Help Wanted: Career & Technology Education in Baltimore City Schools

April 2005 / Abell Reports / Education, Workforce Development

Evidence strongly suggests the CTE belongs among BCPSS’s high school reforms. This report examines why and how, and the cost.

Vocational education, first offered in America’s public high schools in the early 1900s, has evolved over the last century, responding to different times, falling under different names, and assuming different forms. Career and Technology Education (CTE) today encompasses not just technical preparation for a specific field, but also the strong academic underpinnings and analytical and interpersonal skills that are widely deemed
critical to success in the workplace. In Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS), however, a combination of low funding, increased academic standards, and neglect have relegated CTE to the list of endangered initiatives.

An approach to CTE integrates an occupational sequence of courses with rigorous academic coursework can both target workforce needs and address concerns related to academic skills and assessments. CTE has also been shown to engage disadvantaged high school students at risk of dropping out in a way that a strictly academic curriculum cannot. CTE graduates are also more likely to earn higher wages and report greater success in college than their non-CTE counterparts.

Finally, the goals of CTE are consistent with the workforce needs of Baltimore City. CTE can provide students with the skills they will need following high school graduation, both in the workplace and in post-secondary training and education. In Baltimore City, demand is growing for individuals who need not necessarily have four-year degrees but possess specific sets of skills to fill increasingly technical jobs. Likewise, in City schools, more than a third of 12th grade students report that they plan to work (or work in conjunction with part-time college) directly following graduation.

Yet CTE in Baltimore City’s public high schools has been decimated over the last five years, a victim of neglect. In the FY’05 budget alone, BCPSS’s CTE budget was slashed by 57 percent. Boasting 280 teachers and a central staff of a dozen prior to 2002, CTE today has 94 teachers and one central office administrator. CTE is floundering at a time when the philosophy on which it was founded—to make public education meaningful and useful to all Americans—is also being devalued by national education policy.