Before enacting ambitious plans to expand Career and Technical Education offering in schools, the city should invest more in the struggling programs that already exist, a report by the public advocate Bill de Blasio’s office argues.

The report, released today, paints a grim picture of CTE in city schools as chronically underperforming and often unaligned to industries that are expanding, such as the health sciences and information technology. The report was fast-tracked after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to open 12 CTE schools by the end of his tenure earlier this month, de Blasio said.

The mayor convened a commission in 2008 to examine and improve CTE schools, but de Blasio said the task force’s recommendations have been largely ignored. He said he wanted to see the city invest more in systemic improvements and struggling schools, rather than impose a “one-size-fits-all” plan to shutter low-performing CTE schools.

“Maxwell High School has made steady progress, gotten an A rating under the department’s own rating system, and now they’re saying they’re going to close it. Makes no sense,” de Blasio said.  “Closure … does not guarantee that what comes next is going to be better. We should try to see if we can save the schools we have with a real intervention.”

The report finds:

  • Nine of the city’s 30 CTE schools are on the state’s list of Persistently Low-Achieving schools and are slated for closure this year, either through the city’s regular closure process or its accelerated turnaround process.
  • The city’s largest CTE programs put students on tracks toward low-growth industries, such as the arts, audio/visual technology, and Business Management and Administration.
  • Only 73 of the 325, or 22 percent CTE programs in the city are state approved. 252 are somewhere in the process of being developed or gaining approval. In 2007, close to 15 percent of programs  had been approved.
  • The city does not disaggregate data on CTE programs from its overall school progress report data, which makes the programs difficult to track and assess.
The report recommends the city should:
  • Create a task force of multiple city agencies to study job trends and help schools put students in growing fields.
  • Create internship programs at city agencies for students studying human services and public administration.
  • Commit the 12 new CTE school to largely focus on Health Science and Information Technology.
  • Have the more successful CTE schools share best practices with their low-performing counterparts in formal partnerships.
  • Track CTE students academic and career progress during and after high school.

Natalie Ravitz, a DOE spokesperson, said in a statement that the city has shown its intentions to improve CTE offerings by planning to open 12 new CTE schools in the next two years, including a computer science school in Union Square, and a 9-14 school in Brooklyn.

Ravitz also painted the report as an outgrowth of the United Federation of Teachers’ ongoing bid to oppose school closures and promote CTE. UFT president Michael Mulgrew has a background in vocational education, and the union endorsed de Blasio in 2009 when he ran for public advocate.

“We disagree with Mr. de Blasio and the UFT’s assertion that we should throw more taxpayer dollars at programs that have not served students well.”