Admissions to vocational schools need a solution


In this season of social justice, everything is – or should be – being reexamined, especially educational opportunities, from which so many other opportunities arise.

Vocational education, finally, gets that second look – which comes into highly sought-after programs, with their promise of preparation for well-paying jobs, and how to open those opportunities to more black and Latino students and those of the poorest. households. The question is also whether there are enough programs to meet the range of needs of Commonwealth students.

“Students who might need these schools the most are being systematically excluded as the number of students from middle-income households and college-bound students increases,” said Barbara Fields of the Black Educators Alliance. of Massachusetts to the State Board of Education last week. . “Students who are very interested in a career in technical and vocational education cannot be admitted to schools, relegating them to the lower paying jobs,” said Fields.

More than three dozen public vocational schools in Massachusetts serve more than 36,000 students in what has clearly become a highly competitive atmosphere. Several thousand more are on the waiting lists.

These are not, after all, your father’s store classes. Of course, there are the traditional automotive, electrical and plumbing programs, but also cosmetology, culinary arts, early childhood education, medical assistance, hotel management, and design programs. websites, as well as the required academic programs.

Not surprisingly, demand is high and available slots are limited, so schools can afford to be selective. But some are far too selective, according to two dozen mayors, many of whom are from gateway towns across the state, who begged the Board of Education in a letter last January to make the admissions process fairer for students who could benefit the most.

Currently, students applying to eighth year are admitted on the basis of grades, disciplinary records, attendance, and usually the recommendation of a guidance counselor or administrator who has conducted an in-person interview. While many see them as reasonable standards for a school that can be selective, the result in many vocational and technical schools has been a less diverse student body than the districts in which they are located.

The disparities are particularly acute in the representation of English language learners, compared to their large populations in cities like Lawrence and New Bedford which host vocational schools. A table documenting these disparities accompanied this letter from the mayors and the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Some of the vocational technical schools, especially those with some of the state’s highest MCAS scores, have reinvented themselves as “top alternatives to full high schools for college students,” the mayors say. Many now offer advanced placement courses, which is great for students interested in college, but not so great for students who prefer to focus on a high paying profession. It is clear that a wide range of options for vocational schools is needed, as well as a better system for removing bias in admissions to the best.

The mayors, the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the recently formed Vocational Education Justice Coalition propose a lottery system similar to that used for charter schools, but with certain “vetting criteria,” such as successfully completing the previous class and being exempt from “serious” disciplinary sanctions. fees (set out in state regulations). A minor offense in college, the coalition rightly argues, should not doom a student’s chances of being admitted to a program that puts them on the path to a better future.

The consequences – unintended or not – of the existing admission criteria have become increasingly evident over the years. Last November, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley sent notices to six schools reporting “enrollment gaps” between their student demographics and those of high schools in the local district. He asked schools to review their policies, including admissions policies “which may have an impact on equitable student access to the strong vocational and technical programs offered by your school, and to voluntarily adopt changes.” .

In the meantime, a pandemic has struck and schools are struggling to stay open. But the state must not lose sight of this problem.

Part of the solution, of course, is to expand programs with more state dollars, which is unlikely in this cash-strapped year. But the rest of the solution lies with Riley and the State Council, who have vowed to put the issue on their December agenda. Another year must not pass without reforms and without resources to help the young people who could benefit the most of these schools.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.


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