Rethinking and Revising Access to Career and Technical Education (CTE): Turning Gates into Pathways

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a monthly report that includes the “unemployment rate,” defined as the percentage of workers who are unemployed and currently seeking employment. The current rate, 4.7% is the lowest since the Great Recession of 2008 and Democrats have lauded the decreasing rate, Republicans have claimed that the ninety million Americans are actually unemployed and the unemployment rate is not an accurate view of the employment scene. The “ninety million” number includes retirees, college students, stay-at-home moms, high school students over sixteen and  recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The actual number of unemployed Americans is twenty million, about the same percentage of the total work force as before the Great Recession. (More details here)

A Brookings Reports takes a deep dive into the question of labor participation rates,

Prime-age male participation has fallen most dramatically for black men, those with a high school degree or less, nonparents, and veterans … Explanations for the decline tend to focus on supply-side factors (workers are ill-fit for the jobs available) or demand-side factors (employers aren’t hiring). The Council of Economic Advisors leans more on the demand side, suggesting that trade and technology have reduced demand for less-skilled labor, principally in the manufacturing sector … There are likely many more factors dragging down America’s prime-age labor force participation rate—increasing numbers of individuals lack the skills necessary to perform today’s jobs.

Read the full Report here with many valuable links.

A core question: are high school graduates “college and career ready?”  and, what do we mean by “college and career ready?” Do they “lack the skills necessary to perform today’s jobs,” and , if so, how do they obtain the skills?

There is no standard definition of the term college and career ready; David Conley; the recognized national expert has written extensively about the topic. See an explanation here and watch a panel discussion with Conley and others at the New School University here.  New York State uses grades on the English Regents (80) and the Algebra 1 Regents (75) to define the term. About 80% of New York State students graduate in four years and less than half meet the college and career readiness metric..

I spoke with a middle school principal, “My kids are poor, really poor, I asked my counselor to have them apply to vocational (CTE) high schools, after high school they need a job.” And, in New York City there are a wide array of CTE schools. A year old Manhattan Institute report is encouraging,

  • The number of New York City high schools dedicated exclusively to CTE has tripled since 2004 to almost 50; some 75 other schools maintain CTE programs; 40 percent of high school students take at least one CTE course, and nearly 10 percent attend a dedicated CTE school.
  • Data on outcomes are still limited, but evidence suggests that young people who attend CTE schools have better attendance rates and are more likely to graduate; students in comprehensive high schools with CTE programs also appear to score better on standardized tests than those at schools with no CTE offerings.

We don’t know what happens to the kids after high school: do they go on to community colleges? find a job? or wander off?

Outside New York City the situation is hobbled by distance. There are few CTE schools;  and students attend CTE programs at BOCES sites. The students take academic subjects in their home school and travel to the BOCES site for the CTE courses.

At the January Regents meeting staff from the State Ed Department (SED) made a brief presentation (See here). The SED CTE unit is a compliance and authorization operation. Unfortunately the process is a gate rather than a pathway. While I understand SED wants to create high quality CTE programs the hoops are many and high.

I spoke with a few principals. One wanted to start a dental hygienist program, a medical clinic near the school had a fully staffed dental clinic and was anxious to assist. After months of phone calls back forth the principal gave up. Another principal had an Emergency Medical Technician certification program in his school run in conjunction with a Fire Department. Could the state simply certify his program as a CTE program? Not really.

A principal asked: “Can I go online and find functioning CTE programs by school around the state? I would like to contact the school and speak with the principal?” Answer: Does not exist.

After the presentation a Regent members asked, “How many students graduated with CTE endorsed diplomas?” The answer: “We’ll have to get back to you.”

The state announced a company was building a :”high tech” facility in an upstate community. The announcement was made at a press conference with electeds and the local superintendent. I wondered: what are the job requirements for a “high tech” facility? Eventually I tracked down the Human Resources folk at the company and asked: What are the math requirements for a “high tech” job at the new facility? After a  lengthy discussion: good ability with math skills at the Algebra 2 level. How many graduates of the local high school had grades of 75 or over on the Algebra 2 Regents?  Three ….

We have a long way to go.

A few suggestions:

* An easily accessible on-line directory of CTE schools/programs across the state with course offerings and a contact person.

Instead of months of futile phone calls/emails an online directory would encourage school leaders and perhaps set up networks of schools with the same CTE programs/course offerings.

* Review current process of CTE approval by the state.

The current process is onerous, and, while I understand we want to assure that a CTE diploma endorsement meets standards at the same time we don’t want to discourage schools. A Work Group to review the process would be a useful first step.

* A seamless path from high school to community college.

P-Tech schools were created to integrate a school, an industry and a community college, and, the state provides startup funds for about a dozen or so schools across the state. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of the program. All high schools should have relationships with community colleges in their geographic areas, and, by relationships I mean offering courses in the same areas as a major in the community college to prepare the student for the college curriculum. Maybe mini-MOOCs for local high schools created by the community college.

* Community College should offer “badges” and industry certifications as well as Associate Degrees.

Walt Gardner, in Education Week writes, “Community College is the Best Deal for the Majority of Students; it is the best option for the many who have marginally completed high school. Community colleges should offer a wide range of options.

Badges” are a relatively new concept, “Students can earn a ‘badge’ designation during traditional college coursework or on the job that’s designed to meet a specific demand or need in an industry.” Originally CTE programs, in their vocation education phase were meant for the students “who were not college material.” The world has changed; some CTE programs allow a jump to work, others begin a pathway that requires post secondary education. Maybe not a 60-credit Associates Degree, maybe 16 or 24 or whatever the number of credits are required to receive an industry certification and/or a “badge” and a direct pathway into the world of work/career.

I was sitting at a bar and chatting with the bartender, as I am want to do; a bright young man. I asked, “How many mixology classes did you take in college?” He smiled, “My business degree was a waste and hasn’t helped me get a steady job, I bartend and I’m working on a few app concepts with friends”  He did mix a mean Negroni.


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