Career & Technical Education
Despite improvements in graduation rates over the last several years, high school dropout rates remain a major concern for New York City public schools. Based on the figures for the most recently available cohort, nearly 12 percent of students who began high school in 2007 dropped out within four years. These figures are especially alarming given that current economic circumstances require a labor pool that can rapidly attain the knowledge and skills necessary to work with new innovations in emerging fields. Moreover, many high school graduates in New York City public schools are not ready to engage in college coursework. According to data released by the New York City Department of Education, only one in four students who entered high school in 2006 graduated “college ready,” based on the city’s standards for college readiness generated by the City University of New York (CUNY). These facts highlight the need for alternative pathways to graduation: first, to provide students with increased opportunities to graduate high school; and second, to offer students the knowledge and skill needed to succeed in college and the labor market.
National studies show that the implementation of career and technical education programs (CTE) has shown promise in reducing dropout rates. Despite the work of a 2008 Mayoral Task Force appointed to improve CTE in the city school system, New York City has yet to demonstrate a serious investment in CTE. According to a report by the Office of the Public Advocate (2011), many CTE programs are underperforming; about 50 percent have been labeled as persistently low-achieving. Furthermore, although the City continues to increase the number of CTE programs, it has yet to align these programs with some of the fastest emerging fields.
High-quality CTE programs have been shown to be extremely useful in helping students stay in and graduate from high school. According to Kulik (1998), high-risk students were almost ten times less likely to drop out in the eleventh and twelfth grades if they enrolled in a CTE program rather than general program. Furthermore, CTE students were less likely than general program students to fail a course or to be absent. More recently, the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (Plank, DeLuca & Estacion. 2005) showed that students who added CTE courses to their curriculum had a decreased risk of dropping out of high school. They also noted that a balance of CTE and academic courses lowered the dropout rate for students because it offered them a broader array of experiences that can identify and encourage pathways to success.
CTE programs have also made students more college ready. CTE participants are more likely to take more and higher level math than their general track counterparts (Stone & Aliaga 2002), have higher test scores, (Department of Education 2004), and achieve at a higher level in math and science (Southern Regional Education Board 2004). CTE has been successful with at-risk students because CTE enhances qualities such as motivation; personal and social competence; comprehension of job and industry; career planning; knowledge and skills related to particular types of work generally; and overall work ethic (Schargel & Smink 2001).
Studies have also confirmed economic benefits to CTE programs. High school students who graduate with a CTE concentration are 2.5 times more likely to be employed while in college than are college prep students (Southern Regional Education Board 2004). Furthermore, another study found that postsecondary CTE students had higher income, even without attaining a credential. A single year of study generated up to 8 percent more income to CTE students than to high school graduates with similar characteristics (Department of Education 2004).
One particular challenge of CTE programs has been finding the right balance between CTE coursework and the academic curriculum. Not taking this mix into account may have unintended consequences. For example, although studies find that CTE students enter postsecondary education at nearly the same rate as all high school graduates (Center on Education Policy and American Youth Policy Forum 2000) and participation in CTE programs does not generally impede college attendance, higher ratios of CTE-to-academic courses are associated with reductions in the chances of college attendance even after adjusting for selection characteristics (Deluca, Plank & Estacion 2006). Also, a middle-range mix of exposure to CTE and an academic curriculum can strengthen a student’s attachment to or motivation while in school more than a curriculum comprised entirely of CTE.
CTE programs can enhance student engagement, decrease the risk of dropping out, and improve college readiness for students who are struggling in school or are at-risk of not completing a high school diploma. They may also provide better economic opportunities for high school graduates.
Deluca, S., S. Plank, and A. Estacion. 2006. Does Career and Technical Education Affect College Enrollment? St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.
Department of Education. 2004. National Assessment of Vocational Education: Final Report to Congress. Washington, DC: Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary, Policy and Program Studies Service.
Kulik, J. 1998. Curriculum Tracks High School Vocational Studies. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.
Office of the Public Advocate of New York City. 2012. Path to the Future: Strengthening Career and Technical Education to Prepare Today’s Students for the Jobs of Tomorrow. New York, NY: Office of the Public Advocate of New York City.
Plank, S., S. DeLuca, and A. Estacion. 2005. Dropping Out of High School and the Place of Career and Technical Education: A Survival Analysis of Surviving High School. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.
Schargel, F. P., and J. Smink, J. 2001. Strategies to Help Solve Our School Dropout Problem. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Southern Regional Education Board. 2004. Linking Career/Technical Studies to Broader High School Reform. Atlanta, GA: Southern Regional Education Board.
Stone, J., and O. Aliaga. 2002. Career and Technical Education, Career Pathways and Work-Based Learning: Changes in Participation 1997-1999. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.
Examples of Best Policy and Practice
Advocates for Children of New York
Association for Career and Technical Education
New York State Association for Career and Technical Education
National Research Center for Career and Technical Education
Prepared by: Advocates for Children of New York, www.advocatesforchildren.org