Six Years of High School? An Educational Experiment in Chicago

Thursday, February 13, 2014

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez visits the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in November 2013. (IBM)

The traditional path to educational success in America usually goes something like this: Grade school, followed by middle school, then four years of high school with the goal for many to continue on to four more years of college.

But one school—Chicago's Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy—is working to prove that the old way maybe isn't always best.

At Sarah E. Goode, students attend high school for six years, graduating with a high school diploma and an associate's degree.

The school is funded and in partnership with IBM, which means students also get hands on technical and business training, and the chance to land a job at IBM upon graduation. Twenty-six more such schools will open in three states by this fall.

Is this the future of secondary education in America? Or simply a well-funded trial system?

Rana Foroohar, assistant managing editor at Time Magazine, reported on this story in a cover story for the latest edition of the magazine. Foroohar is also a regular contributor to WNYC's Money Talking along with Joe Nocera, an op-ed columnist for our partner The New York Times. 

Here Foroohar explains how the school works, and Stan Litow, IBM vice president of corporate citizenship and one of the innovators behind the Sarah E. Goode, explains what his dreams for this model look like. 

"I've been visiting these schools for over two years, both in New York and in Chicago—I think what [students] feel they're getting is an amazing education with an end game that gives them the opportunity of a job, but also the opportunity to go on to other kinds of work or a four year college," says Foroohar.

According to Foroohar, statistics show that kids that get two years of post-secondary education do better on all fronts. These individuals have better long-term earning prospects, they're more likely to move on and attain a four-year degree, and their performance in the workforce is better when compared to others who don't attain post-secondary education, she says. 

Litow says that while many of these students are low-income and may not be academically up to speed with others, there's no screening and the schools have an open-admissions policy. He adds that these schools, which receive no funding from IBM but only "expertise," have proven beneficial for students. 

"[After enrollment] their academic achievements are significantly high," says Litow. "What that says is, if your judgement about who would be successful in a career is based upon their race or their ethnicity or where they live or what their academic background had been, you're wrong. Given the right opportunity, any kid can be successful."

Litow says that though IBM would be happy to take these students on as employees upon successful completion of the program, that is not the main goal. He adds that the program is designed to give students options for success in the future wherever their career trajectory may lead them.

"Some students might want to be a doctor or a lawyer, or if they want to be an engineer we'd be happy to hire them," he says. "On the other hand, this gives every kid all opportunities. IBM is not only interested in getting the best skilled employees to work for us. We're interested in getting the best skilled employees to work for our clients, to work in government, to work in all of the areas that are going to make the U.S. competitive."

Additionally, Litow says that this experiment does not increase the financial burden for municipalities or state governments because the program redirects existing funding to support the cost of this model. He adds that the return on investment for students in this program is not only greater for the individual, but for governments as well because people with higher education tend to earn more, thus bolstering the tax base.

"We're not spending more per-pupil in this model than we would spend on any other school," he says. "The modest amount of re-direction of existing dollars—not more money—is going to produce significant economic return down the road. Right now, only about 25 percent of students that start at community colleges complete. If you can move that number up to 60 percent or 70 percent or larger, the economic gains are really, really substantial."

While this experiment works in places like Chicago and New York, can this model work outside of a large urban environment and translate to smaller communities? Listen to the full interview to find out. 

Guests:

Rana Foroohar and Stan Litow

Hosted by:

Todd Zwillich

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman and Mythili Rao

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [5]

Carol J

I believe Mr. Smith's concerns about the ability of students with lower academic backgrounds to succeed in this environment fail to take into account that students who are motivated to learn have a remarkable ability to "catch up" with their peers. We also have to rely on dedicated teachers who will inspire these students and provide the necessary encouragement to overcome that obstacle. The culture of this type of school definitely changes the outcome for many, if not all of these students who are fortunate to attend this groundbreaking program.

Apr. 08 2014 11:22 AM

This is a generally positive development, and it's fine to have pupils of varying backgrounds embark together on a career path towards engineering. However, pretending that one's academic background is irrelevant to future success in the field is at best naive and more likely irresponsibly disingenuous; and for those with the necessary mathematical skills (maths deficiencies are usually what prevent technicians from becoming full engineers), wouldn't you rather be two years away from the degree "Master of Science in Engineering" by the age of 20 than to have an associate's degree and to be at least four years away from that same degree?

Feb. 13 2014 06:17 PM

This is a generally positive development, and it's fine to have pupils of varying backgrounds embark together on a career path towards engineering. However, pretending that one's academic background is irrelevant to future success in the field is at best naive and more likely irresponsibly disingenuous; and for those with the necessary mathematical skills (maths deficiencies are usually what prevent technicians from becoming full engineers), wouldn't you rather be two years away from the degree "Master of Science in Engineering" by the age of 20 than to have an associate's degree and to be at least four years away from that same degree?

Feb. 13 2014 06:15 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

On one hand, Major Corporations taking over our schools is a more honest approach to eliminating having George Orwell's, "1984" required reading.
On the other hand...well, the other hand might have been cut off.

Feb. 13 2014 01:53 PM
Robert Bittner from Los Angeles

I applaud the integration of JC education into the high school years. The erosion of HS industrial arts and trade disciplines could be successfully augmented, as can career skills. What isn't addressed in the diminishing middle class full time job market that's driving existing Bachelor degree students into low paying and/or part time work.

Feb. 13 2014 01:44 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.