On Thursday, March 18, Revere Education Justice Alliance (REJA) and the Vocational Education Justice Coalition (VEJA) demanded state action to create a fair admissions policy for vocational high schools in Massachusetts. Civil rights, community and labor groups, state legislators and mayors have spoken out, saying the current admissions policy ranking high school students based on disciplinary records, grades and attendance is discriminatory and unfair. They called on Governor Charles Baker, Department of Secondary and Elementary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, and the State Board of Education to change the policy to a lottery system so that all students have access to these public schools. The current vocational school admissions policy means that fewer students of color, immigrants and low-income Revere students have been admitted to Metro Northeast Regional Vocational High School than if there were a lottery for admission to this public school.
To attend the state’s 26 regional technical schools, applying students are ranked and screened based on grades, attendance, discipline, and guidance counselor recommendations, with the option to add an interview . Schools are allowed to use a lottery instead, but none of the vocational schools choose to do so. Each of these factors is used in a discriminatory way to exclude students who have the capacity to benefit from vocational-technical education.
College students excluded by these admissions policy factors are disproportionately students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students.
If a student graduated from a vocational technical high school, even if he does not go to college, he can get a job of $50,000 per year. But if they graduate from a district high school, skip trades, and go straight to work, they get a $25,000-a-year job. A large part of what their life will be is then preparing. Vocational schools across the state all have waiting lists totaling 4,000 or more, especially in gateway cities.
Twenty-four mayors signed a letter to DESE Commissioner Riley asking for major changes in admissions policy. Additionally, the Gateway Cities Caucus of State Legislators is circulating a letter to colleagues asking for major changes in admissions policy. State Sen. John Cronin (D-Lunenberg, Fitchburg, Gardiner) introduced a bill, SD2087, to change admissions policy to a lottery.
DESE Commissioner Jeff Riley is expected to present his proposed admissions policy change at a school board meeting in April. That’s probably what’s in the final decision, but a three-month public comment follows with the Board of Education taking a final vote. However, the commissioner’s proposal almost always becomes the final adopted proposal.
The Vocational Education Justice Coalition has been organizing these changes for more than two years. It is made up of community, civil rights and labor groups. Its members testified in person before the State Board of Education and met individually with 10 of the 12 members of the State Board of Education to make their case. They also met with DESE Commissioner Jeff Riley twice on this issue.
REJA supports the Coalition’s calls for change. They want greater access to professional education for all Revere students, as explained by their members, public educators and leaders of community organizations.
“As a former eighth-grade teacher who helped students apply to vocational programs, it became increasingly clear that vocational schools were not accepting, enrolling and, therefore, not supporting a vital subgroup of students who have been historically oppressed by the traditional K-12 education system.Vocational schools are expected to provide additional pathways and opportunities for students who are interested in a variety of subjects not covered in the field of public education, so it is concerning and disturbing to see so little thought and concern to ensure that all students are invited, supported and represented in these programs,” said Dr. Asha Chana, HRH ELL teacher. “With an almost 20% difference between ELLS and non-ELLS in vocational training programs, it is imperative that change begins now for our most vulnerable populations. the and under-represented”.
“When I started working at SeaCoast High School, the alternative high school in Revere, students often talked about applying to the local vocational school. Now nobody talks about it. Students come to SeaCoast because they didn’t make it through traditional high school. Says Karen Suttle, LICSW, school social worker, at SeaCoast High School. “Our school provides students with alternative paths to academic success instead of leaving school early. graduation. When students talk about dropping out, vocational schools are not part of the conversation. Our students have not met the selective admissions criteria due to disciplinary records, attendance, grades, or MCAS status. Despite the growth and improvements to SeaCoast, those previous records for discipline, attendance, or academic issues are still held against them. Not everyone is college bound. Every student learns differently. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to benefit from what a vocational training program has to offer.
“As a parent and advocate for educational justice, we need regional vocational schools to reflect the school demographics of Revere and Chelsea.” Said Olga Tacure, Executive Director of WEE. “We need a lottery system, so that more students can access it, especially undocumented students who have limited options and opportunities to continue their education after high school. “
“As the majority of BIPOC and Title I school districts like Revere strive to deliver on their promises of an equitable pandemic recovery, center anti-racism, and end the school-to-school pipeline prison, the state must eliminate all discriminatory public school admissions policies to support these efforts. Sandy Wright, co-director of Revere Youth in Action, said, “Every student who wants to apply should have a shot at getting into vocational school. A lottery system is the solution.
On March 18, the following state and regional leaders also advocated for the changes.
“The Carpenters Union Apprenticeship Fund takes great pride in its mission to create diverse learning. Our relationships with community organizations dedicated to diversity in the construction trades have been extremely valuable in this mission. The one area of recruiting that is not helping us develop diverse learning is recruiting to vocational schools in Massachusetts. Of the 34% of minority apprentices currently in our program, just 1% come from vocational schools in Massachusetts. We hope that those responsible for determining entry requirements for secondary vocational training programs will find solutions that will remedy this inequity. Thomas Fisher, director of training for the Carpenters Union
“Every day in Chelsea, we witness the consequences of an economic system that excludes and marginalizes poor and immigrant youth of colour. We can barely meet the current demand for emergency food and housing assistance from of our young people who are forced to accept low-paying, demoralizing jobs that do not begin to cover the high cost of living in the Boston area, let alone a college education.Access to vocational education would guarantee our most vulnerable young people an alternative path to dignified work opportunities, but state guidelines for professional admissions use criteria such as grades, attendance, and interviews that have been shown to discriminate against youth of color and English language learners We believe the admissions policy is a serious and widespread violation of civil rights that must be addressed at the state level. adys Vega, Director of La Colaborativa (formerly Chelsea Collaborative)
“Factors used in admissions to voc-tech schools and voc-tech programs could violate students’ civil rights because they eliminate a disproportionate number of middle school children of color, English language learners, and children disabled, as well as economically disadvantaged children. , who graduated, were deemed ready for high school and could benefit from these programs. At a time when the nation and the Commonwealth are faced with the challenge of addressing the legacy and exacerbation of deep-seated inequalities, any failure to use a clear legal mandate to completely eliminate an important element of this inequality is unthinkable. At the same time, the elimination of these discriminatory factors will benefit not only the members of these groups, but all children – regardless of their race, language, disability or family income – who could benefit but who are currently being denied equal opportunity to participate based on their past grades, attendance, or disciplinary records,” said Paul Wecktstein of the Center for Law and Education.
ACCEPTANCE RATE STATISTICS
Excerpt from the report “Career/Vocational Technical Education — Update to the Council for Primary and Secondary Education, February 22, 2021”
• The acceptance rate for students of color was 60.4% compared to 73.2% for whites
• The acceptance rate for English Language Learners (ELL) was 51.5% compared to 69.1% for non-ELLs
• The acceptance rate for economically disadvantaged people was 58.5% compared to 75.4% for non-EcoDs
• The acceptance rate for students with disabilities was 58.2% compared to 71.1% for non-SWD
• The acceptance rate of non-English mother tongue was 57.3% compared to 70.7% for non-FLNE
NOTE: And this does not include all students who do not apply because they know they have little or no chance of admission or whose guidance counselor does not mention it because of this.