Every student at P-Tech High School takes physics. And by the time the students graduate the innovative grades 9-14 school, they will have two years of college and an Associate degree.
And what is remarkable is that P-Tech (Its formal name is Pathways in Technology Early College High School), in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, is a neighborhood public school, not a charter or private school. Admission is by lottery.
Most of the students enter the school reading below grade level - some even at a second grade level.
P-tech is a model of what education reform can be - it incorporates partnerships with the City University of NY (CUNY) system which sends college professors to teach courses, and with IBM, the mighty computer giant, which sends mentors to work with the students individually, and which promises to put the graduates on the short list for jobs when they graduate with their Associates degree - essentially a free college degree.
The students have a longer day - which means they have less time to hang out with friends or play video games - and come to school on weekends and through the summer.
What is more, P-tech is a small school within a school - just 300 students so far, 100 per grade (it has been opened only three years) - that occupies the top floor of the Paul Robeson High School which has been cited as a failing school and is being "phased out." Robeson had 1500 students crammed into a building designed for 1000, so it is little wonder that students did not have the benefit of longer days and personal mentoring that the P-tech students have.
The P-Tech model is being replicated: five more are opening in New York City, six are being opened in the rest of New York State, and six are being opened in Chicago with partnerships with such companies as Verizon, Microsoft, ConEd, and Cisco.
President Obama cited the school in his State of the Union address, and on Friday, October 25, he visited the school to make the point: education is the key to entrance into the middle class and to the economic growth of the country, and the United States has to invest in education that will train students to be competitive for the 21st century global economy.
"And in a global economy, jobs can go anywhere. Companies, they're looking for the best-educated people, wherever they live, and they’ll reward them with good jobs and good pay. And if you don't have a well- educated workforce, you’re going to be left behind. If you don't have a good education, then it is going to be hard for you to find a job that pays a living wage.
"And, by the way, other countries know this. In previous generations, America’s standing economically was so much higher than everybody else’s that we didn't have a lot of competition. Now you’ve got billions of people from Beijing to Bangalore to Moscow, all of whom are competing with you directly. And they're -- those countries are working every day to out-educate and out-compete us.
"And every year brings more research showing them pulling ahead, especially in some of the subject matter that this school specializes in -- math and science and technology.
"So we’ve got a choice to make. We can just kind of shrug our shoulders and settle for something less, or we can do what America has always done, which is adapt. We pull together, we up our game, we hustle, we fight back, we work hard, and we win.
"We have to educate our young people -- every single person here, but also all the young people all across Brooklyn, all across New York City, all across New York State and all across this country -- so that you’re ready for this global economy. And schools like P-TECH will help us do that."
Obama called for funding for pre-K education for every four-year-old who wants to attend; a plan to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet within five years; making college affordable, redesign more high schools so that they teach young people the skills required for a high-tech economy.
He called for "funding education so that teachers have the support that they need so that they can support their own families, so that they’re not having to dig into their pockets for school supplies. (Applause.) And we’ve got to show them the respect, and provide pathways of excellence for teachers so that they’re treated like the professionals that they are. It is a hard job, and we’ve got to make sure we’re investing in them...
"This country should be doing everything in our power to give more kids the chance to go to schools just like this one," Obama said. "We should be doing everything we can to put college within the reach of more young people. We should be doing everything we can to keep your streets safe and protect you from gun violence. We should be doing everything we can to keep families from falling into poverty, and build more ladders of opportunity to help people who are willing to work hard climb out of poverty. We should be doing everything we can to welcome new generations of hopeful, striving immigrants...
"So that’s what we can achieve together. It’s possible. We know we can do it. P-TECH is proof of what can be accomplished, but we’ve got to have the courage to do it. The American people work hard, and they try to do right, day in and day out. And that resilience and that toughness helped to turn our economy around after one of the hardest periods that we’ve ever faced as a country. But what we also need is some political courage in Washington. We don't always see that.
Obama then called on Congress to pass a budget that funds the necessary ingredients for economic growth: education, science and research, infrastructure.
"Right now we need to all pull together. We need to work together to grow the economy, not shrink it; to create good jobs, not eliminate jobs. We’ve got to finish building a new foundation for shared and lasting prosperity so that everybody who works hard, everybody who studies hard at a school like this one, or schools all across the country have a chance to get ahead....
"And that all begins with the education that we give young people," he said.
All 300 P-Tech students were in the audience - on bleachers, on seats in front of the podium, and on the mezzanine of the gym/auditorium, with gorgeous architectural features around the stage and ceiling recalling the glory that used to be attached to public schools.
The audience was filled with dignitaries - US Senator Charles Schumer, the Congressional delegation including Carolyn Maloney, Gerald Nadler, Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clarke; Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott, American Federation of Teachers Union President Randy Weingarten, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Democratic Mayoral Candidate Bill DiBlasio.
"Now, some of these ideas I’ve laid out before; some of them I’m just going ahead and doing on my own," Obama said. "Some of them do require Congress to do something. And one way we can start is by Congress passing a budget that reflects our need to invest in our young people. I know that budgets aren’t the most interesting topic for a Friday afternoon, even at a school where young people like math. And, by the way, I just sat in on a lesson called “real-world math,” which got me thinking whether it’s too late to send Congress here -- (laughter) -- for a remedial course.
