To improve access to vocational schools, Mass. removes the requirement to take grades, attendance or discipline into account in admissions


The change in state admissions policy was the first in two decades and highlights a broader movement across the country to provide disadvantaged students with more equitable access to sought-after educational programs. In Boston, for example, the school committee is evaluating changes to the use of test scores in the admissions process at the city’s three exam schools.

The vote – approved by all members of the Elementary and Secondary Education Council except Parents’ Representative Mary Ann Stewart, who voted present (a form of abstention) – aims to ensure that the people Female vocational school students more closely reflect the demographics of their local school districts. . A single set of “state-mandated admission criteria” is not best for students, families or schools, Commissioner Jeffrey Riley wrote in a note to the board.

Vocational schools should create “data-driven admissions policies,” Riley said Tuesday, although the board left it up to each school to determine what those criteria would be. New admission plans should also be approved annually by local vocational school boards.

Yessenia Alfaro, of Chelsea, spoke at a protest outside the State Department of Education in Malden on Tuesday morning. Christiana Botic for the Boston Globe

The changes were recommended by Riley and pre-approved by the board in April. While the new admissions policy will apply to the entry class of 2022, it could also affect transfer requests in the 2021-22 school year.

“It’s not just vocational schools that are going to have to change,” Riley said. Local neighborhoods “Need to allow kids to have better access to schools to see professional programming, to participate in tours, and that’s something else we want to do and make sure we make sure districts are doing it . “

Riley also pointed out that the change will give Massachusetts education officials the right to intervene if a school’s admissions policy does not comply with state and federal laws. The state can order policy changes and might even require a lottery scheme.

“Last year we gave vocational schools the opportunity to make changes, and we didn’t feel like they had done a big enough job to do it,” he said. declared.

Ahead of the vote, Stewart, the lone non-voter, said he was concerned about the lack of clarity in the bylaws about what would be considered an unfair practice and what would cause council to step in and impose a lottery system.

“One of my concerns is whether the proposed regulations are really clear enough about what directors are supposed to do,” she said. expressing concern that grades, although no longer mandatory, could still be used in new data-driven policies that could hurt the chances of admission for English learners, students of color and people with disabilities .

In a public comment period ahead of the vote, State Senator John Cronin also urged the council to create clear regulations and standards for vocational schools. Without them, he said, the state “is simply asking itself the hardest questions” surrounding the problem.

But giving administrators the latitude to develop their own admissions policies recognizes the complexity of the problem, said Bradford L. Jackson, superintendent-principal of Shawsheen Valley Technical High School, in an interview. After the meeting. A single admissions policy does not allow each technical school to take into account its own shortcomings, he said.

Members of La Colaborativa, a community group that is part of the <a class=Vocational Education Justice Coalition, demonstrated in Malden on Tuesday.” class=”height_a width_full width_full–mobile width_full–tablet-only” src=”” bad-src=”×0/”/>
Members of La Colaborativa, a community group that is part of the Vocational Education Justice Coalition, demonstrated in Malden on Tuesday.Christiana Botic for the Boston Globe

In Shawsheen, which serves five communities north of Boston, English language learners make up less than 2 percent of the student body. In its communities, however, 8 percent of students learn English. Jackson hasn’t decided exactly how Shawsheen will change his admissions policy, but figuring out where English learners – and other under-represented students – get lost will be part of the process, he said.

“It was the best way to move us towards the goal” of a more diverse student body, Jackson said.

A group called the Vocational Education Justice Coalition said the admission change does not go far enough. Comprised of politicians, activists, civil rights organizations and trade unions, the coalition called the state’s professional admission policies “discriminatory” against students of color, economically disadvantaged students, and learners. of English and students with disabilities.

Coalition leaders urged the state to adopt a lottery system to distribute places in vocational schools, rather than waiting for a school to need the intervention.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, outside the Malden Department of Primary and Secondary Education, a dozen coalition members demonstrated with signs reading “Vocational schools are public schools” and “Equal opportunities for all. “.

“The two [students’] lived experience as well as research shows that discipline, grades, absences, interviews, counselor recommendations, these are all things that have been proven by decades of research, but also literally all of these people have had completely prejudiced experiences, ”said Anna Hadingham, youth organization coordinator at La Colaborativa, a coalition member.

Coalition members also expressed disappointment that heads of state did not fully take their recommendations into account in the changes.

“We are troubled by the [regulation] because although it has a certain net positive it has other lines that seem to allow them to sue their system, which is the root of the discrimination, ”said Lew Finfer, director of special projects at Massachusetts Communities Action Network, during the demonstration.

A separate group protesting against mask warrants in schools attempted to eclipse, and at times became at odds with, the Vocational Educational Justice Coalition.
A separate group protesting against mask warrants in schools attempted to eclipse, and at times became at odds with, the Vocational Educational Justice Coalition.Christiana Botic for the Boston Globe

Coalition protesters were heckled by counter-protesters, who held up placards against masking and vaccinating children, and shouted epithets, including “Learn English” and “Why don’t you turn around. not where you come from? One of them chanted: “We are not racists.

Tuesday’s meeting – the last regular council meeting until September – has been repeatedly interrupted by the group of community members angry at a mask-wearing mandate that authorities have already dropped for the school year 2021-22. The board first paused briefly as the people in the room continued to speak above the board members; once outside, protesters briefly knocked on windows as the meeting continued.

Although the mask’s mandate and other COVID-19 safety protocols have been relaxed, state education officials plan to work with the Department of Public Health to determine if any additional health and safety protocols. security are due out later this summer.

Correction: A previous version of this story distorted Lew Finfer’s role with the Massachusetts Communities Action Network. He is the director of special projects.

Felicia Gans can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans. Kate Lusignan can be reached at [email protected]


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