Two words from President Barack Obama’s call to redesign high schools deserve special attention: new partnerships. Outside partners are essential to a successful reinvention of high schools that the president, and many others, are calling for.
“Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy,” the president said in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.”
And he singled out one New York City School, Pathways in Technology Early College High School, as a role model for such partnerships. That’s the Brooklyn early college high school where classrooms – potentially filled with future scientists and techno-wizards – are 85 percent percent African-American and 67 percent male. Minus the collaborations with IBM, the City University of New York and the New York City Department of Education, there would be no P-TECH.
Having played, with IBM’s support, a tiny but fascinating role in the school’s development – by helping Principal Rashid Davis deploy as tutors and mentors CityTech college students who excel in math – we’ve seen how every team member is indispensable. As P-TECH students strive to master college-level math and science, tutors and mentors help them see what so many students in failing high schools cannot: how their daily assignments relate to whatever they aspire to be and do as adults.
How can we help more partnerships like this one thrive? Here are three ways to start:
—Give principals incentives to collaborate with community partners including industry, colleges and universities and strong youth-serving organizations.
What’s remarkable about P-TECH is the depth of the partnerships. An employee of IBM and a City Tech coordinator actually report to the school every day to work beside Principal Davis. We’ve seen that principals – who have endless responsibilities and rules to follow – can be wary of sharing space and authority with so-called outsiders. They need encouragement from their school districts, and possibly extra school funding, to foster transformative partnerships.
—Ease regulatory burdens to make out-of-school learning experiences like internships count as credits toward graduation.
Under New York State policy, most high schools are forced to rely on the ubiquitous Carnegie Unit to award academic credit based on students’ “seat time” in various courses. Even the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is re-thinking the Carnegie Unit, and the State Education Department is also working on the problem. The concern is that the regulations as they’re currently configured act as dampers on schools working with outside partners to give kids credit for the real-life learning they do in places like hospitals or the offices of New York’s Silicon Alley.
—Develop shared professional development opportunities for teachers and community partners who team up to redesign high schools.
At P-TECH, it’s clear that teachers are preparing kids for college success because many students will have earned college credits by the end of their sophomore year. We all know that teachers need more time to collaborate with others in their schools to lead the kind of science and other instruction that excites students’ career aspirations. What’s less well-known is that they also need time to plan and develop approaches together with partners who come into their schools to enrich learning. This includes helping kids master essential college-prep skills, such as managing their time and building support networks among other students who share their hopes, drive and great expectations.