Career and technical education has been shown to help students make it to graduation. But New York City’s English language learners — who consistently lag behind their peers when it comes to on-time graduation — are both under-enrolled in the city’s CTE programs and less likely to complete them, according to a new report.
Released Monday by the nonprofit Advocates for Children of New York, the report shows that while English learners made up 10.8 percent of the city’s high school students in the 2015–16 school year, they comprised only 5.3 percent of students in CTE programs. Though the number of CTE schools in New York City has increased dramatically over the past decade, the report raises the question of whether all groups of students are benefiting equally from these programs.
“The low number of ELLs in the city’s CTE schools and programs is a problem that needs attention,” said AFC’s executive director Kim Sweet in a press release. “High-quality CTE programs provide an invaluable bridge to future learning and employment paths.”
The four-year graduation rate for English learners in 2016 was roughly 27 percent — significantly lower than the citywide average of 73 percent. According to the report, English learners could benefit from joining CTE programs, as the graduation rate for ELLs who completed most or all of a CTE program last year was a significantly higher 57 percent.
Additionally, the report says, CTE programs can help English learners graduate through a pathway that allows students to take a technical exam in lieu of one of the required social studies Regents exams. This “4+1” option could be particularly helpful for English learners, according to the report, because their pass rates on Regents exams are often lower than those of non-English learners.
Those English learners who do end up in CTE programs face disadvantages, the report says, with many not making it to completion. Though the 2016 graduating class had 23,000 students who completed at least two-thirds of a CTE course sequence, only 2 percent were English learners.
“While ELLs who successfully complete a CTE program graduate at rates substantially higher than the citywide ELL graduation rate, ELLs at CTE high schools as a group appear to actually graduate at lower rates than ELLs at other schools,” the report explains.
English learners were also less likely to attend a“CTE-designated” school than a school that offered CTE programs. In the 2015–16 school year, English learners made up about 8.7 percent of students at schools that offer CTE programs, but only 5.6 percent at CTE-designated schools.
The report cited multiple ways the city could increase access to CTE programs for English learners and improve the students’ experience, such as offering extra training for CTE instructors on serving English learners, and providing bilingual CTE classes and translation services for those students. The report also called for the city to form an advisory group made up of educators, parents, students and professionals with English learners and CTE expertise to further explore the problem.
Officials in the city’s education department said they were reviewing the recommendations in the report.
There are often challenges scheduling English learners for CTE, the officials noted, since the students also need time set aside for language-related supports. But, the officials said, nearly all students who list a CTE school as the first choice on their high school applications ultimately enroll in a CTE high school. And the city’s plan to boost support for English learners in the high school admissions process could ease their access to CTE, they said. (The state has also vowed to make it easier for schools to start career and technical education programs.)
“We are committed to increasing opportunities for English language learners and career and technical education students, and building on improvements like providing all admissions information in 10 languages,” education department spokesman Will Mantell said. “While ELLs enroll in CTE high schools at about the same rate as they apply, we know there’s more work to do in attracting and serving ELL students in CTE programs.”