"But a budget is important, because what a budget does is it sets our priorities. It tells us what we think is important, what our priorities are. And the stakes for our middle class could not be higher. If we don’t set the right priorities now, then many of you will be put at a competitive disadvantage compared to other countries.
"If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs. So we’ve got to invest.
"So we need a budget that is responsible, that is fiscally prudent, but a budget that cuts what we don’t need, closes wasteful tax loopholes that don’t create jobs, freeing up resources to invest in the things that actually do help us grow -- things like education and scientific research, and infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports. This should not be an ideological exercise, we should use some common sense.
"What’s going to help us grow; what’s going to create jobs; what is going to expand our middle class; what’s going to give more opportunity to young people -- those are the things we should be putting money intoThat’s what we need to do.
"And we've got enough resources to do it if we stop spending on things that don’t work and don’t make sense, or if we make sure that people aren't wiggling out of their taxes through these corporate loopholes that only a few people at the very top can take advantage of. If we just do everything in a fair, common-sense way, we've got the resources to be fiscally responsible and invest in our future.
"And this obsession with cutting just for the sake of cutting hasn't helped our economy grow, it's held it back. It won't help us build a better society for your generation. And, by the way, it’s important to remember, for those who are following the news, our deficits are getting smaller. They’ve been cut in half since I took office. (Applause.) So that gives us room to fix longer-term debt problems without sticking it to your generation. We don’t have to choose between growth and fiscal responsibility; we’ve got to do both. And the question can’t just be how much more we can cut, it’s got to be how many more schools like P-TECH we can create. That should be our priority.
"And after the manufactured crisis that Congress -- actually, a small group in the House of Representatives just put us through, shutting down the government and threatening to potentially default on our debt, I don’t want to hear the same old stuff about how America can’t afford to invest in the things that have always made us strong. Don’t tell me we can afford to shut down the government, which cost our economy billions of dollars, but we can’t afford to invest in our education system. Because there’s nothing more important than this. ..."
Obama then turned to another familiar theme, personal responsibility: "It’s not just what the government or adults can do for you; it’s also what you can do for yourselves. And that sense of responsibility, that sense that you set th bar high for yourself, that’s what America is all about -- that’s been the history of New York: People working hard but also working together to make sure that everybody has got a fair shot; to make sure you don’t have to be born wealthy, you don’t have to be born famous; that if you’ve got some drive and some energy, then you can go to a school that teaches you what you need to know. You can go to college even if you don’t have a lot of money. You can start your own business even if you didn’t inherit a business.
"Making something of ourselves, that’s what we do in this country. That’s a message worth sending to Washington. No more games, no more gridlock, no more gutting the things that help America grow, and give people the tools to make something of themselves. That’s what this is about. That’s what P-TECH represents, that’s what Brooklyn represents."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spoke before the President's arrival, said, "Welcome to the most innovative school in America.
"A high school diploma is no longer a ticket to the middle class. By connecting students directly to college and employers, they will be more likely to succeed, and that’s what the Obama Administration is doing.
"Obama challenged the country to create more schools like P-tech. We opened two more schools in New York City on the P-tech model and are opening three more next September. No other city in the country has done more to connect students to college and careers. We are proud that the president is highlighting that work and we wouldn’t be here without Obama's education reform policy – replacing failing students with new ones.
"This school was failing for a long time. We are transforming schools across the city. P-tech is a terrific example of how important that work is."
"The Obama administration educational policies have led to critical reforms across the city, country," he said.
The Mayor said that graduation rates are up 44%; and the drop-out rate has been cut in half.
"We still have an awful lot to do, but today is a day to celebrate, and realize what the potential is."
P-TECH's Principal Rashid Davis said, "President Obama mentioned P-Tech in his State of the Union address and how he hopes to give every American student the types of opportunities being created in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, how important it is to have partners as we reengineer education to connect with America’s jobs
P-Tech, he said, is "proof that when equity and access are provided to underrepresented populations, they can rise."
This was President Obama's first official visit to Brooklyn as President, though as he told the students, "I used to live in Brooklyn." Much of Prospect Park was closed so that Marine One could land there.
Outside, this neighborhood of Crown Heights just blocks from the Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park Zoo Jewish synagogues and schools that line Eastern Parkway, and pleasant homes and expensive new buildings rising near Prospect Park, is dotted with dilapidated rowhouses.
Some of the parents said their children, once accepted to the school, balked because the neighborhood was bad. But these students had something that many public schools do not - all these families asked to be here, put in for the lottery, and demonstrated how they value education. Inside this school within a school is a culture that values academic achievement; the students compete to do better.
And outside, there are signs of Brooklyn's renewal all around. A couple of blocks from the school, murals painted on a brick wall echo President Obama's message:
"Brooklyn Pride - Courage, Honor, Respect, Culture, Honesty"
And another, "Never Give up On Yourself! Next Stop College"
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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