Editorial: Education requires innovation: Pittsburgh Public Schools must entertain variety of school-model options to compete in new age of education

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Pittsburgh public schools are in dire need of innovation. Luckily, a group of teachers, community leaders and officials have joined together to finally discover new models to enhance schools in Pittsburgh.

The 30-person team, formulated by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and Great Public Schools, hopes to analyze a community-learning school model that has proven to be successful in Cincinnati school districts.

The community school model focuses on “academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement [that] leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities,” according to the Coalition for Community Schools website. Community learning schools across Cincinnati offer an assortment of services to their students and families, fostering the idea that bettering children involves bettering the community, as well.

Individuals recognized as the problem solvers for Pittsburgh’s public schools have not done nearly enough. For one, the idea of implementing a community model in Pittsburgh schools was introduced in talks about enhancing public school districts, but the resulting reports from those talks failed to mention such initiatives.

It’s promising that this team will travel to Cincinnati next week to research the model, but considering that Pittsburgh Public Schools expects to run out of funds in 2017, not enough is being done to discover new ways of supporting students and raising schools into the new age of education. These community models have produced promising results and hopefully this model can be applied in Pittsburgh, yet those who promote better public schools in Pittsburgh must get the ball rolling on a multitude of potential models that can be implemented.

Other solutions have to be sought out to truly produce an effective plan to address the systemic inefficiencies of Pittsburgh’s public schools. Separate from the community school model is another highly touted model that stems from a public-private partnership for education stimulation: Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH.

These schools partner with corporations to bolster a child’s education in high school, ensuring that each student that attends gains the necessary knowledge to prosper on a professional level. High schools give students a six-year education through which graduates not only receive their high school diploma, but also an associate’s degree and a guaranteed job after graduation.

“What’s very clear to me is that high school education as it is envisioned today isn’t sufficient for the modern workplace or the modern economy,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told TIME magazine. Mayor Emanuel decided to launch six P-TECH schools of his own.

IBM, the landmark corporate sponsor for this model, encourages any student to attend, pairing them with an IBM mentor and giving them the skills needed to go on to college and (if the student chooses to do so) eventually take up a job with IBM. Companies such as Cisco, Motorola and Verizon also participate in the model, ensuring that students — many of whom are underprivileged or otherwise lack access to these opportunities — can prosper after graduation.

As of now, the P-TECH model has a primary emphasis on the IT industry, as evidenced by the companies that are currently invested in it. However, it isn’t confined to that industry. In fact, the P-TECH model can be replicated across a variety of fields, such as health care, advanced manufacturing and finance. The Center for Children and Technology has actually created a report detailing the specifics of how the model can apply to support other partnerships.

Like community schools, P-TECH schools seem to hone in on student development in and out of the classroom, and it seems, based on statistics, that these students are being put in a much better place than before. According to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, while the U.S. economy is slowly leaving behind the effects of the 2007 recession, the economy faces a new challenge: an unskilled workforce. “By 2018, we will need 22 million new workers with college degrees — but will fall short of that number by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees,” according to a report by the Center.

TIME magazine reported that workers with an associates’ degree will earn 73 percent more than those with only a high school diploma in a story about the benefits of P-TECH schools.

Ebony Pugh, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh public school district, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “We’re always open to exploring any and all models that could support students.”

We hope she’s right. Initiatives to conduct research on a variety of models should be pursued, especially analyzing the feasibility of implementing P-TECH and community-based models in Pittsburgh’s public schools.

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