Business leaders, educators, and nonprofit donors across the country are intensifying efforts to revamp career and technical education in the United States. Recently, City Journal convened a panel of experts to talk about how these efforts can be applied in American high schools.
Fixing America’s crisis of long-term, persistent joblessness will also require major upgrades to K-12 education, where big spending increases and centralization of control in Washington have delivered disappointing results.
The panel consisted of Kristin Kearns-Jordan, CEO of Urban Assembly charter schools; John Widlund, Executive Director of Career & Technical Education at the New York City Department of Education; and Steven Malanga, senior editor of City Journal and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. The discussion was moderated by Howard Husock.
Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast, this is your host, Brian Anderson, editor of City Journal.
We hope you’ve been enjoying the new intro and our weekly schedule. Next week, we’ll have Heather Mac Donald on the show, which I’m sure most of you will appreciate.
Coming up on this episode of 10 Blocks, we have another live discussion for our listeners.
As we’ve talked about before on the podcast, long-term joblessness, “the great domestic crisis of the twenty-ﬁrst century,” as Edward Glaeser calls it, has become a major focus for our writers at City Journal.
Fixing America’s crisis of work, however, will also require major upgrades to K–12 education.
This challenge was the focus of our second and ﬁnal symposium based on the City Journal special issue, “The Shape of Work to Come.”
We invited experts in career and technical education (commonly referred to as “CTE) to talk about how we can begin to reform education to prepare all kids for the future, not just those headed to college.
On the panel, we have Kristin Kearns-Jordan, CEO of Urban Assembly charter schools.
Then there’s John Widlund, Executive Director of Career and Technical Education at New York City Department of Education.
And last but not least, there’s Steve Malanga, City Journal’s senior editor and author of a fascinating new piece for our latest issue, “Dirty Jobs, Good Pay,” about how to revive the American work ethic.
But the next voice you’ll hear on the podcast is Howard Husock, Vice President of Research and Publications at the Manhattan Institute.
We hope you enjoy!
Howard Husock: Thank you so much, Brian, and thanks to our distinguished panel for participating today. As the credentials that Brian noted imply, our focus today in terms of those non-participants in our workforce is something called CTE. Don’t call it vocational education, call it Career and Technical Education, and we are going to explore the question of whether it can be an important answer to what’s called the skills gap in the American workforce and can it be a magnet to draw people who are not now in the workforce, or potentially unattached from the workforce, into it in well-paying ways that don’t necessarily involve four years of college. And so our panelists all touch on that in their own way. And I want to begin, if I could, with Steve Malanga because his article from the City Journal’s special issue on the future of work becomes the basis for what we are talking about. It is called Vocational Ed, Reborn. And so, my question to you, Steve, is why did vocational education, or CTE, need to be reborn? Wasn’t it always there and if it needed to be reborn, why?
Steve Malanga: Well, I guess it has always – it has been there for a very long time. But somewhere, well first of all, let’s start with the political context which I know is a dangerous thing these days, but we hear quite a lot, and going even back to the last election, about jobs leaving America and certainly the trade policy discussion is going on right now. What I think bothers people in this area is we have rarely talked about all of the good jobs in America that are not being filled easily. And many of them fall into what we have called this category of skills trade. To give you just one particular example, in about 2010-2011, which was really the beginning of the recovery when our unemployment rate was still nearly 9% in America, there were about a half a million skilled trade jobs that manufactures alone were saying they could not fill. Some of this has to do with the evolution of industry in America, the industrial jobs that are here, but also jobs that are aligned with what we consider a traditional blue-collar job. Anybody who has paid attention when you have taken your car into your car dealership and watched them fix your car, hook your car up to a computer and then begin fixing it will know what I mean. The amazing thing about this is that as those occupations have evolved so that – to give you an example – it is estimated that about a million manufacturing jobs that have been created since the rebound from 2008 and 2009, about a million of them have actually been for people who need more than a high school education, some kind of post-secondary education. But as we have seen this transition in our manufacturing base, certainly in areas like auto mechanic, we haven’t – we have had a cultural shift in America in which the – I guess let’s – you know, I will sum it up – the college for all ethos, has pushed students, parents away from those occupations. And as a result we started deemphasizing career and trade education. You know I’ll tell you this started quite a long time ago. I remember quite vividly growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, the friends of mine who went to the local vo ed school, you know they would make jokes themselves about we’re going to the dumb school, the dumb people’s, the dumb kids school. So, there is this prejudice. And this prejudice I think was so great that the actor Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy that I wrote about in this last issue, he remembers...
