THE BLOG
12/01/2014 09:25 am ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

What Does the "P" in P-Tech Stand for?

Pathways in Technology Early College High School or P-Tech is a small high school with 330 students in Brooklyn, New York. Its student population is 85% African American and 11% Hispanic. Three-quarters of the students are eligible for free lunch and one-in-six is considered special education. Because of a partnership with IBM and the City University of New York to prepare students for 21st century careers in technology, it has been presented as the academic wave of the future, including in the 2013 State of the Union Address by President Barack Obama, who also visited the school in October 2013.

For proponents of P-Tech, the message is clear. The United States does not need to put more money into public education. We don't need to rebuild inner city minority communities. We don't need a full employment jobs programs. We don't need to tax companies that are masking profits by shifting income overseas. All we need for a bright and rosy future in the United States are private-public partnerships to jumpstart more P-Techs for Black and Latino students.

P-Tech Brooklyn is so highly regarded that New York State Governor Andrew Como has pledged $28 million in state aid over the next seven years to open sixteen new P-Tech programs and another ten programs are planned down the line. There are new P-Techs in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens and Cuomo has promised P-Techs for Geneva, Poughkeepsie, and Yonkers. Meanwhile, IBM is taking the P-Tech model nationwide and hopes to help create 100 new P-Techs by 2016. Five P-techs are already in operation in Chicago and P-Tech's Brooklyn principal Rashid Davis has become a national spokesperson for the program, traveling to Idaho in 2013 where five P-Techs were being developed.

But in the excitement to emulate the miraculous "success" of P-Tech Brooklyn, there has been little evaluation of how the Brooklyn high school is actually doing. But there has ben some disgruntled rumbling. John King, New York State Education Commissioner, warned against "overstat[ing] the early success" of the school and questioned whether the school has produced significant results. Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, the governing body for New York State schools, has also expressed some reservations.

Unfortunately P-Tech may never be a model for the future of education. It claims to be "the first school in the nation that connects high school, college, and the world of work through deep, meaningful partnerships, we are pioneering a new vision for college and career readiness and success." In theory, students will study for six years and receive both high school diplomas and college associate degrees. But the school is only in its third year of operation with no graduates or working alumni. According to an interview with an IBM official, "The objective is to prepare students for entry-level technology jobs paying around $40,000 a year, like software specialists who answer questions from I.B.M.'s business customers or 'deskside support' workers who answer calls from PC users, with opportunities for advancement." However, the IBM official also made clear "that while no positions at I.B.M. could be guaranteed six years in the future, the company would give P-Tech students preference for openings." After all, why hire American High School graduates with associates degrees for a starting salary of $40,000 a year when you can hire PhDs from India for much less.

Meanwhile, the 2011-2012 New York State Report Card for the school and the 2012-2013 New York City Progress Report suggest the school has not been especially successful at transforming the academic performance of its inner-city minority students. For example, in 2011-2012, 101 P-Tech students took the state Comprehensive English exam. While 73% passed, only 13% scored above 85. In Math, 86% passed integrated Algebra, but only 6% scored higher than 85% and only 4% of 76 students who took the trigonometry exam passed.

The website schooldigger.com compares P-Tech with other schools in the area and the state. On the 2013 English Regents examination, 187 P-Tech students took the exam and 59% met state standards. This compared to 62% who met the state standard in New York City and 77% statewide. P-Tech students also failed to meet or exceed the state average on tests in Global History, United States history, biology, physics, and geometry.

On the 2013 integrated Algebra test P-Tech students barely exceeded state standards, but trailed a similar school, Medgar Evers College Preparatory School, located in the same neighborhood (Brooklyn-District 17). P-Tech also trailed Medgar Evers on the state exams in biology, physics, Global History, Geometry, U.S. History, Trigonometry, and English. On most of these exams P-Tech students scored lower than students in other less selective schools in the community.

Overall, P-Tech ranked 951st out of 1079 high schools in New York State on student math and reading scores. This placed it in the lowest 12% of state schools. My intent is not to denigrate the students of P-Tech or their teachers. It is to challenge the idea that the P-Tech model being promoted by politicians and business leaders is a magical solution to problems plaguing the American economy and inner-city minority schools.

What do all the numbers mean? If you neighborhood P-Tech successfully attracts students who are already performing above the academic norm, they will continue to score above the norm and your P-Tech will be declared a miracle school. But if your local P-Tech becomes home to students who are struggling academically, they will continue to struggle academically and your P-Tech will perform below expectations.

On a deeper level the performance of students at the Brooklyn P-Tech means State Education Departments, corporations, foundations, and the federal government have no idea how to improve the educational performance of inner-city minority students and that they are selling the public a fairy tale.

The "P" in P-Tech certainly does not stand for "performance." It may well stand for "phony."