEM school, career and technology education, we are early college, so we are many things.”

Margaret Ashida, who recently stepped down as director of the Empire State STEM Learning Network, has a high regard for P-TECH.

“The school has its roots and focus on information technology, but it’s broadening, not only about the IT sector but technology broadly writ,” she said. Ashida also emphasized the power of the partnership between several organizations to develop the school. (Obama missed one of the four in his speech: the New York City College of Technology.)

She sees P-TECH as a STEM school not simply because of the content taught, but also the governing educational philosophy.

“STEM is not only about the different silos of the acronym, but about problem-solving, inquiry, working on real-world problems, and at its core, that is what STEM is all about,” said Ashida, who has just been named the first executive director of STEMx, a national organization composed of 16 statewide STEM education networks.

Indeed, the core principles include applying knowledge and skills in “meaningful tasks within authentic contexts,” and getting them to “ask questions, think at high levels, and solve problems.”

Ashida also noted how the P-TECH approach is being adapted for other schools, both in New York City, but also Chicago, which opened five schools embracing the same model, and new plans for Idaho to develop a set of such schools with support from a $5 million grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

“This is already proving such a powerful environment for teaching and learning that other schools in New York City are already adapting the framework, and schools in Chicago have adapted it with different industry partners,” she said. “P-TECH can be adapted to other schools and other states.”

For another take on P-TECH, check out this profile in The New York Times published in October.

Finally, here are a couple of additional resources about the P-TECH approach.

• A “development guide” produced by IBM to help develop a school akin to P-Tech

• A December 2012 webcast of a conference on “educating tomorrow’s workforce” where Rashid Davis discussed the P-Tech school (He speaks, beginning at 74:00, for about 10 minutes.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.