Howard Husock: The Dirty Jobs guy they might not know what that is.
Steve Malanga: Most people see the Dirty Jobs.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: I watched it.
Steve Malanga: Right, the Dirty Jobs, it was the most popular show on cable TV for eight years and Mike Rowe was this guy who basically went around and got people who did dirty jobs and got them to show him how they did the jobs and then he participated with them and got dirty and it became enormously popular. And he, out of that, gained a tremendous respect for people doing these jobs. And when the last recession hit and people were talking about, you know, all the unemployed, he was saying wait a minute every place I go there are help wanted signs. All these people that I am working with and interviewing, they say they can’t find people to do some of these jobs. So, anyway, but Rowe tells this story about when he was in high school, which is quite a long time ago, there was a poster on his guidance counselor’s wall which was two pictures of the same guy. One he is in a cap and gown and in the other he is in a hardhat. And the poster said “Work smart. Not hard.” This is the message that we were transmitting to kids even back, you know, essentially decades ago. So there has been a cultural transformation and when you talk to these folks today what they will tell you is that they have to sometimes actually persuade parents who seem to be one of the biggest obstacles, persuade parents to have their kids participate in these programs. (I will talk a little bit later about some of the experiences here) but we are down to the point where the national manufacturing association once a year now holds a parents’ night the way your local school does, in which they invite parents to come into the manufacturing floor of factories around America to see what they are actually doing to try to overcome some of the obstacles for students for whom this kind of work might be appropriate. Rowe himself was hired by Caterpillar to do commercials in which they essentially – these commercials broadcast we want, we need workers. They interviewed Caterpillar, a very sophisticated mechanic for Caterpillar heavy machinery, and Rowe just says tell me why this is a great job. And the guys say, well it’s great money, and it’s a great company. That’s the…
Howard Husock: And you get to sit up really high.
Steve Malanga: Yeah, and you get to sit up really high.
Howard Husock: That’s really interesting. Well, let me turn to, we’ve got two, as Brian said, two distinguished practitioners, so Steve is saying the tide needs to turn. What – how is this issue perceived in the educational community? New York has been doing a lot. We are going to hear a little bit about that. But let me start with Kristin because The Urban Assembly operates seven CTE schools, and John Widlund tells me he began at age 19 as a trainee in vocational education in New York City learning how to install electrical insulation. He says he could still do it, in case any of you are looking for some help, right? And so, how is this issue being perceived in the educational community? Kristin first.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: Okay. I am going to start personally because I have been in education for 25 years in New York. I founded a college prep charter school. And if you were to track those students over time, which we did assiduously, we lost a lot of kids. Right? The kids who graduated, 100% went to college. They went to Stanford. They went to fabulous places. But we lost many students along the way.
Howard Husock: Meaning they didn’t graduate from college.
Kristin Kearns Jordan They didn’t graduate from high school or they didn’t graduate from college. One or the other. Somewhere along this pipeline we were losing kids. The students we were losing were more often kids who came in with weak academic skills. They were more often male than female. They were kids for whom this kind of abstract academic learning just wasn’t terribly relevant. So, I learned through personal experience that we were not hooking the kids that we needed to hook in order to have equal opportunity for our kids and a vibrant economy. Actually the founder of our organization, The Urban Assembly, Richard Kahan is in the back there, he figured out something different while I was – not flailing around, the school was pretty good, and still is – but he was founding schools at The Urban Assembly even before we were doing any career technical work that connected to specific industries in New York, design and construction, law and justice, performing arts, right, where the theme of the school would invite partnerships with industry, with not-for-profits, with government entities, and so the understanding that it had to be connected to career is deep in The Urban Assembly’s roots. And as a result, kids have a deep connection at our schools to work. They may or may not become involved in emergency management when they graduate from the high school for emergency management, but they will have a connection to work.
Howard Husock: And are you atypical?
