College Bound or Career Ready:  Can NYC Prepare ALL Students?  Is CTE “Tracking” Students? How Do We Select the Appropriate Pathway?

I was chatting with a high school principal, he was upset,

“I thought I had a great idea, use tutoring manuals for civil service examinations as texts, Fire Department, Police, EMT, show kids the salary schedules, and prepare them for whatever careers they’re interested in …”

Me: “Sounds like a wonderful idea.”

Principal: “Superintendent shot it down, told me I was tracking kids, told me every kid must be prepared for college, ripped me, told me to check out my biases.”

A middle school principal,

“I told my guidance counselor to have our students apply to CTE high schools, our kid need jobs when they graduate; their families can’t afford two or three years in a community college without any income.”

Unfortunately chancellors seek out the headlines, the grandiose scheme, the “magic bullet,” the lugubrious bureaucracy lumbers from “next big thing” to the next “big thing” while school leaders are in contact with the day-to-day needs of students and their families.

Should the chancellors “push” schools to schedule students, especially students of color into higher level classes?

The Research Alliance for NYC Schools just released a number of reports, Introducing the Indicators of Equity Project and Access to Advanced Coursework in NYC High Schools, and the results are not surprising; student of color have less access to “college bound” coursework in high schools; setting up a conflict between college bound and career ready tracks.

Graduates of public high schools in NYC who enter CUNY colleges in the bottom 40 percent of family income a decade later are in the top 40% of income earners.

Colleges with the highest mobility rate, from the bottom 40 percent to the top 40 percent

1.Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology66.066.443.9
2.City College of New York60.562.938.1
3.Texas A&M International University60.762.437.9
4.Lehman College64.657.036.8
5.Bernard M. Baruch College52.369.236.2

Of the hundreds of colleges across the nation surveyed three of the top five highest mobility rate colleges are CUNY colleges with student bodies from NYC public high schools and the research appears to challenge other data about New York City, Raj Chetty and his team and his team at Harvard,

… explore the factors correlated with upward mobility. High mobility areas have (1) less residential segregation, (2) less income inequality, (3) better primary schools, (4) greater social capital, and (5) greater family stability

And Chetty makes number of more specific recommendations, see here.

Let’s take a closer look at Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools, fka, Vocational Education.

In the movement to mayoral control the Bloomberg administration closed over 150 schools, including most of the vocational high schools, and, today there are 485 high schools school enrolling 300-400 students sited in multiple school campuses. The unwieldy 492 page High School Directory (See here) and the CTE webpage; the Directory “advertises” the schools as if they were products on the net. Caveat Emptor

While over 100 small high schools list themselves as CTE schools how many students graduate with CTE endorsed diplomas?  How many CTE schools are approved by the State?

How many graduates from CTE programs move to employment? To community college? Where are they five years after high school graduation?

Ray Domanico, at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, is a fan of the small high school movement    and favors a range of assessment approaches,

various approaches to schooling should be encouraged, not stamped out in the search for standardization. Some of the best new schools belong to a network that fiercely argues against reliance on standardized testing and whose students are given an exemption from some of the state’s required exams. Their students go on to college and perform well. Other new schools strictly follow testing standards and pursue more traditional teaching styles. Despite their different philosophies, both types have found success when led by talented and dedicated professionals.

And Domanico is a fan of what he calls, “workforce preparation,” aka ‘career and technical education. 

while the city’s new schools are achieving admirable results, they have not created miracles. Large numbers of their students enter high school already behind, and they are not ready for college after four years of high school. Our nation’s misguided notion that all students must be prepared for college needs to be abandoned and students must be given an option to choose technical education or workforce preparation in their high school years.

Tamar Jacoby, the CEO of Opportunity America, praises vocational education,

Once one of the most disparaged forms of education in the United States, what used to be called “vocational education”—now renamed “career and technical education,” or CTE—has emerged in the past decade as one of the most promising approaches to preparing students for the future. New York City is at the forefront of the national revolution in career education.

On March 15th the Manhattan Institute hosted four experts on a Zoom, CUNY and the Future of Workforce Education, required watching for Chancellor Banks and his team, Watch here

In recent years, New York’s economy has evolved rapidly, which has changed the landscape for skilled labor. CUNY, the city’s flagship university system, plays a key role in equipping students for work in critical industries like health care, technology, and logistics. With a new mayoral administration incoming and a post-pandemic economy, the time is ripe for NYC and Albany’s education leadership to re-align CUNY’s programs with the evolving needs of industry and its diverse student body.

