What's New

Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

June 22, 2006

Leading representatives of education, business meet to discuss challenges facing education in New York

More than 50 leaders in education and business from both the public and private sectors gathered at the Business Council’s headquarters in Albany on June 21 to discuss ways to help New York’s students be better prepared for entering the global workforce.

The five-hour meeting was a follow-up to a call to action given at a November 2005 education summit, Business Council Vice President Edward Reinfurt reminded those present.

Reinfurt said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to provide more career information to students and educators, as well as strengthen math and science programs and increase the supply of qualified teachers. The meeting included presentations on an Albany area teacher externship program and a Web site, Career Zone, dedicated to career awareness and preparation, as well as a curriculum designed to stimulate interest in engineering, Project Lead the Way.

“The steps we take must be actionable and measurable,” Reinfurt said.

“The United States is facing an education crisis that affects businesses throughout our nation,” said Shelia Appel, IBM’s manager of corporate community relations. “The country needs to add 2.4 million new teachers by 2012- a number only slightly smaller than the 2.8 million teachers working today.”

Improving education: Richard Mills, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Education, began the meeting saying 64 percent of New York students who graduate from high school in four years is “not nearly enough.”

“We must raise achievement overall,” Mills said. “We must help young people understand what the prize is at the end.”

Key to improving education is improving the teaching pool, Mills added. We need our teaching colleges to develop more teachers in the areas of greatest need, he said. The system is preparing too many teachers in elementary-education and not enough in math or science.

Project Lead the Way: Meeting participants also heard from the founders of Project Lead the Way (PLTW), an engineering program first introduced at 12 schools in New York which is now offered in the curriculum of nearly 1300 schools nationwide.

“The science and engineering workforce is at risk,” said Richard Blais, vice president of PLTW. He said that too few students pursue science and engineering in college. Of those who do, less than 40 percent complete a degree.

PLTW is a curriculum schools can use to allow students to get ahead in math and science topics related to engineering. The only cost to schools is teacher training and equipment, Blais said.

Studies done on the curriculum have found that 80 percent of PLTW students plan to attend college or community college compared to 65 percent nationwide. Fifty-four percent of PLTW students plan to enroll in engineering or engineering technology compared to 10 percent nationally.

Career Zone: Educating students and teachers about careers is one of the objectives of Career Zone, a state Labor Department Web site that allows students and others to explore different careers and what is involved in those careers.

The Web site has data on jobs numbers, salary, and necessary preparation for the job, said Douglas Reamer of the Labor Department. The site can also help students identify potential job and education goals after they take a career assessment profile online.

"We have over 100,000 kids each year register and create electronic portfolios where they can learn about themselves and the world of work," Reamer said. "In addition over 1,000,000 kids in New York use career zone each year to find out about skills and qualities necessary for certain jobs and occupations."

The free Web site is at www.nycareerzone.org.

Teacher externships: Ann Wendth, senior vice-president at the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce, and David Gibson, president of X-Ray Optical Systems, gave a presentation on the chamber-sponsored externship program for Albany-area teachers.

The pilot program, launched in 2005 by the chamber and X-Ray Optical Systems, gave teachers the opportunity to explore the business world during the summer, Wendth said. The chamber recruited several area companies to participate in the program, and found teachers to match with companies.

The point was to give teachers a new experience they could take back to the classroom, Gibson said. Gibson presented several slides of comments from teachers who said they realized through the experience that, in addition to science and math knowledge, their students would need good communication skills and a basic knowledge of economics to succeed in business.

"I wanted to make sure the program cut across disciplines," Gibson said. To that end, the Albany-Colonie Chamber asked English, art, history, and media teachers to participate in the program. Gibson's own company hosted a school librarian for the summer.

The program, now in its second year, will place 20 Albany-area teachers in summer positions at several companies including Infinion, Boston Scientific, MapInfo Corporation, Plug Power, and Gibson's company, X-Ray Optical.

Teacher recruitment: Appel updated participants on IBM’s “Transition to Teaching” initiative.

The initiative allows IBM employees to begin a second career as a teacher. IBM provides the employee with financial assistance and other support, Appel said.

“Our motives are not purely altruistic,” Appel said. “IBM and other high-tech companies are facing a severe shortage of qualified technical workers, and the trend will continue.”

Appel said that nearly 100 IBM employees from around the country were preparing to enter into classes this September. “The bulk of that cohort is from North Carolina and New York,” Appel said.

School quality: Janet Angelis, associate director of the Albany Institute for Education, gave participants an overview of the Just for Kids Web site, www.just4kids.org, which presents school data for all 50 states.

Data includes a “Best Practice Framework” that shows differences between high-performing and average-performing elementary schools. The Web site also has case studies of 10 high-performing schools and lists consistently high-performing schools.

Also available are school reports that allow the user to compare any public elementary or middle school in New York with higher performing schools serving similar populations.