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.