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Aviation school model earns latest praise from Arne Duncan

New York City high schools continue to be a favorite launching pad for the Obama Administration to tout its ideas about education policy.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan paid another visit to New York City today, this time at Aviation High School in Queens, a school where students earn a diploma and certified training to become an airplane mechanic in five years.

On this visit, Duncan also announced a $300 million competitive grant proposal to replicate Aviation’s model to better prepare students for college and career paths across the country. The grants, which Duncan is calling the High School Redesign Competition, would fund districts to create schools with college and corporate partners that integrated their programs into a student’s education.

One of the partners at Aviation is JetBlue, which has become a career pipeline for hundreds of graduates, said Michael Haberman, president of PENCIL, which brought the two institutions together as part of its work in forging relationships between schools and private organizations. This spring, the company flew a small group of Aviation students to Florida for an aviation expo.

President Obama first floated the idea for the competitive grant in his State of the Union address, when he name-dropped another New York City school, P-TECH. Like Aviation, P-TECH’s model offers a program to prepare students for life beyond high school. But instead of getting trained for a specific career, they take college-level courses that culminates in an associate’s degree in computer systems technology or electromechanical engineering technology. Though it is still in its second year, more than 70 of its roughly 200 students are taking college-level courses and 15 sophomores are on pace to have 17 college credits by the end of the year. Duncan visited the school earlier in the year.

Aviation and P-TECH seek to prepare students in different ways, but they both have programs that offer specific paths toward job fields that are in demand. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the grant program is also looking to reward programs that personalize students’ learning and rethink how classroom time is used.

A press release touting the new program also mentioned schools outside New York City as models. Obama recently visited Manor New Tech High School near Austin, Texas, which partners with a semi-conductor business and specializes in STEM education. Another model the U.S. DOE mentioned was Loving High School in New Mexico, a career and technical education school with concentrations on architecture and concentration.

In New York State, districts the State Education Department is currently accepting bids for a piece of its $4 million competitive P-TECH grants, named after the Crown Heights school. The grants would be awarded to districts that partner with corporations and would begin for the 2014-2015 school year.