Expanding the Six-Year High School Model
February 22, 2014
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the six-year high school model, where four years of high school are combined with two years of college for an equivalent of an associate’s degree. Known as the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (or P-Tech for short)—made famous by the high achieving P-Tech school in Brooklyn, New York, and by President Obama in his State of the Union speeches, this approach allows students to learn in-demand 21st century workforce skills—with the help of industry partners like IBM. Time magazine recently profiled another P-Tech school, the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, “middle skills” jobs (like technical support, medical technicians, and high-tech manufacturing workers) are increasingly in high demand. In fact, they are as much in demand as high-skilled STEM jobs, which only account for 5% of all U.S. jobs. Not everyone needs a four-year degree, but they need more than a high school diploma. Workers with an associate’s degree will earn 74% more than those with only a high school diploma, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
A six-year program would be more in line with a career and technical education (CTE) model, where students learn real world skills from tech firms and would graduate with concrete job skills. Corporate partners, in turn, are eager to hire those they have trained. Connecticut and upstate New York are also rolling out this approach. The question is, can this model be expanded at the national level?
A few issues to consider. One, how will the teacher’s union react to this? So far, the P-Tech approach has operated within the public school system, rather than outside it (like charter schools), so unions don’t seem to be opposed to the idea. Problems might arise, however, during teacher training. Who trains the teachers–education schools or corporations? Traditional teacher preparation programs will not have the expertise, which can open the door to corporate influence. Issues of power and politics will certainly play a factor. This will be the most significant obstacle to expanding the six-year high school model.
Two, how do we expand funding? President Obama has been pushing for more CTEs and alternative models of education that involve public-private partnerships, and as such, has earmarked $100 million in new grant funds for schools like P-Tech. Funds can also come from the Perkins Act of 2006, which seeks to provide more focus on the academic achievement of CTE students. It is up for congressional reauthorization this year.
Finally, we will need the help of more local leaders and industries. P-Tech programs are easier to implement in large cities where Fortune 500 companies are located, but what about rural and depressed areas? Local leaders, like governors, mayors, and school superintendents must push for these programs.
The benefits of a six-year high school or CTE model are obvious. It would drastically improve the inequality issue as we improve the majority of students—i.e., those that are struggling and those that are average performers (i.e., B or C level students) by giving them opportunities. Not every student needs to learn algebra II or trigonometry, and they need multiple pathways to succeed. Four-year colleges would be reserved for academically talented and/or motivated students. Furthermore, six-year programs would reduce student apathy and the dropout rate – a significant problem in the U.S.
The key, however, is to allow students and their families to decide which track they wish to go, rather than be assigned. Schools can provide counsel. That simple move will minimize problems associated with tracking (the practice of separating children according to ability), such as apathy and mobility.
European countries like Germany have long understood the importance of providing alternatives for students who are not academically inclined. But can we institutionalize them at a larger, and perhaps national, level? It seems we are starting to understand that accountability is not enough to prepare our students for the 21st century. The move to CTE and six-year high school models suggest we are beginning to understand the balance between individuality and the national economic wellbeing.
Edu-Philanthropists’ Dangerous Zero-Sum Game
May 14, 2012
I don’t think education philanthropies like the Gates Foundation are conspiring to “buy schools,” as some critics think. Nor am I against school choice. For that matter, I don’t care for bloated teachers unions, either. But, as an education researcher, I am wary of their increasing interest in K-12 education over the past ten years.
Frederick Hess, the director of education policy studies for the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, defends assertive philanthropy on the grounds that it is, in fact, not new, and that critics who endorsed the Ford Foundation agenda in the 1970s and 1980s are simply hypocrites who dislike Gates’ motive. Yes, policy focus and funding strategies may be similar, but what Hess fails to understand is that, unlike traditional ones, these new, reform-minded foundations can leave lasting debilitating effects on schools.
