remarkable thing happened along the way to the presumed demise
of vocational education in New York City. It came back stronger
than ever and is now a model for academic—as well as career—success.
Not that it was easy. Fifteen years ago, our schools were building
back from the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis. Many traditional shops
like carpentry, plumbing and automobile repair had closed, particularly
in comprehensive high schools. Then, in the 1990s, the drive for
higher academic standards kicked in, and what is now called career
and technical education (CTE) seemed in danger of collapse.
At the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), we did not see this
as an either/or issue. We believed that vocational programs could
raise academic performance while imparting technical knowledge.
Working with our state and national affiliates, New York State
United Teachers (NYSUT) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT),
we involved parents, industry advisors, unions and testing companies.
We argued that CTE keeps students in school and prepares them
for work and higher education. (And we do! The Transit Authority’s
new contract added a clause about working with city schools on
We said it was preposterous that CTE schools were forced to shortchange
vocational courses to squeeze in traditional academics, making
them scramble to find the time, space and money to remediate and
prepare students for the Regents that they had never before had
We found it outrageous that some schools—afraid that CTE students
couldn’t pass five Regents—were pushing them into GED programs
or even into dropping out so their statistics would look better.
That and the Regents-for-all mandate doubtless contributed to
the surge in the 2000-01 citywide dropout rate to a troubling
20.4 percent, up from 15.6 percent in 1998. Wasn’t it better,
we asked, to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed
to obtain good-paying jobs than to encourage them to drop out,
unable to find jobs, and possibly end up in jail or on welfare?
The state said it lacked the time or money to craft new assessments
tailored to CTE and asked us to help identify alternatives. We
called in our creative teachers who figured out how to teach subjects
like science or history in the context of a trade. We found industry
partners to assure that CTE programs could provide work experience
that’s relevant to the job market. We pinpointed rigorous assessments.
And we assured that standards were not watered down.
We worked with the state to come up with models for certifying
CTE programs. Albany agreed to our long-standing demand that CTE
students get a technical endorsement in addition to a Regents
diploma, along with a “work eligibility profile” documenting their
work experiences, so employers would know how well they could
do their jobs. This finally recognized the hard work that students
put in to master their trades.
As of January, the state certified programs at nine vocational
schools and others in the arts, health professions, building trades
and culinary arts await approval. In essence, this establishes
curricula that other vocational schools can replicate, bringing
continuity and standardization to the entire state.
Credit must go to Rose Albanese-DePinto, senior superintendent
for high schools, and Elizabeth Sciabarra, her deputy, for inspired
implementation of the certification process.
Oh, one other thing. The big surprise about Regents scores (although
not to the UFT) is that CTE schools showed tremendous improvement.
This confirms that CTE programs can motivate students in all areas.
Many of our vocational graduates will go on to post-secondary
education and if, like most students, they need to work their
way through, they will do so with high-paying, skilled jobs.
The tremendous work that the UFT, our CTE members and the city
school system have done has been widely recognized. U.S. Education
Secretary Rod Paige, his secondary school and CTE divisional director
Richard LaPointe, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have all
visited our vocational schools lately, highlighting their success.
Is everything perfect? Not by a long shot.#
II of this article will appear in the April issue of Education
Update and will highlight what should be done to improve the system
as well as the impact of President Bush’s proposed budget on vocational
Carucci is a vice-president of the United Federation of Teachers.
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