Redesigning High School

By | 4 minute read | June 2, 2020

More about the Design Principles behind the P-TECH School Model.

Many of us who have lived and breathed the P-TECH School Model have been with students over the course of the last nine years and watched them blossom. That’s why recent results from a mid-term evaluation made by a non-partisan organization are demonstrating what we always knew about the power and promise of this groundbreaking high school reform initiative.

Launched in 2011 by the New York City Department of Education, The City University of New York, and IBM, P-TECH fills skills gaps in the economy, and breaks the cycle of poverty by bridging the gap between high school, community college, and industry. The model spans grades 9-14 and enables students to earn both their high school diploma and industry-recognized associates degree, while participating in workplace learning experiences, including mentorships and paid internships. The model now spans 220 schools across 24 countries and 600 industry partners, an amazing expansion in a short period of time.

The evaluation, conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization, shows the first seven P-TECH schools in New York City are offering students accelerated high school, early college, and career-focused activities, as well as increasing the number of credits that students can earn, and boosting their scores on English Language Arts Regents exams. These findings are significant, especially since the model was made to serve predominantly low-income, minority students, many of whom enter high school below proficient in core academic areas.

Beyond these results, what else do the findings tell us? One answer is the importance of P-TECH’s deliberate design to address two significant issues. First, many businesses are not finding the talent they need, and as a result, many well-paying job opportunities are going unfilled. Increasingly, many of these opportunities are in  “new collar” jobs, those careers or roles requiring more than a high school diploma, but not necessarily a four-year degree.

Second, for too many young people, the steps from high school to college to career are not always clear or supported. As a result, students frequently drop out across a silo-ed system. According to data from the State University of New York, for every 100 ninth grade students, 73 of those 100 graduate from high school four years later; 51 immediately enter college; 37 are still enrolled in their second year, and 23 graduate with their associates or bachelor’s degree within six years. This type of data begs the question, if students are not college ready, how can they possibly be ready for careers?

The architects of P-TECH developed six Design Principles that together address these challenges by providing a seamless and supported pathway for students as they make their way along the education to career continuum and becoming the blueprint upon which all P-TECH schools are built.

Design Principles

  • Partnership. Public-private partnerships are one of the most powerful forces for change. P-TECH raises the stake on these partnerships by asking high school, community college, and industry partners to eliminate any barriers that separate them. They must come together as equal partners and provide their unique expertise for all students to attain a college degree and the academic, technical, and professional skills required for careers or more study.
  • Integrated coursework. P-TECH integrates high school and community college coursework where students earn an industry-recognized degree at no cost. Students have the opportunity to take college classes as soon as they are ready. This is important because students who are least likely to complete a college degree are those who benefit most from early and engaging college experiences.
  • Workplace experiences. There is no better way to prepare students for real jobs than by giving them rich workplace experiences. P-TECH schools help students understand the connection between what they are learning in school and the “real world” expectations of the workplace by exposing students to careers through mentoring, site visits, job shadowing, and possibly paid internships.
  • Open enrollment. P-TECH schools are designed to create a more inclusive economy with a deliberate focus on underserved youth, which is why there is no testing or grade requirements for admission.
  • Cost free. The cost of paying for college is a significant obstacle for many families. When students and families do not need to worry about how they are going to pay for their education, they can have a laser-like focus on study and degree completion.
  • First in line. First-in-line for jobs provides students with a north star, a motivating goal that they can drive toward. While not a guarantee of a job, industry partners are committing to interview graduates for appropriate jobs.

These design principles are proving key tenets to delivering strong results. Additional data shows many P-TECH schools are reporting higher attendance rates; there are greater numbers of students who are ready for college coursework without remediation; overall higher community college graduation rates; and students earning jobs and going for additional higher education.

Yet behind the data are the stories of the students themselves, many excelling against tremendous odds.

This is because every day, outstanding school leaders, teachers, and industry professionals who are so committed to students working to improve the P-TECH model. We know constant assessment is essential to building a diverse talent pool that will reinvigorate local economies,  and ensure that young people of all backgrounds have a trajectory to academic and professional success.