Classroom Technology Opinion

P-TECH Should Begin in Kindergarten

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — November 18, 2014 5 min read
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The P-TECH movement is growing quickly. In 2013, President Obama highlighted P-TECH in his State of the Union Address. Immediately following that in February of 2013, New York’s Governor Cuomo announced his intention to use this model in 10 schools across the state. IBM was the corporate partner. The IBM P-TECH Model: Reinventing High School, Meeting the Nation’s Need for Tech Skills Infographic offers more context and data.

Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) offers an integrated high school and college curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while also providing essential workplace skills such as leadership, communication and problem solving. P-TECH’s graduates will receive both their high school diploma and a free associate in applied science degree in Computer Information Systems or Electromechanical Engineering Technology, and are first in line for consideration for IBM entry-level positions (The Aspen Institute)

The idea behind this model is to create clear pathways in technology through early college high schools, designed as a partnership between the schools, higher education and future employers.

Early College Is Hardly A New Idea
Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, wrote Jefferson’s Children in 1997 in which he affirmed “The American high school is obsolete (p.79). But schools continue to be framed by subject area courses, Carnegie Credits and the most difficult to thing to abandon, tradition.

Bard College opened Bard High School Early Colleges in NYC, Queens, and Newark. Botstein’s voice recently appeared in the New York Times in response to the P-TECH movement and his words included advice to shortening high school, beginning it in 7th grade and ending it after 10th. Indeed we can all think of students for whom this manner of schooling would be appropriate and who may flouish in that environment.

Models Already Exist
In a time when the criticism of the public school is at its zenith, everyone is looking for an answer to fix the system. The answers, it seems, continue to be coming from outside of the system and that will remain a problem. Apparently missing from the P-TECH movement is the awareness that it will reinforce and has the potential to widen the achievement gap in high schools. The intended structure of the system, creating partnerships, holds the most invigorating part of the plan. The 21st century will demand that public schools form partnerships with industry and higher education. There are schools across the country who have already made these connections and are on the way to strengthening their schools and the knowledge and capacities of their graduates. They can serve as models for study.

The Aspen Institute’s description of P-TECH is aimed at 9th through 14th grades. A recent Forbes Magazine article, P-TECH: How to Prepare the Workforce of Tomorrow describes the beginnings of one such school in NYC. And in the Forbes article, Rashid Davis, Founding Principal, P-TECH writes:

But we don’t just focus on teaching students math and science. P-TECH includes a strong academic program that also equips students with a capacity for critical thinking, writing and teaming skills, along with an understanding of the workplace. Education is important, but if you don’t have the skills needed to succeed in the work environment--to network and to continue to learn over the course of your career--you will not get far.

Catching Students in 9th Grade
We agree. The capacity to do well in math and science needs to be accompanied by the ability to excel as a team member, to think critically, be a continuous learner and understand the dynamics of the workplace. There are students who have been engaged in learning throughout their school years. They will be ready for a P-TECH opportunity. There are other students who appear at the 9th grade door disengaged, but whose attention can be captured and motivation ignited by the invitation into a P-TECH environment.

If P-TECH can help capture those 9th graders it will make a big difference. The National High School Center reported: “Promotion rates between ninth and tenth grade are much lower than rates between other grades, and in the last 30 years, this promotion rate has decreased even further.” The racial divide here is of concern. According to the National High School Center’s data, for white students attrition between 9th and 10th grades was 3%, while for African-American students it was 11% and for Hispanic students it was around 7%. Although intervention in the 9th grade is important and should continue to be a focus, the feeder system is a natural place to begin.

Begin in Kindergarten
We suggest new learning models need to begin in kindergarten. These will be models where application of skills is foundational and experts from the field work side by side with teachers and students. As educators, we should remain the learning experts. In any new design, the educator’s voice brings learning theory, experience, and cutting edge thinking.

While the P-TECH movement takes hold, a tandem movement must gain strength. P-TECH sits within the foundations of a sound STEM concept. That is, students, beginning at the earliest of their learning years, learn best by doing. Schools can provide opportunities for teachers to learn how to plan and engage students in cross discipline learning, with authentic, real life connected lessons that hold meaning. This will increase the number of students ready for a 9 - 14 P-TECH experience. If we focus only only on the secondary years and do not develop elementary teachers and middle school teachers who know how to engage all learners in meaningful, collaborative learning, the gap will remain or even grow.

The ideas and the intentions of the P-TECH movement are on target for 21st century students. But we are not simply producing workers, we are developing young people who will be contributing to our society in meaningful ways for the rest of their lives. That work begins as soon as they come to school. But, if we want to see where P-TECH is going , consult the new digital playbook. Then let’s talk about maximizing the collaborative effort for all children, beginning early.

Botstein, Leon (1997). Jefferson’s Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture. New York: Doubleday
STEM Pathways: A Development Guide

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