Kristin Kearns Jordan: Most networks of schools, or a network of schools, are not as focused on career as we are. But I think that the education community is really worried about, actually artificial intelligence is really freaking everybody out. They are worried that to an even greater degree in five years what we are doing in classrooms in schools is disconnected from what’s happening in the world of work out there. People read statistics like 30% of the jobs that are going to exist in ten years don’t even exist yet. 30% of the jobs, or 30% of pieces of jobs, right, FTE’s, are going to go away. And this is actually becoming scary to schools, so I think that the question has been posed. I don’t think that the answers have been developed at a broad scale, but I think there is an awareness that as data becomes better about college success, our CUNY schools graduate, you know, the community colleges, in the teens over three years, the four-year schools maybe scrape to 50% over four years. As that data become more transparent, both to the colleges themselves but more important to the high schools, these questions are starting to get asked in a more rigorous way.
Howard Husock: So it’s getting educators’ attention. But let me ask you, John…
John Widlund: Yes.
Howard Husock: …New York has been a leader in reviving vocational education starting with Mayor Bloomberg, he was mayor before Mayor de Blasio, yeah. John is the head of vocational ed for Mayor de Blasio, so I was just giving him a hard time.
Steve Malanga: CTE.
Howard Husock: CTE, that’s right. There was a renaissance of new vocational schools, a much bigger system, and yet when you look at the numbers in Steve’s article there are 26,000 New York City public school students enrolled in the entire panoply of career and technical education schools. There are 1.1 million students – and I don’t know how many high school students, but a lot more than 26,000 – so, you told me over lunch that your goal is to expand.
John Widlund: That was in confidence. No…
Howard Husock: Is that the City’s goal? Do you think that’s a widely shared goal in school systems around the country? And how do we do it?
John Widlund: Great question. So, it’s certainly the City’s goal. Folks like Richard and Kathy Wylde from the Partnership for New York City and the mayor’s office and the former chancellor, Carmen Fariña, kind of brought me in because the institution that I led, Co-Op Tech, kind of is the solution which is to bring kids – we had students coming from over 100 high schools in the city – to spend a half-day with us learning a trade area or technical area. So, with that spirit, we are looking at all students in New York City and creating the option, an opportunity, because I do want to respond to some of the other things that were said. I want to go back thirty years. But I will answer your question directly. The 26,000 students are in full – schools that 100% of students are enrolled in CTE programs. There are 65,000 students enrolled in full sequences in academic institutions as well. So, that’s not the full number. And then, in the elective category, there are other 100,000 students receiving some form of career awareness or career training. So, there are other courses, career and financial management, which kids don’t necessarily enjoy or identify as being part of a robust career training pathway. So, the numbers are a little different.
Howard Husock: 26,000 is deceptively low is what you are saying.
John Widlund: Correct. So, the number we go by is the kids who complete full sequences who are enrolled in full sequences, which means seven high school credits or more, one high school credit equates to 54 hours of instruction. So, I’ve got 65,000-plus kids enrolled in those types of programs throughout nearly 130 schools. And urban assembly schools are of our finest. I would like to go back a minute because we started with, you know, what happened to vocational education? Where did it go? So I am a very proud graduate of McKee High School, class of 1985, which for some folks it seems like you were not born then and other folks that seems like it was yesterday. I am a very proud Gen X guy. However, at the time the education we received was bifurcated. There were those going to college and then the vast majority were expected to go to work. But there was no official connection to either. I didn’t have a college advisor, nor did I have a career advisor. Schools just weren’t about those things. So, in that time the business community was a nation at risk article. And I remember mid-80s, mid to late ‘80s when the first President Bush came along, attempted to listen to the needs of business and industry and kind of suggest that we needed to go this more academic route. What’s emerged is, and I’m going to actually put a question to everyone in the audience, what emerged was a system that is aspirational. And I’m going to prove to you what this looks like. Please raise your hand if you graduated from college. All right. So I think we are in a very successful room. I would love all of my students to someday enter this room and nearly 100% of hands went up. Let the record note that. How many of you worked when you were in high school? Summer or – almost every hand went up. So, those are the things that I aspire to for our youngsters. In the past, at 11 or 12 years old did you know what you wanted to be? Because those were the stakes for the system that previously existed. You would have to know what you wanted to be at that age and then find those limited opportunities and then explore it for four years and possibly, or not, become that. So, what we are attempting to do in our expansion effort, which we have increased over forty programs in the last three years, we have sun-setted some other programs too, so sometimes when folks do the analysis they say well, you started with 280 programs, now you have only 300. That doesn’t sound like 40. Well, we closed twenty things that weren’t working. So, you have to be bold and take risks and really lead innovation and create things that didn’t exist a few years ago. As an example, we are attempting to open drone pilot programs, which these jobs don’t even necessarily exist yet, but we have to really be forward-thinking. Instead of computer repair, we have kids working on mobile devices. Instead of simply programming, we have kids creating applications for IPhones and Samsung devices. So things are definitely changing.
