Before he arrived at Staten Island's Ralph McKee High School, one of New York City's career and technical education (CTE) establishments, Norberto "Bert" Martinez was considered a special ed student. "I had an IEP through elementary school until the 11th grade," he told City Limits' Helen Zelon last year, referring to his individualized education plan, designed to support special-needs students. "But I never realized, I didn't need it. Neither did my mom or the resource room teacher. It wasn't doing me anything good." What did do him good was getting to a CTE school like McKee, where he studied auto mechanics before graduating last June. "I'm not very good at reading or writing but I've always been good with my hands," he told Zelon in April. "I've gotten a lot of opportunities here," he added. "I went from being a kid who couldn't read or write to honors classes."

A new report from the Community Service Society finds that the city's CTE schools have the potential to open doors for a whole population of students like Bert.

CTE schools serve students less likely to graduate high-school, but have higher than average graduation rates, the report finds. Black and Latino students demonstrate the largest gains: their graduation rate in regular high schools is 52 percent, but in CTE facilities blacks post a 63 percent and Latinos a 66 percent graduation rate. While students with really low or very high test scores don't see much difference in outcomes at CTE schools, CSS (which is City Limits' parent organization) finds, “those students who test just below proficiency on 8th grade exams—a critical group, given that they are the largest part of the distribution—see an important boost in graduation rates at CTE schools." It's worth noting that the schools created by the Bloomberg administration (with their small sizes and industry focus) post the best results.

College readiness is lower at CTE schools than elsewhere. But the biggest problem for the CTE system might be that there's not enough of it: Some 800 students who ranks CTE facilities as their top choice each year don't get placed at such a school. English language learners are particularly underserved, as our kids from Queens. In our 2013 report, we found that several aspects of an ambitious CTE reform plan adopted by the Bloomberg administration in 2008 never materialized, due mainly to budget constraints.

The CSS report's chief recommendation is rather simple: CTE schools work, so let's create more of them, while improving college readiness and accessibility to English language learners.

It's about giving students the tools they need to succeed—literally: On graduation day at McKee last June, Bert Martinez received the top prize: a $2,888 check from Lincoln Tech, where Bert was headed to study diesel mechanics, to cover "the cost of his tools."