Path to the Future: Real Reform for Career and Tech Ed

By Public Advocate Bill de Blasio

NEW YORK — Today, one in five people under the age of 24 who want a job can’t find one. It’s a far cry from the kind of opportunity our kids deserve. In these tough economic times, young people understand they have to go above and beyond to prepare for life after school.

More than 140,000 students take Career and Technical Education classes in city schools to help their chances. And yet a recent report by my office shows 10 years of neglect by the Bloomberg administration have left Career and Tech Ed students without the tools they need to compete in today’s economy.

For an “education mayor,” the state of our Career and Tech Ed programs is an embarrassment.  Mayor Bloomberg has repeatedly promised to breathe new life into this critical pillar of the school system, but far too many students continue to languish in struggling schools while they train for career paths that show few signs of growth. Efforts to open a handful of new small schools show some promise, but let’s be clear: They are a drop in the bucket compared to the vast, broken system most students confront every day. Our kids can’t afford to sit through another round of broken promises and dashed expectations. Their futures and the future of our city’s economy depend on our enacting reforms today.

My report, “Path to the Future,” found at least one-third of all designated Career and Tech Ed high schools recently made the state’s official list of “persistently low-achieving” schools. And when we looked at the career paths being taught in schools, we found a surplus of programs on outdated career paths while the fastest-growing career tracks are barely taught at all.

Take audio/visual technology: We offer more programs in this field than any other, even though its jobs will barely grow over the next decade. Meanwhile, we offer virtually no programs in careers like counseling and family services, where jobs are slated to jump 18 percent. When it comes to helping students land high-growth, high-skill and high-pay jobs, our schools are falling flat.

I’ve rolled out a six-point plan to better prepare our kids in Career and Tech Ed for the jobs of tomorrow. For starters, we need to match the skills we teach for the jobs they’ll eventually apply for. That means closer ties between the classroom and employers in fast-growing, high-paying fields.

We need to create more internships in promising fields like health sciences, family support services and IT, so that kids have real-world job experience on their résumé; we are starting just such a program here in my office.

To turn around under-performing schools, we need to partner successful programs with struggling ones in the same field so teachers can share knowledge and best practices. We must also really hold programs accountable for success; I’m pushing for the city to finally collect data on how students in Career and Tech Ed are performing compared to their peers, and whether they are actually landing jobs in their field of study after graduation.

This is still a city and a country with tremendous opportunities for young people — provided they have the right education to compete in the real world. For the 140,000 students in Career and Tech Ed programs, we have one chance to get it right before they graduate.  We need more than words from the mayor — we need to make this part of our school system a true priority for the first time. As parents and leaders, we must demand real and sustained progress, not more rhetoric. The thousands of students preparing for their futures today deserve nothing less.

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