Can Career and Technical High Schools (fka Vocational High Schools) Reduce the Achievement/Opportunity Gap and Better Prepare Students for the World Beyond High School?

For decades New York City was proud of comprehensive high schools, large high schools that offered a Regents college-bound diploma plus a vocational diploma for kids interested in the trades, a commercial diploma for girls, including an alternate week work-study program and a general or local diploma for kids who wanted to go directly to work. The economy absorbed kids into unskilled and semi-skilled jobs; many were union jobs that were a pathway to the middle class. In the eighties the world began to change, automation and jobs going overseas changed the nature of the job scene; jobs required a higher level of skills.

The Board of Regents took a highly controversial action – they ended the multiple diplomas – all students would have to earn a Regents diploma, passing five Regents examinations and pass the requisite courses. Kids in vocational schools would have to earn a Regents diploma plus 10-12 credits in their vocational field of study.

The single Regents diploma would be phased in over an extended period of time.

Most of the vocational high schools closed, kids were unable to pass Regents exams; tracking had sent low ability kids into the vocational schools. Beginning in the nineties and accelerating in the 2000’s all but a handful of the comprehensive high school also closed – branded as “drop-out factories.” The Board/Department began to create small theme-based high schools to replace the closed schools.

On March 30th the Manhattan Institute hosted a conference to herald the release of a report entitled, “The New CTE: New York City as Laboratory for America.” Since 2008 the NYC Department of Education has opened fifty small Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools, formerly known as vocational high schools. The authors, Tamar Jacoby and Shawn Dougherty write,

Some fifty of the city’s roughly 400 high schools are dedicated exclusively to CTE. Nearly 75 others maintain 220 additional CTE programs – effectively schools within schools … early evidence suggests that the new CTE is producing results in New York. Occupational course offerings are largely aligned with the industries in the metro area … Class sizes tend to be smaller ,,, young people who attend CTE schools have better attendance rates and are more likely to graduate…. a larger share of schools with CTE classes score at, or above, “proficient” on English and math tests.

The report does not gloat- the report points to implementing tenets of the CTE movement.

* Prepare students for college and careers, allowing young people to keep their options open.

* Engage business and industry

* Build a bridge from secondary to post-secondary or training

* Create opportunities for students to work

* Embrace industry-recognized occupational credentials.

And, the report points to two substantial obstacles,

* More students need work experience:  in spite of the tens of thousands of students in CTE only about 1500 have been placed in internships, the connections between industry and school must have stronger bonds, and, both the schools and industries have to clarify the standards that define an internship.

* A new process for state approval of CTE teachers and industry credentials: The state approval model is a “gatekeeper” model based on traditional areas, there is “no box in the taxonomy for an emerging industry or occupation.” The process is overly lengthy and laborious.

In the question and answer section the abysmal community college graduation rates were referenced: only 19% in two years and 39% in six years plus mountains of debt. Is a Regents diploma a necessary requirement for an occupational credential?  Is the new community college model, ASAP at CUNY a step in the right direction?

The keynote speaker was former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who gave an unusual speech. In spite the significant drops in murder rates across the nation – from 20,000 murders a year to 14,000 murders a year nationally the murder rate in Chicago continues to increase – two murders a day. In a recent report 17 -24 year olds identified themselves as disconnected from work and the disconnected youth, according to Duncan, are more likely to pick up a gun.

Duncan proffered CTE programs must be aligned: to the community, to post-secondary institutions, to the business community and to middle schools. All programs must be accountable, and accountability means data, some iteration of multiple methods of measuring the effectiveness of schools and programs, if we expect the feds and/or states to support CTE programs we must have evidence to show the impact of the programs.

One of the questions asked: In the era of “disruptive innovation,” can we predict the industries five or ten years in the future?  Are we preparing students for transitory jobs?  Should CTE be preparing students to acquire skills rather than preparing for specific jobs?

A guest asked whether unions are an obstacle? Didn’t they see these programs as intruding on union turf? Kathryn Wilde, the President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City replied by praising the UFT and the Central Labor Council, the other members of the panel, a CTE principal and Department Executive Director of the Office of Multiple Pathways chimed in, the unions, especially the UFT were partners in developing the CTE programs across the city.

The world of education has certainly changed since Michael Bloomberg moved on.

3 responses to “Can Career and Technical High Schools (fka Vocational High Schools) Reduce the Achievement/Opportunity Gap and Better Prepare Students for the World Beyond High School?

  1. Many states are shifting towards these types of programs. Far too many, and now big corporations are getting in on the action. I wrote an article about this yesterday and where the origins of this come from. This was the plan all along!


  2. I read recently that by 2025, 5.1 million more jobs will be lost to automation because of the robotics revolution taking place right now. We already have robots that don’t look like humans that vacuum our floors but what happens when we have robots that wear bodies that look human. Have you seen the UK, 8 episode TV series “Humans” (the A is upside down in the title).

    It’s obvious in the first two episodes that some of the teens still in school see their futures as very bleak because the jobs they want are already vanishing as the synthetics replace humans in those jobs. One of the teens makes a comment to her mother about how she would have to go to college for about a decade to learn all she’d need to know to become a doctor but a synthetic has all those skill uploaded into their processor in a matter of minutes.

    Robotics and artificial intelligence could very will make humans irrelevant. The short sighted and foolish humans among us are creating the next species that will replace us and homo sapiens are doomed to take the same route to extinction that took out the Neanderthals. Will humans survive competition with the synthetics that have already been taking jobs away from humans for decades?

    “Bank of England: 95 million jobs going to robots in the next 10 to 20 years”

    “The Bank of England believes that machines might take over 80 million American and 15 million British jobs over the next 10 to 20 years, CNN Money reports, or 50% of the workforce in each of the two countries. …

    “A recent Oxford University study quoted by Yahoo says that the jobs at risk of being replaced by robots include loan officers, receptionists, paralegals, salespeople, drivers, security guards, fast food cooks, bartenders.

    “Other jobs including marketers, journalists and lawyers might also be added to the list in the future, founder of Webbmedia Group Amy Webb said at the Milken Global Conference this year.”

    This begs another question. Is this corporate war on community based, democratic, transparent, non-profit public education only about profits or is this war more about changing the way we teach our youth as the 1% guides our civilization toward a world of workers that are mostly synthetics—eventually there will be no need to educate human children because there will be no jobs for them when they grow up?


  3. In the early ’60’s and before, the ‘vocational’ schools had an extra period for students each day-eight periods of instruction and then lunch. The time was used to better prepare the kids. When that stopped and the avalanche of tests began and the vocational schools could no longer admit students WITH AN EXPRESSED INTEREST, those programs fell apart. There were still pockets of strength. Alfred Smith VHS placed EVERY auto graduate in a great job–tools, benefits, salary, etc. The Greater NY Auto Dealers Ass’n insisted that that program remain. The useless Smith Principal was replaced. That was the exception. There were others. The ‘voc’ graduates had skills and went to mostly local colleges while working at the same time. MANY of those kids found work at Telco or ConEd.
    Because of the way the DOE structured the salary of staff, they could not entice career workers into teaching roles, because the salary step started at 6 but there was no longevity for seven or eight years after step 8. When the DOE closed those schools it was like Humpty Dumpty–unlikely to ever be put back together again. They will have to restructure the salaries and then attract staff, and then—MAYBE.


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