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P-TECH: Where We Are Now

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A High School With a New Approach to Vocational Education

Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) Founding Principal
Rashid Ferrod Davis assesses his students’ progress as the innovative grades 9 through 14 school – which confers both the high school diploma and an associate degree in applied science – enters its second year.

Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) – a turnaround, Smart Scholars, Career and Technical Education (CTE), and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) grades 9 through 14 institution – exemplifies a new paradigm for American education. Founded with an industry partner and co-located in the Paul Robeson Educational Complex with two other high schools, P-TECH hopes to inspire action among public-private partnerships and other stakeholders to help strengthen U.S. competitiveness.

In 2011, we were one of the new schools opened in New York City as part of the federal government’s Title I School Improvement Grant program. There are mixed results on turnaround efforts nationally, and some education leaders have complained about the inflexibility of the federal models. Under Mayoral control in New York City, principals have more autonomy in running schools, which is helpful with allocating resources within a principal’s constraint. I am the Founding Principal of a collaborative effort with the New York City Department of Education, The City University of New York (CUNY), New York City College of Technology (City Tech), and IBM. P-TECH is just over one year old, and is starting to show gains.

P-TECH’s attendance rate of 94.2 percent ranks us fifth among the 13 New York City high schools that opened in September 2011, and our October year-to-date attendance of 95.8 percent is currently highest among our peer institutions. In addition, 97 percent of last year’s students and all but one of our 15 faculty returned for our second year. This is an incredible feat for our open admissions population, as many parents were apprehensive about sending their children to the Paul Robeson building because it is across the street from Albany Houses – a public housing project with a history of high crime rates.

Staffing, Scheduling, and the Strategic Use of Data and Monitoring comprise the “3S Model” that has been key to our success. Staffing includes the internal and external personnel committed to P-TECH’s multi-layered educational approach. Multiple layering is possible because of the commitment of a steering committee, a vital advisory component that includes representatives from each of the school’s stakeholders. For external staffing, we are fortunate to have liaisons from City Tech and IBM who are at the school two to three days a week. Their commitment has been invaluable, as they assist the staff with professional development and help provide support and encouragement to students by coordinating college and industry trips and activities.

Our college liaison was responsible for recruiting the college mentors who helped with our Saturday Academy and summer bridge enrichment programs, and with managing our faculty’s monthly professional development opportunities. Our industry liaison coordinates the 102 mentors for our first-year students, arranges site visits, and connects our teachers with industry professionals to enhance our workplace-learning curriculum. Both liaisons have contributed to successful parent and community outreach efforts. There are also two professional developers – one from CUNY, one from EdWorks – who help with our early college transition.

As for the internal staff, I hired all of the faculty and staff – a diverse team that includes veteran educators, those new to the profession, and a number of teachers with industry experience. The research shows that one of the most positive contributors to students’ success is the presence of highly qualified teachers in each class. It was incredibly important to augment our teachers’ subject-matter competencies with components of caring and a commitment to giving struggling learners in an open admissions population the same opportunities for learning and achievement as their peers in affluent areas. On average,
P-TECH’s faculty and staff work a longer school day and work year-round, for which they receive compensation. Our decision to allocate resources for more intellectual capital paid off with an 8:1 adult student ratio during our first year.

Scheduling and time allocation also contributed to our success in Year 1. P-TECH operates on a 10-period day that includes five teaching periods, plus periods for course preparation, professional development, and lunch. Last year, eight of our nine teachers opted to teach a sixth period, for which they received compensation. Offering six teaching periods enables P-TECH to deliver 21 percent more instruction time than most high schools. It also allows our students to take 90-minute classes in English, mathematics, workplace learning, and technology, and earn two credits each term for each class. In Year 1, we focused on English and mathematics as the building blocks of STEM college majors. We have added global history, physics, and four sections of college courses to the curriculum for Year 2, with college courses taught by City Tech professors. Ninety-one percent of our first-year students earned the maximum number of credits in their curricula.

Strategic Use of Data and Monitoring was the third contributor to P-TECH’s Year 1 success. It is incredibly important to share data with all stakeholders, especially parents and students to help change habits that might be counter-productive to success. Our measures of success also must incorporate overall goals that are unique to P-TECH, specifically that our six-year program graduates will attain both a high school diploma and an associate in applied science degree en route to being first in line for entry-level positions at IBM. This encouragement helped motivate our students, 97 percent of whom were successfully promoted from ninth to 10th grade.

Additionally, it is extremely important to help demystify high stakes testing and teach students more relevant definitions of “failure.” Failure at P-TECH means quitting or dropping out. Students may require multiple attempts to reach proficiency or college readiness targets, and it is important to instill resiliency to help them persist. Therefore, we monitor students’ progress toward graduation requirements and college readiness indicators. This monitoring includes mock exams, case conferencing and testing.

This summer, 15 of our ninth grade students earned a grade of “C” or better in their college-level Logic and Problem Solving course at City Tech. And this fall, 48 P-TECH students are enrolled in college classes. These inspiring achievements give credence to the idea that structuring supports for younger students – and giving them access to more rigorous college courses – need to be accelerated, and that good teaching, compassion and understanding, and hard work can help P-TECH students achieve with the best.  

Rashid Ferrod Davis is the Founding Principal of New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH). Mr. Davis is a regular contributor to the WNYC SchoolBook blog on education.

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