Domestic, Feature, High school / Secondary 2, Public education, Required, STEM / Science, Technology, Education, Math, Technology, University & College - Written by on Thursday, September 8, 2011 6:57 - 0 Comments

IBM Funds NYC Public High School Startup P-TECH and Includes Free Degree

photo: flickr user jeremy.wilburn

by Elbert Chu


IBM is the new teacher in class this fall for students at Brooklyn-based high school start-up, Pathways in Technology Early College High School. But not everyone trusts the new teacher.

The September 8th opening of P-TECH underlines IBM and other tech company’s like Apple, Microsoft and Google’s push into education reform. Technology companies often complain that they can not find qualified employees among the unemployed.

Perhaps this move by IBM is an example of a company preventing unemployment for the next generation.

Video by Elis Estrada & Annais Morales for the NYCity News Service.

International Business Machine Corp. believes it knows not only what students need to learn, but how they should learn and who they should learn from. The new school’s focus will be to teach science, technology, engineering and math to high school students. While conventional schools usher kids out the door at grade 12, P-TECH will offer their students a free two year associates degree. The goal is to equip graduates to return to the IBM mother ship or other tech companies as employees. Critics question the track record of Big Blue and other companies in public education reform.

IBM hand selected Principal Rashid Davis to lead the school. Davis was part of two investigations into grade inflation a few years back. Still, that was while Davis was an assistant principal. Now, Davis leaves his post as Principal at Bronx Engineering and Technology with a 82% graduation rate, according to P-TECH’s inaugural class of 130 ninth graders, counts among them 80% from low-income homes, says the Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Banchero. In a recent blog post, Davis writes:

“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.”

But critics like Susan Ohanian, who wrote the book, Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?, says corporations and schools do not play well together. Ohanian wrote on

In the early 1990s, Goldman, Sachs & Co. joined with the city to open Metropolitan Corporate Academy. Initially, the company invested $500,000 for tutors, advisers and a program officer to coordinate internships. But as that support tapered off and test scores sagged, the school board voted earlier this year to close the school.

Ohanian also cites a University of North Carolina study by Roslyn Mickelson on 1990′s IBM education programs in Charlotte, NC. The study explains some negative consequences of big business intervention, but also highlights positive outcomes. One of the big problems was IBM dropping off technology like computers with no support or training for staff. If early indicators are any sign today, it seems Big Blue may have learned in the decades since North Carolina. Ohanian writes:

IBM is more involved in the creation and academics of P-Tech, spending $500,000 to help develop the school’s website, provide software support at the school, and pay for a project manager to help create the curriculum and coordinate mentoring and internships.

Indeed, a unique aspect of IBM’s involvement is 130 employees the company says will provide one-on-one mentoring for each student and the principal. The $500,000 will not last long. For contrast, Davis’s previous school had a yearly budget of $2.8 million for 2011-2012. Interestingly, but slightly baffling— IBM spokeswoman, Lisa Lanspery tells WiredAcademic the role of their cloud products and student performance analytics have not yet been determined for P-TECH.

IBM said it developed P-TECH’s curriculum after it mapped the skills required for an entry level job. IBM is partnered with the NYC Department of Education, the City University of New York, and the NYC College of Technology. If these collaborators’ new grades 9-14 education model can launch students into STEM occupations, they might be on to something.

A U.S. Department of Commerce 2011 report, STEM: Good Jobs Now and For the Future,  showed that STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17.0 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations. On the job, STEM workers earn 26% more than others.

IBM’s wants to expand this model across New York City and the nation. But P-TECH is barely at entry level itself, with a long way to climb up the educational ladder before graduating to more students.


Full disclosure: I am currently a 2012 candidate for Master’s degree at CUNY’s School of Journalism.

We want to hear from you: Do you think corporations should be so closely tied to public schools? Have you had related experiences? Speak up in the comments.



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