The New York State Department of Education, Office of the Professions, provides licensure in fifty areas, from medicine to massage therapy, ranging from graduate training to the number of course hours. (see here).  In addition the New York Department of State issues licenses in many areas, for example see cosmetology here

New York City also provides licenses, for example phlebotomists, see NYC salary here

While the chancellor includes favoring CTE education in his utterances, no actions that I am aware ofa re pending and too much self aggrandizement.

“A lot of parents just don’t trust the DOE, and they’re very upset with things that happened during the prior administration,” [Banks] told City & State. “I really want to hold the mayor and (myself) to account for engaging them, authentically,” he added. “The parents don’t want to be sidelined; they want to have a seat at the table – and they should!”

At the same time Community Education Councils (CEC), parents elected by parents are pushed aside; half of the CECs testified at a recent legislative hearing objecting to the current iteration of mayoral control and called for an enlarged role of parent on the Panel for Education Priorities (PEP), the New York City School Board.

While Banks attacked the “bureaucracy,” he is the bureaucracy

Adams was elected in mid-July with minimal opposition in the November General Election, Banks was selected on December 17th, its mid April, and planning for the next school year should be fully engaged. Next year’s school calendar has not been released.

Pre-Bloomberg there we about 110 comprehensive high schools with 2000 to 5000 students per school and about 25 vocational high schools. Sadly too many schools were “dropout mills,” the Department of Education had begun to phase out the most dysfunctional schools, created a High School Chancellors District, converting the most dysfunctional schools to multiple small schools within the same buildings. Most of the vocational high schools were closed due to low achievement.

Today there are 485 high schools, about 20 large schools, the remainder small schools, 300-400 students each on multiple school campuses.

Over 100 small high schools list themselves as CTE schools, are they actually preparing student for careers and the world of work?  Are they linked to community colleges and internships?

Is there “upward mobility” data for graduates of CTE high schools?  For students earning state certification licensure from community colleges?

Community Colleges prepare students for associate degrees, sixty credits, the most common cohort are planning to move to 4-year CUNY colleges, for others preparing for a state certification areas, for example nursing, many are eligible for Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and/or Excelsior Scholarships.

However, many of the state licensure areas require a number of courses; called badges, not a degree, and students are not eligible for financial aid. 

I suggest:

* A key is alignment: a track from middle school to high school to community college to the state licensure certification for students seeking a career pathway.

* The chancellor should create a Superintendent for Career and Technical Education, with a support organization.

* Create a data base: how many CTE schools are state-approved?  How many students graduate with CTE-endorsed diplomas?   And crucial: where are student five years after graduation?  

* Students in certification programs that are not degree programs should eligible for state financial support aid programs.

* The Department must work with the business community to create internship partnerships with schools.

The current Deputy Chancellors are primarily from outside the system and dissecting the mastodon, the Department of Education is an Herculean task; clocks are ticking, remember, the primary function of a bureaucracy is to maintain the bureaucracy.

Too many students graduate high school ill-prepared for college and career. Too many students never complete post-secondary education.

The NYC economy depends upon increasing the skills of high school graduates.

4 responses to “College Bound or Career Ready:  Can NYC Prepare ALL Students?  Is CTE “Tracking” Students? How Do We Select the Appropriate Pathway?

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    I must admit to skepticism of a reform plan that begins with “create a superintendent.”

    However, strengthening our public school CTE programs could benefit many students. The key to ensuring that these efforts do not track students of color is to ensure from the start that student choice, not systemic bias, drives entrance into such programs.


  2. It’s not an either/or. More students from CTE schools go to college than those from academic high schools. To me, it is important to be goal oriented. The skilled trades may not have the panache of the professions, but they pay very well, sometimes better. A society needs all kinds of workers. There is a reason that modern buildings are so spare and uninteresting. Skilled masons are such a rare breed these days that their services would be prohibitively expensive. Many people play musical instruments, but how many young people are training to make them? It takes four years to become a luthier. Let’s get rid of this notion that CTE is somehow less important or requires less intelligence than a pure academic track. We still need police officers, fire fighters and sanitation workers, postal workers, train and bus operators, mechanics of all kinds, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, chefs and cooks, brewers and vintners, servers, dental hygienists, phlebotomists, estheticians, salespeople, realtors, inspectors, and small businesspeople. The next time you are out and about, take note of everyone you see who is working and making an honest living. Ask yourself how they were trained for the work they are doing.




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