Federal High School Initiative Modeled After a School With No Proven Track Record
Much of the attention around President Obama’s new competitive grant program for high schools focuses on a Brooklyn school that partners with the City University of New York (CUNY) and IBM to offer college coursework and computer science training. But since Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech) opened in 2011, it doesn’t yet have a graduating class — which begs the question: Is P-Tech a model that should be scaled? And is it even scalable?
P-Tech is unique for a high school, in that it will eventually house grades nine through 14. The grade configuration affords students the opportunity to earn an associate degree at CUNY before leaving high school. But it also means that P-Tech is still three years away from having a graduating class — and even further from the opportunity to boast of postsecondary or workforce successes.
Still, there is reason to be hopeful. P-Tech builds upon the Early College High School model, a decade-old reform that co-enrolls students in high school and college courses, typically in partnership with a community college. Research documents that Early College students graduate from high school and enroll in college at higher rates than otherwise similar peers. What’s more, many Early Colleges aim to serve students who are traditionally underrepresented on college campuses, meaning they have the potential to narrow inexcusable gaps in college access.
So, exposure to college-level coursework at P-Tech could really pay off. And, it can’t hurt that students likely recognize they are under the watchful eye of the president of the United States.
However, the structure and focus at P-Tech raise questions as well. For example, will the model result in positive learning outcomes for students? Research on Early Colleges suggests that achievement outcomes are mixed, and indeed, the first year of achievement data at P-Tech reveals impressive results in algebra, but mediocre results in English. Second, although P-Tech’s partnership with IBM is a positive response to the city’s workforce demands, is it appropriate to lock students into a career pathway at the age of 14 or 15?
Regardless, P-Tech now serves as the exemplar for Obama’s new competitive grant program, Youth CareerConnect, which aims to spur innovation and career-academic integration in high schools. The program will confer between 25 and 40 multi-million dollar grants to partnerships of districts, businesses, and institutions of higher education. Unlike other education initiatives that are housed in the Department of Education, this program sits within the Department of Labor, meaning it could potentially prioritize workforce needs rather than educational best practice. But, with the announcement occurring just days ago, it’s probably too early to call — much like the student outcomes at P-Tech.
This post was updated to include the correct link to P-Tech’s achievement data.