The Chicago School

In Launching the Innovation Renaissance I wrote:

In the United States, “vocational” programs are often thought of as programs for at-risk students, but that’s because they are taught in high schools with little connection to real workplaces. European programs are typically rigorous because the training is paid for by employers who consider apprentices an important part of their current and future work force. Apprentices are therefore given high-skill technical training that combines theory with practice—and the students are paid!

In the United States there are some experimental programs moving in this direction. One of the most interesting is being pushed by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel:

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students will have the opportunity to attend five Early College STEM Schools (ECSS) that focus on technology skills and career readiness – as well as earn college credits– under a partnership agreement with five technology companies, CPS and City Colleges of Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced…

The five technology companies, IBM, Cisco, Microsoft Corporation, Motorola Solutions and Verizon Wireless, will help develop a unique curriculum at each new school to teach students the skills required in that marketplace, as well as provide mentors and internships.  Upon graduating from these tailored programs, the students will be prepared for careers in science and technology.

…All of the new schools will open in September 2012 with a class of ninth graders.  Each student will be able to graduate in four-years with a high school diploma with college credits, with a goal of graduating within six years with an Associate of Science (AS) degree in Computer Science or an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Information Technology. The college courses will be taught by professors from CCC.

Emanuel is also redesigning the City Colleges of Chicago along similar lines:

Rahm fired almost all the college presidents, hired replacements after a national search, and decreed that six of the seven city-run colleges would have a special concentration. Corporations pledging to hire graduates will have a big hand in designing and implementing curricula. “You’re not going for four years, and you’re not going for a Nobel Prize or a research breakthrough,” he says. “This is about dealing with the nursing shortage, the lab-tech shortage. Hotels and restaurants will take over the curriculum for culinary and hospitality training.” Already AAR, a company that has 600 job openings for welders and mechanics, is partnering with Olive-Harvey College; Northwestern Memorial Hospital is designing job training in health care for Malcolm X College.

It’s too early to judge these developments but Emanuel’s op-ed on this subject was surprisingly good. The key question, which I haven’t yet seen answered, is whether the the companies will have real skin in the game, which I see as critical to success.

Hat tip: Ben Casnocha.


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