Career and Technical Education: Helping Young Men of Color

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

The de Blasio administration ought to be focusing on young men of color who are either dropping out of school or graduating without the necessary skills to acquire well-paying jobs in our labor market.  Here in the city there are 185,000 “disconnected youth” – mostly black and Latino young men ages 16 to 24 – who are neither in school nor working.

The Community Service Society (CSS) has for many years advocated for the expansion and upgrading of what is known as Career and Technical Education (CTE).  Not too long ago, CTE programs were part of a second-class system known as vocational education, populated by students for whom we had the lowest expectations.  Times have changed.

In a past CSS survey of New Yorkers, 85 percent of all respondents and 91 percent of low-income Latino respondents thought that high quality career, technical or vocational programs in high schools would be a good option for their own child.  CTE schools now include programs relevant to vibrant and emerging fields - graphic and architectural design, aviation maintenance, culinary arts, computer science, and video production, just to name a few.   

Last week, CSS published a report examining the potential impacts and limitations of city’s CTE schools, “Challenging Traditional Expectations: How New York City’s CTE High Schools Are Helping Students Graduate.”  The findings are surprising.
High school students enrolled in CTE schools typically are students with below average 8th grade test scores.  Yet these students are much more likely to graduate than their peers in non-CTE schools.  Black and Latino male students in CTE schools, who traditionally have the lowest high school graduation rates, showed the greatest graduation gains.

The ultimate goal of CTE is to provide young people with the basic skills to move into well-paying jobs.  Although CTE programs should act as a pipeline to apprenticeships and good jobs, the history of a number of organizations and industries is one of discrimination against workers of color.  The opening up of good jobs to New Yorkers coming out of CTE programs should be a priority for the de Blasio administration.
Attending a CTE school is associated with significantly higher graduation rates for blacks and Latinos, males in particular.  The report found that graduation rates for black and Latino males outside of CTE schools are just 52 percent; in CTE high schools, they graduate at 63 and 66 percent, respectively.

Our study shows that the next step in the growth of CTE is to raise the bar past graduation to improved college readiness.  In order to shed the reputation as an alternative to college preparation programs, CTE schools must place a stronger emphasis on equipping students to excel at the next educational level.

There are too few CTE schools.  They are not meeting current student demand.  Too many students — over 800 each year — are not enrolled in CTE schools despite ranking them as the top choice on their high school application.  The graduation results for students who ranked a CTE school as their top choice but were enrolled in a non-CTE school are extremely low.  That raises questions about how these students might have fared had they enrolled in a CTE school.

The success of CTE programs would improve the quality of life for many New Yorkers from low-income families and help to strengthen the city’s overall economy.  Industry and labor unions should use an expanded CTE to connect to schools as a feeder to good jobs in the private sector.

Issues Covered

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