Howard Husock: Well, John, if I may, what I get out of that is this is as hard thing to do. The occupations change.
John Widlund: Yes.
Howard Husock: Right? You have to be nimble to use that kind of business jargon. Let’s talk about – if there is a consensus at this table, and I think there is – that CTE, Career Technical Education, is worth expanding, what are the barriers to doing so? And I will start with Kris and I want to go to Steve after that.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: I think it’s worth expanding. I think, I would like to expand what it means to do career and technical education, if I may, it is not directly responsive. But I think one of the other things that is happening in the field of education is we are becoming more aware of what employers would call soft skills. We call them social and emotional skills. They are the skills of human interaction, of problem-solving that are becoming more and more important. They are the things that robots can’t do. So, if we can expand to include both of those things as a part of a robust career in technical…
Howard Husock: Well, that’s an interesting answer to a different question.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: It is. Yeah.
Howard Husock: But that’s okay, that’s okay. So, what you are saying is that we have to have an expansive idea of what career and technical education is…
Kristin Kearns Jordan: Yep.
Howard Husock: …if we are going to solve the problem that Brian laid out for us at the beginning, which was how do we increase and assure workforce participation?
Kristin Kearns Jordan: But it gets to a barrier, right? I wanted to expand that. Because one of the barriers, as I think a very narrow frame for what kids should know and be able to do when they graduate from high school, there are five, you know, things. Math, science, English, history, and a foreign language. Those I happen to believe are incredibly important but that’s an incomplete set, focusing on the career skills, on the social and emotional skills. So I think the narrowness by which schools are measured, right, is a barrier. And I think one that we should think about. The one that probably this room will not be surprised to hear about are some bureaucratic impediments.
Howard Husock: Well, let’s hear about those. Let’s not gloss over this. It sounds very important…
Kristin Kearns Jordan: Yeah. No, no, no, John and I will talk about those.
John Widlund: Suddenly my microphone’s not working.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: Yeah, I know – I’ll talk about those.
Steve Malanga: I was going to talk about this too but go ahead...
Kristin Kearns Jordan: But I will introduce them as a practitioner, right? So, we have a fabulous emergency management school. This pathway is one that we are kind of creating as we go. The state doesn’t already have one. Trying to get the teachers certified has been a three-year process and we still have not succeeded, which means the school’s CTE program will not be approved, which means the school won’t get that money unless we work it out. We might be working it out.
Howard Husock: If the teachers were to have to start tomorrow would they be qualified to teach, in your opinion? The ones you can’t get certified?
Kristin Kearns Jordan: Oh, yeah. They have been teaching in the school forever. I mean it’s since the founding. So, the teacher exists there, and is a certified teacher generally, right, but is not necessarily certified in this program area.
Howard Husock: I see.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: So, there are – there is a kind of old set of programs that the state has defined and fitting, you know, the new economy into those old programs is a huge barrier. Did you want to jump in?
Howard Husock: Yeah, Steve. Let me get Steve in here because he was leaning in.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: Yeah.
Steve Malanga: Oh, well I was going to talk about there is exactly teacher certification is one of the biggest problems, particularly when, as you talk about, areas where the level of skill and knowledge of the instructor is, the demands on the instructor are increasing and you have actually retiring assembly line workers and mechanics who are willing to teach in these schools but getting them certified is one of the big problems. But let me just – another substantial problem, if you listen to what we are talking about, the kind of jobs that we are talking about that fall under this, there is a huge range of them. I talked about sophisticated manufacturing jobs, auto mechanic jobs, repairing iPhones, health care, so there is no one-size-fits-all for the programs. And this is a big problem for school systems. What I mean by that is, number one, I said before that much of this education, just on the manufacturing floor, requires post-secondary education, not necessarily a college degree but post-secondary education. So, there is a lot of different models that are emerging around the country. Many of these jobs also require apprenticeships, or they work best with apprenticeships with the participation of businesses. None of that is easy to do. So, what you have – you have places like in North Carolina where Siemens is participating with the local career technical high school in a four-year, a six-year program, four years of high school, the last year the kids apply for an apprenticeship they have to get As or Bs in advanced mathematics courses, including calculus, and then they get an apprenticeship from Siemens. With that apprenticeship they then go on to a local community college, finish two years of an associate degree, and work half-time on the floor of Siemens and then they come out of that as a full-time Siemens worker.
