Riley puts vocational schools admissions on Board of Education agenda

After listening to one person after another fault selective admissions policies at public vocational schools, the top state education official let people know where the state currently stands on the issue.

“We do anticipate bringing up the vocational admissions at our December board meeting,” Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said in a brief response to a chorus of testimony asserting that admissions policies at stacked against minority students.

Members of the Vocational Education Justice Coalition asked the board to force a policy switch that would grant equal access to admissions to anyone who has passed eighth grade, saying the change would open up access to jobs earning $40,000 to $50,000 a year for high school graduates who do not go on to college. They said it’s not fair for schools to pick their students based on grades, attendance, discipline and guidance counselor recommendations.

“The students who may need these schools the most are systemically shut out as the number of students from middle income households and college-bound students increase,” Barbara Fields, representing the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, told the board. “Students with great interest in pursing a career in vocational-technical education are unable to qualify for admittance to the schools, therefore relegating them to the lowest-paying jobs.”

Calling it “such an important issue,” board member Mary Ann Stewart had asked that the matter be placed on an upcoming meeting agenda and recalled that the board about a year ago was “going to start taking a look at some of the vocational admission policies.”

Riley then affirmed plans for the December meeting.

Board chair Katherine Craven suggested that the board also look at the long-term success of vocational education by exploring the rates at which students who attend the schools persist in their chosen fields after graduating.

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