Our New Report on Career & Tech Ed in Baltimore City Public Schools Calls for Significant Restructuring to Improve Student Outcomes

While Baltimore City Public Schools describes career and technical education (CTE) as giving students “a leg up toward an in-demand, well-paid career,” students report struggling to navigate an inflexible program lacking promised hands-on experiences and career advising. Many who successfully complete CTE programs earn poverty-level wages six years after graduating from high school.

Those are just some of the conclusions in the report we released today: Broken Pathways: The Cracks in Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools.

Reports produced by the Fund take an honest look at systems and issues with a significant impact on City School students’ access to an excellent education. Our goal is to shine a light on what works, what doesn’t and what is required to create the environment where all students can succeed. In the process, we bring student, family and community voices to policy discussions – enlisting their perspectives and sharing their ideas for progress.

Broken Pathways: The Cracks in Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools is the product of individual interviews with almost 140 former CTE students and current teachers. The “bottom line” recommendation is that the district should restructure CTE in order to provide students with experiences and training that will lead to meaningful careers and wages.

Report Findings

More than 9,500 Baltimore City public high school students – 44% of the high school population – are enrolled in CTE. According to the district, CTE provides students with “rigorous academic courses and….work-based learning opportunities, including job shadowing, mentoring with industry professionals or internships.”

Yet, 67% of the students interviewed reported an annual salary of less than $12,200. A 2016 Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) study we cite in Broken Pathways shows those who successfully complete a CTE program earn an annual median income of under $13,000 six years after high school graduation. 

Student and teacher voices in the report describe a program in need of an overhaul, with flawed implementation and structure.

Our interviews reveal that there is minimal career-related advising and little exposure to real-world work experiences. Often, students are illogically placed in CTE programs – sometimes ones in which they have no interest. Most students don’t earn the certifications required to obtain a related job – especially if their teacher leaves before the completion of the program. And students are often unable to transfer to different programs should they want to do so.

CTE teachers reported light course-loads (some only instruct 15-30 students a year), ineffective professional development, and uncertainty about the certification deadlines required to maintain teaching positions. Teachers also had challenges with funding allocations for materials, equipment, and out-of-school experiences.

The report provides a range of student stories that illustrate these concerns.

Report Recommendations

Broken Pathways: The Cracks in Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools lists wide-ranging and practical recommendations rooted in student and teacher experiences.

  • The majority of Baltimore City Public School CTE programming should be located at two or three easily accessible centers. Students would take CTE classes at these centers and core academic classes at their home schools. This structure would give students access to all programs regardless of home school and enhance teacher collaboration while reducing the redundant finances required in a system with dozens of sites housing CTE programs.
  • In order to ensure students have the reading and math proficiency required for entry-level jobs aligned to specific CTE programs, establish clearly-defined program specific academic           prerequisites.
  •  Students should be given more than a single 45- or 72-minute period each day to master their CTE course material.
  • Each CTE center should have a team of work-based learning coordinators to match students with internships, as well as at least one counselor for every 250 students.
  • Stakeholders in local industries should review CTE curricula, advise on how to align instruction with industry practices, and advocate for programs connected to their industry.
  • Year-round, paid internships should be arranged for all CTE students via district partnership with Youthworks.

These recommendations have the potential to improve post-graduate outcomes for many of the students currently enrolled in CTE programs. If we are truly committed to preparing them for 21st century careers and personal success, then we must create programming that matches that commitment.

The full report is available here. Interested in learning more? Contact sydneys@ffee.org to set up a briefing on our findings and recommendations.

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