Howard Husock: And they are paid while they’re learning? Right?
Steve Malanga: And they are paid while they’re learning. Exactly, because they are working on the floor. And they come out of that with a job that is going to pay them $50,000 a year as a kid, you know, 20, 21 years old. But that’s for just one model. So, there is not a simple degree for all of the, you know, a one-size-fits-all degree, and that’s, I think, part of the challenge.
Howard Husock: So, it sounds like as to Kristin’s point that the schools are going to have to grapple with this, but let’s – well, I know that John, you were wanting to weigh in on bureaucratic barriers.
John Widlund: Yeah. So actually Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has been very helpful in streamlining the process, so there are alternatives to that official route. It just does take time to realize. So…
Howard Husock: It is true of everything in New York City I think, yeah.
John Widlund: Right. But I mean I have to say it’s at the state level, and I want it to be on the record, so she can hear me say it. Let’s just edit the tape, no.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: I said the state level.
John Widlund: Yes.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: Can I add a third barrier that we…
Howard Husock: Well, let me hear…
John Widlund: No, so what I wanted to say and to add to your point, so I visited Germany, which is a country that has robust apprenticeship programs throughout. It’s almost mandated. So my recommendation to those folks leading industries, particularly where you are lacking high-quality entry-level employees, is to examine your corporate social responsibilities dollars, turn it into training, return on investment strategies, and I guarantee you, you will wind up partnering with community colleges or secondary institutions and you will find your next best set of employees.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: That was the third barrier. Business interest. It really, we don’t have in the United States a vehicle to welcome business into education, so I think it starts there. But I also think we don’t have a habit of businesses sort of volunteering to support the instructional programming. So, I think that is a third barrier we should address.
Howard Husock: Well that is very interesting. So, we are saying, to summarize that, you are saying that we shouldn’t look only to the school systems.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: That’s right.
Steve Malanga: Yeah, let me…
Howard Husock: Which is interesting. Go ahead, Steve.
Steve Malanga: Let me add a couple of things to that. First of all, interestingly in some places where they do have this kind of participation and the research triangle is a good example, in the Carolinas, because they have quite a number of foreign companies, European-based companies, headquartered companies, have operations here, they have more apprenticeship programs. In places where they have this it is actually becoming an economic development tool, which is one of the incentives for businesses, that we can actually help you find and train workers and plug them into apprenticeship programs. We now see this in a lot of economic development agencies. They have a kind of workforce development component. So that is, I think, going to be something that will awaken business. The other thing though, the other thing is I think that one reason we haven’t had a tradition of this in America, but part of it is again because CTE involves so many different kinds – we have so many different really definitions of it versus the traditional definition of shop class that I think a lot of businesses don’t necessarily realize essentially that they are suitable for this. The Partnership did a study, and…
Howard Husock: This is the New York City Partnership.
Steve Malanga: The New York City partnership. They did a study survey of how many businesses were engaged in apprenticeship programs in New York. I think they came up with a number of 776, or some incredibly low number like that for a place like New York City. I just think that you know, people don’t – well, this is not a manufacturing center anymore, New York City, so therefore we are not going to have apprenticeship programs. So I think that’s part of the, you know, it’s a perception problem.
Howard Husock: Right. So, since we are all telling stories up here, I will tell a story about an article I wrote for City Journal set in Marietta, Ohio, which is in the heart of the fracking boom in Southern Ohio. And I asked whether the employers there get all the employees they need, and the answer is no they can’t pass drug tests. Can’t past drug tests. Is having a skills offering what we need to get the alienated who are not in the workforce – I am taking Brian’s predicate from the beginning of this discussion – the decline in workforce participation, is offering skills going to do it by itself? John, you want to weigh in on that?
