CommonWealth Magazine


PROPOSED CHANGES TO Vocational school admission policies, which the state developed after years of pressure from city leaders and advocates, do not go far enough to ensure access to schools for all students, says a coalition of groups civil rights, education and community.

The Vocational Education Justice Coalition is calling on the State Council for Elementary and Secondary Education to make changes to the proposed regulations when the new policies are put to a vote at its monthly meeting next Tuesday.

“We call on the board … to act for justice and fairness,” Barbara Fields of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts said at a Thursday morning press briefing hosted by members of the coalition.

State vocational high schools have been allowed, under state regulations, to admit students using selective entry criteria, including college grades, attendance record, and history of attendance. disciplined. Critics say that led to huge disparities in school enrollment voc relative to surrounding school districts for student groups protected by federal civil rights laws, including students of color, learners of English, students with disabilities, and those from low-income households.

In April, State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley unveiled the proposed new regulation to solve the problem. The new regulations would not allow schools to use admission criteria that would have a disproportionate effect on a protected class of students, unless they could demonstrate that those standards are “essential to participation” in a program. professional training and that there are no other equally effective standards that would not have such an effect.

The proposed new regulations state that all entrance policies must aim to enroll a student body with a “comparable academic and demographic profile” to the home school districts from which the students come.

“The proposed changes to [vocational school] admissions regulations follow extensive engagement and discussions with stakeholders, ”Riley said today in a statement. “I think we can best address this complex problem by allowing schools and individual programs to establish policies that meet the needs of their home communities and comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations to promote access. equitable for all students, while retaining the role of the ministry to monitor compliance and intervene when necessary.

Peter Enrich, a professional coalition member and professor emeritus at Northeastern University School of Law, said simply ensuring comparable demographics in vocational schools and sending districts did not meet federal standards in civil rights. “This is not the requirement,” he said in Thursday’s virtual briefing by lawyers. “The requirement is that you do not use criteria that exclude in a discriminatory manner. We predict that, as part of a fair process, in many schools there would be more students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students of color, English language learners, who would like to take advantage of the programs. professionals.

Under the proposed new regulations, the state would allow schools to continue to use the grades, discipline, attendance and recommendations of counselors to make admissions decisions, but they would no longer be able to weigh excused absences or minor disciplinary offenses as a factor.

Advocates have urged the state to consider using a lottery to select students from among those who meet a basic standard, such as passing grade 8. Enrich argued that all of the selective criteria used by vocational schools have been shown in research to have discriminatory effects on sheltered classes of students. He said that viewing their use as “essential” contradicts the goal of having vocational schools to enroll students of comparable academic training in sending districts.

“Ranking, by definition, does not set a minimum standard essential to participation, but rather a selection based on, for example, the level of your grades,” he said. Enrich said that the academic ranking of applicants by marks is also inconsistent with one of the premises of vocational schools and the hands-on approach to learning they offer – that they are “most valuable to children who have less successful in university colleges “.

The coalition also challenged plans in the new regulations to require the state to review enrollment data over time and intervene in cases where admissions policies “do not comply with laws and regulations. applicable state and federal regulations “. Advocacy groups want the state to undertake a thorough review and approval process from the outset of new admission policies adopted as a result of the planned change in regulations.

A handful of larger school districts, including Boston, Worcester and Springfield, have their own voc-tech schools, but the mainstay of the state’s voc-tech sector is a cluster of 28 regional vocational schools, each of which function essentially as its own independent school district, attracting students from a defined set of surrounding communities.

All but two of the regional voc-tech schools have significant enrollment disparities compared to sending districts in the four protected classes of students – students of color, English learners, people with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students. – said Dan French, Executive Director of the Center for Collaborative Education. He said the remaining two schools had disparities on three of the four measures, and nearly four in five regional vocational schools had at least one enrollment disparity that negatively affected a protected group of more than 20 percentage points.

“We have a glaring inequity problem, not a moderate problem,” French said. He said the enrollment disparities require a solid set of reforms to be corrected. “Instead, what we are seeing is a proposed set of regulations that are very lukewarm at best to solve the problems.”

Lew Finfer, of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a leader of the Vocational Schools Advocacy Coalition, said the groups have met in recent weeks with 10 of the 11 state education board members, and he hopes the panel will consider further changes to the admission regulations at its meeting next week.

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Executive editor, Commonwealth

About Michael jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in Massachusetts journalism since the early 1980s. Prior to joining the CommonWealth team in early 2001, he was an editor for the magazine for two years. Her cover story in the Fall 1999 issue of CommonWealth on Boston Youth Outreach Workers was shortlisted for a National Crime and Delinquency Council PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) award.

Michael made his journalism debut at Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston’s largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the City Weekly section of the Boston Sunday Globe.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he co-produced “The AIDS Quarterly,” a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s he worked as a producer for “Our Times,” a weekly magazine on WHDH- TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in Massachusetts journalism since the early 1980s. Prior to joining the CommonWealth team in early 2001, he was an editor for the magazine for two years. Her cover story in the Fall 1999 issue of CommonWealth on Boston Youth outreach workers was shortlisted for a National Crime and Delinquency Council PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) award.

Michael made his journalism debut at Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston’s largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the City Weekly section of the Boston Sunday Globe.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he co-produced “The AIDS Quarterly,” a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s he worked as a producer for “Our Times,” a weekly magazine on WHDH- TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Finfer said a third of the members seemed “very sympathetic” to the coalition’s point of view, a third seemed “open” to arguments and a third seemed in favor of the new settlement, as proposed.

“We don’t think this is a done deal,” he said.

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