A new program will help 10 high schools either launch or expand career and technical education programs this fall.

The pilot program, which Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School in Queens Monday, is part of the city’s efforts to prepare more students for college and develop new ways to measure students’ progress. Any new programs would add to the more than 300 CTE programs throughout the city.

The program will focus on helping schools develop mastery-based learning programs, where the schools develop ways to measure student learning through particular skills. Officials said they would partner with higher education and industry officials to figure out what students should learn and how they should be assessed.

“You really can go to college by having strict academic training, or you can go by having a combination of academic training and also things like robotics and computer technology and mechanics,” Fariña said.

Some schools have already experimented with mastery-based learning in recent years. A few of the schools in the new PROSE program, which allows schools to experiment outside of typical teacher-contract rules, let students credits by completing projects, rather than simply by attending class. Schools have also tried that approach through an initiative called Digital Ready.

Officials didn’t say what types of CTE programs the city would favor, but the city in recent years has focused on expanding programs that emphasize technology, like software engineering, and programs that could prepare students for other in-demand careers like healthcare.

Both schools that have existing CTE programs and those hoping to establish a program for the first time will be encouraged to apply. Schools will be chosen based on need, desire, and whether they have the right certified teachers, Fariña said.

“One of the most difficult things to do in a CTE program is getting state certification for some of the skills that we need. For example, if you have a pharmaceutical program in your school, you need to have trained pharmacists,” Fariña said. “We want to make sure the programs that we start — the 10 programs — are in schools where they’ll sustain it.”

Chancellor Carmen Fariña talks to robotics students at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School in Queens.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña talks to robotics students at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School in Queens.

The state has also encouraged long-struggling “out-of-time” schools to develop career and technical education programs.

As Fariña walked through classrooms at the high school Monday morning, she asked seniors where they had applied to college, listened to their stories about current after-school internships, watched students repair computers, and even learned how to operate a small robot from one of the school’s national robotics competition finalists.

“This is not a vocational school. They’re learning skills with their hands, but we anticipate that all of these kids will be college-ready,” Fariña said.

The first year of program will be being funded with $3.2 million of an existing grant from the General Electric Foundation. That will also fund three multi-day training sessions in the spring and summer of 2015 and spring 2016 focused on STEM teaching. City officials emphasized that those training sessions could be especially helpful for struggling schools in its turnaround initiative.

Nearly 300 educators from 100 schools – including six Renewal schools from the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn – will participate in the education department’s first STEM institute next month, they said.

“With the help of General Electric, we’ll be able to increase more of our programs across the city, particularly in high schools that we are looking at to give new energy to, and that’s several of our Renewal schools,” Fariña said.