Six-Year High School Model is a Game Changer

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The concept of a six-year high school that allows students to take college-level courses is taking off around the country. I recently returned from Boise, Idaho, where the Albertson Foundation is committing $5 million to create a school modeled on the one I oversee in Brooklyn, Pathways in Technology Early College High School or P-TECH. The trip clarified for me just how important the six-year high school – college model, what I call hollege, can be, in any place where educators -- and public and private partners -- are willing to try it.

At its core, the motivation to get high school students ready for college-level courses as soon as possible inspired me to try game-changing strategies. I’d like to share one with you.

Conquering math is extremely important for my students because they are pursuing a post secondary credential in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). The students at P-TECH have the choice to pursue one of two associate degrees in applied science from New York City College of Technology on their journey to being first in line for a job at IBM.

Because our school is unscreened, our 227 students come from across the academic spectrum. Yet both associate degrees require, at a minimum, college level pre-calculus and physics. Our curriculum is designed to prepare every student for college-level calculus by year four.

To get there we had to come up with something new, something that narrowed our focus from the start. We decided to focus the first term on core literacy and math skills. It helped that our 10-period day gave students 80,000 more minutes of instruction than a school that has six and a half hours of instruction. And in that first term, we started with only two math courses, integrated algebra and algebra 2 trigonometry. In the spring, we went from two math options to five.

Students took the English and the Integrated Algebra Regents exams in January. Those who met proficiency standards of 65 or higher moved to the next level of math, and those that did not remained in integrated algebra. The students in algebra 2 trigonometry did not take the Regents until June.

After the results were in, I decided to comb through the data for students who scored a 75 or higher on the English Regents, a 75 or higher on the Integrated Algebra Regents, had a 75 or higher average in math, and an overall average of 80 or higher. The data revealed 22 students. I asked one of my mathematics teacher, Jamilah Siefullah, if she’d be willing to accept the challenge of teaching these students 90 minutes of geometry and 90 minutes of algebra 2 trigonometry; thankfully, she said yes.

I decided to take this action-research a step further and asked the college to allow the students from this group to experience a college course in the summer. That summer 16 students who scored an 80 or higher on the integrated algebra regents enrolled in EMT 1111 Logic and Problem Solving at New York City College of Technology and 15 of them, or 94 percent, passed that college course with a grade of C or higher.

The game-changing strategy was to have students who met the college-ready benchmarks of both English and math to experience a college course in the summer after their 9th grade. Thus, students had early exposure to more rigorous work and their experience would help create a student culture that showed their peers that they too could do the work.

For me, the litmus test is the performance of our Black males who comprise 66 percent of our student population and 52 percent of the legacy class. Ninety eight percent of the Black males in the legacy class were promoted from grade 9 to 10; 63 percent so far have completed a college course.

I credit P-TECH’s early exposure to matched skills from industry, blending of high school and college, and supports with putting 45 percent of our legacy Black males on a path to finishing college-level calculus by the end of the third year, a year ahead of schedule.