What applies to Buffalo also applies to its school district: When it comes to reversing its fortunes, there is no silver bullet. Revival will be the result of multiple, interwoven efforts that address a complex web of challenges.
That means trying as many realistic strategies as possible, understanding that some will work well and some won’t. For the city school district, one that seems to hold significant promise is the idea of importing a STEM-based program that began in Brooklyn and has since spread across the country.
The program, called P-TECH, trains committed students in science, technology, engineering and math, and provides them with mentors and paid internships. They graduate with a two-year college degree and are first in line for entry-level jobs at IBM, a partner and co-creator of the program.
P-TECH – short for Pathways in Technology Early High School – responds to a critical shortage of students trained in these disciplines, and does so in an ingenious way: Students have no requirements for entry beyond a serious interest, which they demonstrate, in part, by committing to a six-year program – that is, one that keeps them in high school two years longer than most of their peers. In exchange, they graduate with a two-year degree that has cost them only their commitment.
The program is sufficiently intriguing – to, among others, former President Barack Obama – that Buffalo School Board Member Larry Quinn and some district administrators made a pilgrimage to the Brooklyn school. Impressed with what he saw, Quinn arranged for P-TECH’s founders to visit Buffalo, where they spoke with other district officials about the possibilities of duplicating the program here.
It’s worth not just the examination, but an all-out effort to bring the program to Buffalo, where high-tech jobs are being created, but without enough qualified people to fill them. Consider the experience in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood.
There, more than 560 students are enrolled in the program. Most are African-American males and three-quarters are considered economically disadvantaged. The “vast majority” of graduates from the first two classes continued on for their bachelor’s, and 15 were working at IBM as of April while continuing their education, an IBM spokesman said.
The P-TECH approach has been replicated around New York, in seven other states, as well as internationally. Here, Quinn has approached several business leaders, who says the want to diversify their workforce, but lack sufficient candidates. This program could make a difference.
Success will depend, in part, on the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which would have to agree to the longer school day that the program requires. If the past is any indication, that agreement won’t be easy to obtain. And this is a long game, in any case. Even if the program were to launch immediately, no students would graduate until 2024. It’s important to move as quickly as diligence allows on this possibility.
With his dogged efforts to bring this program to Buffalo, Quinn has once again demonstrated the value he brings to city, the school district and its students. He has said he won’t run for re-election next year, but anyone who cares about the city schools has to hope he can be persuaded to change his mind.