Enrichment vs. Zero-Sum
Philanthropies of old focused on institution building (or as Hess called it, building programs and practices). It was low-risk and had little downside—if a donor and his program reached many students, they were considered effective. In the 1970s, the Ford Foundation funded women’s and African-American studies, which, if successful, promoted a greater understanding of marginalized groups. Failure merely meant a return to the status quo—one that never had gender and race studies to begin with. No harm, no foul.
American Honda Motor Company still follows this enrichment model. By creating the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colorado, Honda committed to changing the future for high school dropouts by providing a supplemental program to re-engage young people in becoming productive citizens. At-risk students would be no worse off if they hadn’t taken part in this program. Other traditional foundations bolstered local school reform efforts, redressed inequality, or supported community-based organizations’ work around educational issues, without much public outcry.
On the other hand, the lasting effects for newer, market-based philanthropies tend to have more dramatic effects. Edu-funders like The Broad Foundation, The Walton Foundation, and the Gates Foundation are not concerned with enrichment or institution building per se; they are accountability-driven and advocate for game-changing reforms such as charter school growth, standardized testing, and performance-based teacher evaluations. As a result of their influence, initiatives like Teach for America and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, originally supported with philanthropic funds, now receive significant funding with federal dollars. New York State has also recently adopted performance-based teacher evaluations for all 700 school districts, an initiative that the Gates foundation financed significantly. Its own annual report highlights its role in the development and promotion of the common core standards, which 45 states have adopted.
When the federal government starts to fund philanthropic-led initiatives, we are treading into dangerous territory. It no longer is about low-risk enrichment or building programs and practices; rather, it leads to a high-risk, zero-sum effect for beneficiaries. Consider what happens if:
- Charter schools turns out to be no better than traditional public schools?
- Value-added teacher evaluations turn out to be unreliable?
- Students in voucher programs do no better in their new schools?
- Merit pay doesn’t actually improve teaching?
With about 50 million public school children in America, the price of failure is much greater. Simply put, money that goes into charter schools, value-added evaluations, voucher programs, and merit pay is money taken away from the arts & humanities, physical education, teacher development, social services, gifted & talented programs, special education, technology, bilingual programs, and other school resources. Instead, we will have a generation of students who may be great test-takers, but don’t know how to collaborate, lead, innovate, or think. We don’t have to wait to see how it plays out, because it’s a scenario China is going through right now.
The warning signs
Despite its recent top ranking in the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), China is reaping the undesirable effects of a rote learning and standardized-testing culture; an effect they call gao-fen dineng: high scores with low ability. These are graduates whose academic skills are incompatible with the aforementioned real-world skills managers need for global competitiveness. While the Chinese government is racing to embrace the western ideals of diversity, creativity, and innovation, the American government (backed by conservative philanthropists) is scrambling towards the regimented, uniform, standards-based, and test-driven education model of China, according to University of Oregon Dean of Global Education Yong Zhao. Its educators are now struggling to “undo” thousands of years of regimented thinking that is preventing them from overtaking America outright. Is this what Hess wants to happen here?
There are more warning signs for America. Recent reports are beginning to document the impact of the philanthropic-led accountability movement:
- The 2011 Metlife Teacher Survey, the first large-scale national survey, reported a dramatic 15 percentage point decrease in teacher satisfaction and a 12 point drop in retention from 2009, as well as a 26 point increase in feeling job insecurity since 2006.
- The 2010 Vanderbilt Study documented the ineffectiveness of merit pay systems to improve student test performance.
- The 2011 CREDO Stanford Study and the 2010 NCEE Evaluation Report showed that charter schools did no better than traditional public schools in raising student scores.
- The 2011 Center on Education Policy report found that school vouchers had no clear positive impact on student achievement.
What would happen if the current Gates-supported New York teacher evaluations, set to go into effect in 2013, were found to be invalid and unreliable? Money will have been wasted while teacher morale and retention plummet. Generations of students will suffer. Will Hess then urge foundations to pay for more teachers, more arts programs, and more public schools? Educated critics know its not about money or motives, as Hess claims. Its simply about not playing a high-risk, zero-sum game with our children’s future.