Breaking Barriers: How P-TECH Schools Create a Pathway From High School to College to Career
reviewed by Amy Hutchison - October 11, 2021
Title: Breaking Barriers: How P-TECH Schools Create a Pathway From High School to College to Career
Author(s): Stanley S. Litow and Tina Kelley
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807765597, Pages: 216, Year: 2021
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Over the last decade, the need to prepare current and future generations of students with the skills needed to fill the abundant unfilled science and technology jobs in the United States has been a topic of frequent discussion. It is well known that we need to diversify our science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce in the United States, and that females and people of color have historically been underrepresented in the STEM workforce. There are abundant and systemic reasons for this underrepresentation, and accordingly, large-scale efforts are needed to create a diverse, STEM-ready workforce. The Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program described in the book Breaking Barriers is one such solution. Breaking Barriers reports on an innovative model of education that, in only its 10th year, includes 250 schools in 12 states in the United States and 28 countries. I began the book with no pre-existing knowledge of P-TECH and, by the end of the first chapter, I was very excited about its possibilities and eager to learn more.
The authors of Breaking Barriers have taken an interesting approach to the book by devoting a large portion of it to explaining why P-TECH schools are needed while also explaining how the program works. I anticipated that majority of the book would be devoted to explaining how P-TECH schools work, student outcomes, and perhaps how we can increase the prevalence of such schools. Instead, this book serves as a summary of what history and research have told us about the many educational inequities and problems in the United States, such as the need for a diverse teaching force, difficulty with teacher retention, and the importance of high expectations and opportunities for rigorous coursework for all students, reducing barriers to college enrollment, 21st century pedagogy, strong student support, and a school culture where every student can thrive. None of this information is new, but it is conveniently compiled alongside the real-world examples of how P-TECH schools address these issues. In short, this book would be of interest to anyone interested in understanding the barriers to college entry and workforce readiness, regardless of whether they are looking to emulate the P-TECH school model.
For those looking to learn about the specifics of the P-TECH school model, how it is funded, and its exact costs and benefits, this book is lacking those exact details. However, the reasoning for creating P-TECH schools that is presented in the book, along with limited evidence of its effectiveness and the student stories presented in Chapter 6, were enough to convince me of the merits of this model as an option for school reform. However, I found myself bothered by the explanation of how new P-TECH schools have been started. Whether there is an option to start a P-TECH school seems largely reliant on the networking of politicians and corporate leaders (see Chapter 7 for some description of this). After being convinced of the possibilities of the P-TECH model, I am left wanting to know why such a small portion of students in the United States get the opportunity to attend a P-TECH school. Similarly, I wonder if there are comparable models or programs in states that do not have P-TECH schools. Perhaps the answers to these questions are beyond the scope of this book, but I remain unsatisfied with the answers I have received in itso much so that I visited the P-TECH website (www.ptech.org) in search of more answers. I was able to find some additional information there, but I still have a lot of questions. Even so, I appreciated the forthrightness of the authors when they explain exactly how the formation and spread of P-TECH schools relied on corporate influence and networking among governors and academic leaders. In truth, this is how many school reforms are started, and I found it refreshing that the authors forthrightly shared insights of the encounters that help spread P-TECH schools. If nothing else, it reminds the readers of the importance of having an influential or powerful champion on your side when it comes to creating school reform.
Another concern that one might have about the P-TECH model is the role that business partners must play when this model is enacted. There might be concern about undue corporate influence or what happens when funding from these partners comes to an end. Yet again, the authors have candidly addressed this concern in Chapter 9 of the book. They do not have a perfect answer to this challenge, but present a thoughtful analysis of the potential concerns and benefits of schoolbusiness partnerships.
An aspect of the P-TECH school model that was striking to me is that the model is still in its infancy. The book states that many of the P-TECH schools are less than six years old. This was exciting for me to learn because it means that there is still a lot of room for growth and continued learning about the effectiveness of the model. Realizing the relative newness of the model assuaged some of my concerns about why it is limited to so few students. As if they had read my mind, the authors spent a portion of Chapter 9 explaining how P-TECH could be expanded. To me, this is a key issue of P-TECH schools. How can the number and reach of P-TECH schools be increased while also maintaining the fidelity and quality of the P-TECH model? The authors suggest that this expansion will only be possible through increased federal funding and a tremendous amount of support from local, state, and national leaders.
Breaking Barriers ends with a strong endorsement for every school to be a P-TECH school. Although the book convinced me that P-TECH schools are a potentially viable solution to the many ailments we face in education, I will offer a critique. There is no singular section of the book where comprehensive data are presented to help the reader understand the impact that attending a P-TECH school has on student outcomes. Selective statistics are sprinkled throughout the book, but a robust analysis is never presented. If we are to be advocates for P-TECH schools, we need clear and irrefutable evidence of its impact. I hope the authors will share a robust analysis of the impact of the P-TECH school model in the near future so that we can consider P-TECH as an option for broader educational reform. Its clear that aspects of our educational system need to be reimagined and, as the book states, P-TECH is a reinvention of the American high school. For this reason, I hope to hear more about the possibilities of P-TECH in the future.
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