Massachusetts education commissioner recommends flexibility in voc-tech admissions

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BOSTON, MA: April 21, 2020: Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley, right, joins Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to provide an update on Coronavirus in the state during a press conference at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, Massachusetts.(Staff photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

BOSTON (WWLP) – Proposed changes to admissions regulations for vocational-technical schools would give those institutions flexibility to set their own admissions policies “that promote equitable access,” make clear that state officials can order changes in cases of non-compliance, and restrict use of admissions criteria that disproportionately exclude students in protected classes.

Education Commissioner Jeff Riley outlined the changes in a memo to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, writing that a year’s worth of discussion has shown “that applying a single set of state-prescribed admissions criteria is not in the best interests of students, families, and vocational schools and programs.”

The board plans to vote Tuesday to solicit public comment on the amendments, with a final vote penciled in for June. The Vocational Education Justice Coalition, which been seeking admissions policy changes for three years, described the proposal as a “a Major Breakthrough toward reforming the discriminatory vocational schools and programs admissions policy,” but said it still has some concerns.

The coalition said it supports admissions lotteries when there are more applicants than seats. If schools and programs create their own policies, the group said, “the success of these new regulations is dependent on stringent Department annual review of vocational school and program admissions policies to ensure compliance with civil rights law and faithful adherence to the words of the legal requirements.”

An analysis of waitlist data presented to the board on Feb. 22 showed 60.4 percent of students of color who applied to vocational schools for ninth grade and 73.2 percent of white applicants received offers of admission. Whittier Tech Superintendent Maureen Lynch, president-elect of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators, said Riley’s proposal is part of a broader effort “to ensure every student, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or any other demographic, who wants to attend a career and technical education program has equal access and the opportunity to do so.” 

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