Editor’s Note: The following article has been updated to reflect the correction that appears below.
BOSTON – A coalition of community groups is pushing the state to change the rules for admission to vocational schools they claim to choose from students using a “discriminatory” process.
In a briefing broadcast live Thursday, advocates blasted the selective admission standards used by vocational schools which they say attract top-performing students while eliminating minorities and low-income children.
They are calling on education officials to require the state’s 37 vocational schools to use lotteries, like other public schools, to fill classrooms. Currently, candidates are graded on their academic, attendance and disciplinary records.
Jack Livramento, a member of the Massachusetts Community Action Network, said the changes are crucial to help “all students who have studied, worked and graduated from college and who have yet to be accepted into a vocational technical high school due to discriminatory admissions policy. “
âWe need to remove the current policy and replace it with a system that is equally fair to all,â Livramento said.
Education Commissioner Jeff Riley is expected to propose changes to vocational school admission policies to the State Council for Elementary and Secondary Education next month. Details of these plans have not been released.
In November, Riley singled out six vocational schools that had “enrollment differences” between their student demographics and those of traditional high schools in their communities. He sent letters to schools – in New Bedford, Charlton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Upton and Worcester – asking them to voluntarily make changes to admissions policies “that could impact equitable student access.” .
City leaders, including Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday and Haverhill Mayor Jim Fiorentini, wrote to Reilly last year and asked him to remove current admission policies.
“The fundamental lack of fairness in regional professional admissions has persisted for far too long in Massachusetts,” the mayors wrote. “The practice cannot be justified by any legitimate educational need, or as a basis for determining which students have the ‘capacity to benefit’ from vocational education.”
Nearly 23,000 Massachusetts high school students are enrolled in vocational and technical education programs. An estimated 4,000 students are on waiting lists to enter schools, according to the nonprofit Alliance for Vocational Technical Education.
Juan Cofield, NAACP president for the New England region, directly asked Gov. Charlie Baker to change the “discriminatory” admissions policy.
“The failure of the board of directors to end racial discrimination is very disturbing,” he said. “The governor should have a heart-to-heart discussion with those appointed by his board of directors.”
Construction groups say the state’s labor market is constrained by the lack of vocational school graduates entering the trades. More than 80% of current professional students end up going to college, according to state data.
Tom Fischer, executive director of the North Atlantic States Carpenters Training Fund, said that among minority students in its training programs, only 1% came from vocational schools in Massachusetts.
He said the schools’ admission policies must support students “who are genuinely interested in pursuing a career in the construction trades.”
Senator Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, said vocational schools are a path to the middle class for many low-income students and selective admissions rob them of that opportunity.
“It blocks people of color, immigrants and people from poorer areas,” he said Thursday. âFrankly, these are exactly the populations who need and deserve the most this type of skills development. “
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the websites of the North of Boston Media Group. Email him at [email protected]
CORRECTION – A front page article in Friday’s Eagle-Tribune incorrectly identified Whittier Regional Vocational Technical School and Grand Lawrence Technical High School as among six schools that received letters from the Education Commissioner Jeff Riley regarding admissions practices. The notices, motivated by the differences in student populations compared to traditional high schools, were sent to vocational schools in New Bedford, Charlton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Upton and Worcester.