Photo by: Ildar Sagdejev

A recent City Limits article criticized New York City’s efforts to reform Career and Technical Education, asserting we hadn’t made appreciable gains in decades. Nothing could be further from the truth. CTE has advanced more in the past 10 years than over the previous half century. CTE programs have more than doubled under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Administration—from 18 schools in 2002 to 46 by the start of the 2013 school year—and have become a national model for college and career readiness. Not only are these programs more varied and vigorous than ever, they have much greater relevance to the 21st century economy. *

To fully appreciate the gains of the last decade, it’s important to understand just how sorry a state career-focused education was in before the current round of reforms. New York City hadn’t opened a new vocational high school in more than 40 years. With a small handful of exceptions, CTE schools and programs had become a dumping ground for students judged unable to handle college-track work.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott began his tenure at the DOE with a more ambitious mission: to ensure that every New York City student graduates high school ready to take a successful next step to college or the job market. This has been an enormous boon for CTE. The secret of CTE’s viability as a college and career readiness strategy is that the same skill sets are necessary for success in higher education and the workplace: strong communications, problem-solving, teamwork, and self-regulation. As students plot their paths beyond high school, their experience of applied education in a career context will do much to help them move forward.

It’s true that several CTE high schools have been slated for closure in the last two years. Three Bronx schools—Samuel Gompers, Grace Dodge and Jane Addams—will close their doors in spring 2015, and the High School of Graphic Communication Arts will follow a year later. The decision to close a school is never easy and always painful. But we take very seriously the commitment of all schools to fulfill their educational promise to students, families and communities; and despite years of efforts and substantial investment of resources, those schools fell far short of that promise.

In keeping with our reform strategy, we’re replacing these failing schools with smaller, mission-driven CTE schools, giving our students unique opportunities to succeed. On the Dodge campus, for example, we’ve already opened the Crotona International High School and the High School for Energy and Technology. A third new CTE school—the Bronx Academy for Software Engineering—will open there this September. Samuel Gompers will be the site of HERO (Health Education and Research Occupations) High, a grades 9 through 14 school developed in partnership with CUNY’s Hostos Community College and Montefiore Medical Center. Students will be able to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, putting them ahead of the competition.

All of our new CTE schools are tightly aligned to current and projected demand in the New York City labor market and to our broader agenda of preparing students for lucrative careers in science, technology, engineering and math. To meet these goals, we have forged industry partnerships of unprecedented strength and depth. Since opening in 2008, the Academy for Careers in TV and Film, in Long Island City near Silvercup and Kaufman Astoria Studios, has placed hundreds of students in paid work in TV and film production. The High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media in Canarsie enjoys strong support from the American Association of Advertising Agencies, which has helped launch a student-run ad firm within the school that builds campaigns for corporate clients. IBM has made a deep commitment to Pathways in Technology Early College High School (PTECH), the grades 9 through 14 school hailed by President Obama in this year’s State of the Union address.

We’ve also redoubled our efforts to support the large multi-track CTE schools whose legacies stretch back decades by helping them build new industry partnerships. Some of these schools, including Aviation High School, the High School of Fashion Industries, and Thomas A. Edison CTE High School, frankly don’t need much help: they enjoy sparkling national reputations, outstanding support from industry partners, and more applicants every year than they can accept. Others, including Ralph R. McKee High School, Queens Vocational and Technical High School, and Chelsea CTE High School, have overhauled their program menus, and through new partnerships, have successfully re-established themselves as attractive options for New York City students and families.

Our newer CTE schools have a formidable record of accomplishment. Food and Finance High School, for example, which opened in 2004 in the former Park West campus on the far west side of midtown Manhattan, is among our most popular high school options. It’s received an A grade on its annual Progress Report each year for the last four years.

Many of these smaller CTE schools are delivering better graduation rates than the citywide average, even as it stands at an all-time high of over 65 percent. In 2009-2010, the first wave of smaller new CTE high schools—including Food and Finance, the High School of Computers and Technology, the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, and the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture—all posted four-year graduation rates of over 80 percent. The Academy for Careers in TV and Film saw 96.2 percent of its inaugural class graduate in spring 2012, according to the preliminary Progress Report data.

Even the most challenging student populations are making unparalleled progress. Graduation rates for English language learners and students with disabilities taking CTE programs have increased from 53.8 percent between 2004 and 2005, to 61.8 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Our career and technical education offerings have never been stronger, and independent research confirms what we already know: the city’s new, small CTE schools are changing the educational landscape—and poising our students to succeed in the 21st century workforce.

* Editor’s Note: While the number of CTE schools in the city has increased—as noted in our article—the total number of students enrolled in those programs is roughly the same as when Mayor Bloomberg took office.