John Widlund: Sure, actually, so I am reminded of a New York Times article from 2010 which was “When Skills Don’t Pay the Bills.” So, I suspect that the value proposition for that individual to reenter the workforce, although that’s a dated article, compared wages for welders versus a shift manager at McDonald’s. And it was favorable wages for the shift manager at McDonald’s over the nonunionized welders of $14 to $10 an hour. So, I suspect in many of these places where…
Howard Husock: Right, but I am talking about guys who can’t pass a drug test to work. I mean, is it a work ethic problem? Kristin, do you want to want to do it?
Steve Malanga: This is a huge problem that Alan Krueger, the Princeton economist has estimated that 20% of the decline in prime male workforce participation is attributable to the opioid. And here’s the issue. In many of these occupations drug tests are sometimes mandated. If you are a federal contractor, you know, it’s mandated. If you work at a hospital, it is mandated. And this is a persistent, you know, anybody – look, if you are a construction company, are you going to want people on the job who might be under the influence? So, drug testing is a significant part of this issue. And on the one hand there is a tremendous opportunity, an opportunity we all like to think is the thing that would lift, help lift people out of this, but…
Kristin Kearns Jordan: So, I would focus in this one on belonging, right, does – and my focus is New York City, right, so I don’t know as much about the opioid crisis in rural areas. But what I do know here is that a key indicator of whether a student is going to succeed in college or in a job immediately after college is a sense that they belong in that organization, that they have what it takes to be successful in that organization. So then putting that back on us, the educators, we need to expose kids more, right? This can’t be a foreign environment when you get your first job. How do you respond to an e-mail? You know, kid’s texting norms are not the same as professional email norms. Kids need to have an opportunity to try on those norms, to look at how conflicts get mediated in a work environment. How do colleagues talk to each other? What is the way of interacting, right? So, exposure, whether it is through internships or through even days at work, right, you can do simple things to help give kids a picture of what it will look like to be in the workforce. Another thing that you were talking about, the sort of the persistently alienated I think is that kids need to see themselves as having to reinvent themselves multiple times over the course of a career. I think some people get stuck. I am a coalminer is the one that is in the paper all the time, but name your trade, name your profession. If you go into the world thinking that’s what I am, that’s what I’m going to do for the next fifty years, you are setting yourself up for a major stumble. And so sending the message to kids that they will have to continually adapt, they will continually have to reinvent themselves, and then creating educational experiences where they do that is going to be essential to preparing young people. It is harder, frankly, than teaching, you know, teaching a trade, helping kids to develop those navigational skills. And the third thing I think we have to do is help students recognize what are things that are quintessentially human, managing human dynamics, that are not going to be replaced by the robots, and making sure that our kids get good at those things. So, I think if we do those three things we mitigate the risk of future alienation. I don’t know how to address today’s workforce. I am really focused on the, you know, 13-to-19-year-old set, but that’s what I think going forward.
Howard Husock: Well, John, you ran a CTE school.
John Widlund: Yes.
Howard Husock: Right. What’s the interaction of students? Are there some students, does everybody who comes there, are they already motivated and that’s why they are there? Are there are some who are hanging by a thread and you have experience in helping them not be lost? Just help us understand a picture of that.
John Widlund: Sure. So, within the Career and Technical Education setting in the classroom or if it’s an off-site work-based learning opportunity, there is a high level of engagement. And so regardless of the specific teaching modality or subject area, there is a hands-on portion where you are applying what you have learned academically. So, basically the youngsters are doing something with the thing they just learned. That highly interactive experience awakens something in many kids who either knew what they wanted to be, had no idea what they wanted to be, but they are now with us or somewhere in between. So, we’ve got kids who are superstars who wind up in Harvard, and other youngsters who are over-age, under-credited, and excel in our classes. They don’t necessarily excel at all of their courses, but there is something magical about what happens when you apply what it is you just were exposed to. So, the lightening in a bottle – because CTE is not the cure for cancer – but the lightening in the bottle element is that you have an opportunity to apply what it is you just learned and it is highly intrinsically motivating when you find pleasure in it, or it is something you are interested in, or, in the case of paid work-based learning experiences, which is something we are really eager to expand, kids see a result, that they get paid for their labor.
Howard Husock: And you are paying internships right now.
