Here’s the question.Is it helping disadvantaged teens to plug them into corporately-designed programs, starting when they are in ninth grade, steering them through six years of training where they will wind up with an Associate’s Degree related to a corporation? Should this be the purpose of all schooling in America? Is it right for teenagers? Or, is it social engineering?
Yesterday President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited a school, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech). The president spoke about how American students needed to keep up with students in different countries…the usual “we’ve got to compete or perish” spiel http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/26/nyregion/obama-visits-brooklyn-high-school.html. Many Americans have figured out the school/economy strings aren’t as tight as they’ve been told. But poverty is insidious, and if this kind of set-up leads to employment for students shouldn’t it be considered?
P-Tech focuses on “Staffing, Scheduling, and the Strategic Use of Data and Monitoring” called the “3S Model.” This in itself sounds flowery to me. It relies heavily on online instruction and, of course, Common Core. It is a private-public partnership. IBM provides a mentor for each student. Students and parents sign on to rigor. Coursework is accelerated with 90 minute classes in English, mathematics, workplace learning, technology, global history and physics. There is no mention of other kinds of classes like the arts. The emphasis is on acceleration http://citizenibm.com/2012/10/p-tech-where-we-are-now.html.
So is it right to lead 9-12th graders into IBM at this stage in their lives? Vocational education in high school has always been debated. But a lot of real high schools in New York City have closed, and the Federal Sequestration is to cut $1.2 trillion from vocational schools according to Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/25/obama-p-tech_n_4160548.html. The idea is to switch from vocational education to career-technical education, updating the kinds of work-related skills for students. But what do students miss out in this process? It seems too narrow.
And there are mixed messages with P-Tech http://citizenibm.com/2012/02/p-tech-the-first-100-days.html. For example, what does it mean to “grow more people capable of working in our business”? If all students learn is how to work at IBM, will they really be ready for another career if they attend a regular college or if IBM downsizes? And why is there such urgency?
The statement is also made claiming IBM mentors are “engaged and involved in helping to build the curriculum” and their “developing a new model for education is totally consistent with IBM’s values and IBM’s culture.” But is this a “public” education? The answer is no. What about other careers? Where do parents and teachers fit in?
I have never minded corporations sending workers to schools as tutors. This was often the case when I taught middle school in Tallahassee, Florida in the 1980s. I valued their mentoring and found those from business to be caring individuals. But there is something different about a real credentialed teacher providing the tutor with work for the student to do. In the current situation it is all about the mentors who are not real educators. Teachers seem to take a secondary role.
The President clearly likes this kind of school set-up. He spoke about it in his State of the Union address and he wants to see more schools like P-Tech. Since the school is only two years old, another question might be what’s the hurry? Like Common Core State Standards (which will be included in P-Tech’s curriculum) there appears to be no plans for piloting one or two of these schools first. Instead, Chicago will see five P-Techs opening there working with Microsoft, Motorola and Verizon. New York will see sixteen partnerships http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/08282013Students-for-High-Skill-Jobs.
I suppose if everything else in education didn’t seem so draconian I might think a little more positively about programs like this for at-risk students. But like everything else, it has too much of a corporate rubber stamp and I’d rather see students able to broaden their horizons, not streamline them. They are, after all, still children.
It also scarily reminds me of what some considered a “blueprint for reform.” Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public School was written in 1995 with false claims that our public schools were failing and how they needed to be part of a “computer revolution.” The book was co-authored by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., Chairman and CEO of IBM.