IBM launched a high school to churn out workers for corporate tech jobs — take a look inside

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Hollis Johnson

In 2011, in a low-income neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, one of the world’s most iconic companies launched a high school.

P-TECH, the Pathways for Technology Early College High School, is IBM’s answer to an education system that has been slow to adapt to the changing demand for workers with more flexible tech skills, like coding and data analytics.

Students at P-TECH take four years of high school with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) while pursuing a two-year associate’s degree at the New York City College of Technology. Some also go on to four-year universities or apply for jobs at IBM, where they will be first in line for entry-level jobs that put their tech know-how to the test.

Many land these jobs after paid internships among people 20 or 30 years their senior. So far, 10 graduates have accepted offers.

In June, P-TECH will graduate students from that first class in 2011. Business Insider ventured to the Brooklyn school to see what the future of education could look like.


P-TECH lives inside the Paul Robeson School for Business and Technology, an imposing brick building set behind a tree-lined street. More than 570 students attended P-TECH during the 2016-2017 school year.

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Hollis Johnson

Since it’s a New York City public school, students only need to be interested in science or math and live in the area to attend.

There are no testing requirements like those found in specialized magnate schools.


Principal Rashid Davis has been around since the beginning. His biggest hope is that kids gain a variety of skills to serve them in what IBM calls New Collar jobs — roles that demand flexibility and technical know-how, like data analytics and designing software.

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Hollis Johnson

“We’re trying to be as traditional as we can,” Davis says, “but also dealing with exposing students to the motivation of industry by giving them immediate access to someone who may not be in their zip code, working at a Fortune 500 company.”

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Hollis Johnson

As part of that mission, Davis tries to get the predominantly black student body to see themselves as success stories. Scattered around the school are posters celebrating student achievement.

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Hollis Johnson

“The students are not superheroes, but they are really motivated from each other,” Davis says. “You’re talking about an untapped talent pool. The lowest quartiles are still missing from college and industry.”

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Hollis Johnson

Data published in 2015 showed the STEM workforce was no more diverse than it was in 2001. Jobs were overwhelmingly held by male employees that tended to be white or Asian.

That contrasted with a changing face of American labor more generally. While other industries started bringing more minorities and women into their ranks, STEM careers stuck to their old ways.


But don’t expect Watson, IBM’s brainiac supercomputer, to be in every classroom — or any classroom for that matter. Davis says P-TECH is decidedly low-tech. Each classroom has only a few tablets at most.

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Hollis Johnson

Too often, he says, students’ familiarity with devices can shift the power from the teacher’s hands to theirs. P-TECH wants its educators to be the guiding forces in the classroom.

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Hollis Johnson

Students do take coding and engineering courses throughout their P-TECH careers. In one 9th grade class during our visit, students were learning to create their own Android apps.

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Hollis Johnson

One student designed an app that displays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Others designed rudimentary programs that display sports scores.

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Hollis Johnson

“All this binary coding stuff, I didn’t know about that until I came to P-TECH,” 9th-grader Chloe Fulgence says. Over the coming years, she’ll learn more complex platforms, like CSS and HTML, and home in on the aspects of STEM she likes most.

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Hollis Johnson

Seventeen-year-old Bryann Sandy has been one of P-TECH’s success stories, Davis says. High test scores and advanced courses allowed her to get her associate’s degree before even graduating from high school. She’ll attend Georgetown University in the fall.

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Hollis Johnson

Sandy says college readiness was P-TECH’s biggest gift. Right from the start, she took SAT and college prep classes. In summer 2016, she interned at IBM.

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Hollis Johnson

Davis says the hardest part of his job is making sure students stay committed to the path P-TECH lays before them. He likes to single out high-performing kids and turn them into advocates for education.

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Hollis Johnson

Davis calls these kids his “teen allies.” They encourage other kids to stay late at school, instead of succumbing to temptations at home or in their neighborhood.

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Hollis Johnson

P-TECH’s model seems to be working. More than half of the 100 graduates to-date have finished ahead of the six-year schedule. The first cohort is also expected to graduate community college at four times the national average, IBM says.

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Hollis Johnson

P-TECH’s success has spawned a range of likeminded corporate programs. Companies like Microsoft and ConEdison have both announced plans to open schools of their own in the coming years.

SAP opened a similar six-year high school in 2014.

Not all of these schools focuses on STEM, but P-TECH’s model of bridging academics and entry into the job market has appealed to firms looking to have near total control over what their new hires know.


Ultimately, Davis believes P-TECH’s concerted focus on skills and growth doesn’t just create smarter students, but more mature ones who are capable of handling more in adult life.

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Hollis Johnson

With college credit and paid internships under their belt, kids already start to see their careers take shape. In areas that are often neglected from the beginning, Davis says, “we’re coming in, trying to work with you where you are, as we said six years ago, and give you that opportunity.”

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Hollis Johnson