John Widlund: We are paying them $13 an hour. So it rises…
Howard Husock: You, the City of New York, the Department of Education…
John Widlund: Yes. Correct.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: And graduation rates, it should be noted, among CTE schools or programs are 13% higher than among traditional college prep high schools and so – and I think most people close to it would say it’s exactly what John described, it’s the engagement factor. Right? Teachers are always trying to make their content engaging and relevant and applicable. The CTE department in our schools starts with a huge leg up, Right? They are out in boats planting oysters. They are out working with the FDNY developing their emergency skills. So there is a relevancy factor that is sort of the age-old question in education that I think CTE addresses.
Howard Husock: Right. And just underscore a word that John used, awaken, I thought that was a very apt word. We are going to get to audience questions in just a moment, but Kristin, Urban Assembly is starting its first charter school in the fall. You have run district schools under an arrangement with the Department of Education and your first charter school is going to be a CTE school. Does that tell us something about how we have to approach CTE, that we have to run in parallel or do an end-run around the educational establishment?
Kristin Kearns Jordan: We are hoping this charter will inform rather than end-run, but inform the work in district schools and sort of help us with advocacy. We are going to be able to do a lot with seat time, right, letting kids out so that they can go work, do their schooling on a business site. We can get more flexible with who teaches, right? Because we will have more flexibility in the charter sector.
Howard Husock: More flexible with who teaches, that sounds like a big deal.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: It’s a big deal. Yep. In CTE and in other subjects too. So, those are the two flexibilities that we think will allow us to get really creative. It’s a…
Howard Husock: And seat time means they can go to jobs and things like that.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: Right, right. There’s certain regulatory environments about how many hours you have to be in a seat, but in a classroom, in a New York City public school, in order to get the credits toward graduation. And, so, we are able to, in this new environment, get creative. Right? I mean, if you do a show of hands in most rooms. I will do a show of hands, okay. How many of you here…
Howard Husock: We are doing that today, yeah.
Kristin Kearns Jordan: How many of you here – you have two choices. The most stuff, the most important stuff I learned for my current job was at school, the most important stuff I learned for my current job was at a previous job. If the answer is school, please raise your hand. Your previous job, yeah. So, we want to give kids that experience earlier, and the charter flexibility will allow us to do it.
Howard Husock: Right. You’ve got a problem with that, John?
John Widlund: I even, even I raised my hand for that.
Howard Husock: No, with the charter idea how should the – you know, we have a lot of stories of a charged relationship between the DOA and the charter sector. Kristin says she wants to help inform what you are doing. Does that make sense?
John Widlund: My microphone is not working again. Listen, there are all shapes and sizes, and innovation has to be expansive. So I definitely understand the rationale behind the need to look at different models, including we work with innovative models ourselves. The Brooklyn S.T.E.A.M. Center, which principal Keyon Pryce, formerly from Edison High School with Principal Moses Ojeda – I was kind of hoping he had a chance to be here today – they live and breathe innovation. So, even in the traditional setting innovation can occur. The Brooklyn S.T.E.A.M. Center sounds similar to what Kristin just mentioned, is a half-day program allowing great flexibility…
Howard Husock: The Brooklyn S.T.E.A.M. Center, I don’t know that that means anything to anybody.
John Widlund: So, The Brooklyn S.T.E.A.M. Center is a consortium. It is eight schools in Brooklyn will send – are sending students for a half-day of career and technical education experiences. The final version of it will be housed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which is a really high-tech industrial park, on DUMBO Section of Brooklyn. And so, the schools, you know, being – the physical location is being conceived and built as we speak. So, kids will learn in an industrial setting. They will have paid internships with the companies that actually will eventually do the hiring in the industrial park. So we think that that’s a very promising strategy. It is similar to my school, Co-Op Tech, but this is 100% in the industrial park.
Howard Husock: What’s the S.T.E.A.M. part?
John Widlund: Excuse me?
Howard Husock: What’s the S.T.E.A.M. part?
John Widlund: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.
Howard Husock: Ah, it’s an acronym. Okay. Why did I not…
John Widlund: We could add other acronyms if you’d like. We were trying to get the word to be learned.
Steve Malanga: And I was just going to add, Howard, that most school districts, you know, in America are not doing nearly as much as New York City is. So, the charter model, or the independent school model, becomes a real vehicle for some places to try something else when their own CTE program is stuck.
Howard Husock: Oh, okay. I thought you said – okay. Well, I want to thank our panel. I want to thank them for what they are doing. And thank you for joining us.