by Rashid F. Davis
Research informs my perspective on teaching and learning, and the numbers speak for themselves. Wages for men without high school diplomas have declined 66 percent since World War II, while the chance that they will ever have any job at all is down 23 percent. Even for those who finish high school and go to community college, as many as 93 percent fail to complete their two-year degrees after six years of struggle. And one wonders why students who require remedial work in science and math even register at all, as ninety-nine percent may fail to complete even their first semester.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Unemployment among the poor and undereducated is far higher than the national average, and persists even during “good times.” There are at least two reasons for this:
- The majority of good American jobs require some form of post-secondary education or training; and
- As a cultural institution, the corporate workplace – where most of the good jobs are – operates on middle class values and behaviors.
As a result, young people from difficult circumstances must overcome the dual challenges of getting an education and navigating unfamiliar waters to move from poverty to meaningful, long-term employment. My job is to make that happen.
I lead the new Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, New York. P-TECH is a grade nine through 14 STEM Pathway institution that confers both the high school diploma and an Associate’s degree in technology at no cost to the student. P-TECH is designed to prepare its graduates with a rigorous education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects plus the real-world skills of the corporate workplace. To do that, we’ve had to create a new educational model – reaching across various divides to civic, community, and corporate partners on behalf of our children.
P-TECH is the result of a collaborative effort among the New York City Department of Education, The City University of New York, the New York City College of Technology, and IBM. The school’s academic program centers on challenging classes, longer days, and a longer school year. But P-TECH also will immerse its students in “real-world” learning, courtesy of the IBM mentors assigned to each student and teacher, and to me. I will be mentored by both an IBM business leader and someone from the New York City Leadership Academy (NYCLA). In turn, I will coach a principal mentee from NYCLA to complete the cycle of teaching, learning, leadership, and research.
As an educator, I want to shepherd my students through their transitions from members of what the Harvard Pathways to Prosperity study calls “the forgotten half” to personifications of potential. That means understanding who they are, where they’re coming from, where they need to be, and – most importantly – how to reach them. As a Principal, I need to lead my faculty by example – helping them to understand our mission, apply the latest research, and serve as role models for our students’ success.
Finally, as a student of education research, I am anxious to observe our finest principles put into practice – the preparation of our young adults “to lead productive and prosperous lives.” I am also excited to witness the birth of a new model for American public education. This model is characterized by collaboration among educators, students, parents, communities, and employers, and a focus on relevant job skills. It is informed by leading-edge scholarship. It is repeatable and scalable to serve communities across the nation where change is desperately needed. The P-TECH model is not just about being successful, it’s about being significant. Our children deserve nothing less.
Rashid F. Davis is the founding Principal of New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH). Mr. Davis was formerly Principal of the Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy (BETA), which was recognized by U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek as one of America’s best high schools.