Group calls for lottery system for admission to vocational schools

Proposed new state education regulations are a major breakthrough toward reforming a discriminatory policy on admissions to vocational schools, a coalition of advocates for students says, but a lottery system would still be fairer.

“A lottery system would be fairer to all 8th grade students applying to vocational schools,” said Jack Livramento, a New Bedford School Committee member and leader in Massachusetts Communities Action Network.

In a memo last week, Jeffrey Riley, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, outlined proposed amendments to the Career/Vocational Technical Education admissions regulations.

The goal, Riley said, is to provide districts offering CVTE programs with flexibility to develop local admissions policies that promote equitable access, comply with state and federal laws and regulations, and receive annual approval from the district’s school committee or board of trustees.

The proposed amendments include allowing admission policies to use selective criteria only when there are more applicants than available seats.

The proposals would remove the requirement to use four criteria — grades, attendance, discipline record and a counselor’s recommendation — and prohibit the consideration of excused absences and minor behavior or disciplinary infractions.

Those criteria result in racial discrimination and higher proportions of students of color, English learners, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students being made ineligible, said the Vocational Education Justice Coalition.

Data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2019 shows the acceptance rate for students of color was about 60%, compared to 73% for white students.

In all, the coalition said, some 20,000 students attend vocational public schools in the state, but no other Massachusetts public school has admissions requirements except three Boston exam schools.

Vocational schools are allowed to operate a lottery system, the coalition said, but none of them do so. Instead, they use the ranking system Riley proposes eliminating.

Coalition member Dan French, of the Center for Collaborative Education, said that while he applauds the proposed change, it needs to define “minor” when it mentions behavior or disciplinary infractions.

There also needs to be stringent oversight and enforcement of the proposed new regulations when it comes to the new admissions policies each CVTE school must submit in August, the coalition said.

A spokeswoman for DESE did not return calls Wednesday.

In his memo, Riley said he will bring the proposed changes to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this month.

With the board’s approval at its April 20 meeting, the department will solicit public comment on the proposals and incorporate feedback, with the goal of bringing the changes back to the board for a final vote in June.

Read More