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Blacks, Latinos benefit from Career and Technical Education schools, but is it the remedy?

Stephon Johnson | 2/27/2014, 9:56 p.m.

Jones told the AmNews how even when presented with the idea of community college, most of the families they surveyed didn’t have the resources (or even a checking account) to pay for the relatively meager tuition when compared to four-year institutions. He also talked about how even jobs at Starbucks require some college and security guard work doesn’t come with benefits, though something in a technical trade might lead to a fulfilling career.

“Knowing that if I finish this course there are job opportunities as an apprentice and intern in an industry which has high payoff is just fascinating,” said Jones. “And I think that’s what keeps young people excited about what they’re doing instead of just drifting along to an uncertain future.”

Black and Latino students make up a significant share of the population of CTE schools more than they do across New York City high schools in general. Black students are a bigger presence at CTE schools, where they represent close to 40 percent of the population (compared to 30.7 percent of all public high school students). The report also shows that Latinos make up a bigger share of students (43.2 percent) at CTE schools than they do at all high school students (38.9 percent). White and Asian high school students are less represented at CTE schools (16.2 percent combined) than across New York City high school in general (29.6 percent).

Benjamin Grossman is the principal of the Bronx Academy for Software Engineering and has seen firsthand how CTE can benefit students who might have been lost in an average New York City high school.

“A huge amount,” Grossman told the AmNews. “You would think a software engineering school would attract an elite, mass crowd. In fact, a quarter of our students are special education students. Over 65 percent of our kids struggled or are well below standards for reading and writing. What has happened is that we’ve drawn a crowd of students interested in contextualized learning.”

Grossman gave the AmNews a few examples of how contextualized learning works. “It’s about problem solving, and it leads to every discipline,” he said. “We put our kids through things we call ‘challenges.’ In physics, they had to build a vehicle demonstrating [Isaac] Newton’s second law of motion. In history, we had them build a tool kit for early man. It gives our teachers the ability to develop curricula that are totally about context and problem solving.”

Despite the many benefits of CTE, Jones is well aware of the dangers of leading Black and Latinos into trade jobs as the cure-all. He understands that’s it’s not a one-size-fits-all and harkened back to his own experiences as a students to demonstrate that point.

“Entrepreneurs have made breakthroughs in the community, but the trouble is scale,” Jones told the AmNews. “We have a system that deals with 1 million people marching through who are Black and Latino. In that group, if I get 1,000 to become entrepreneurs, it still doesn’t deal with the overall push. It doesn’t provide the kind of energy that being able to make a major breakthrough would.