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Facing discrimination in vocational schools

Meghan Corrigan in her construction technology class at Blue Hills Regional Technical School, in September.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

A lottery is only a partial solution

The concern around discriminatory admissions outcomes at Massachusetts’ vocational high schools is justified (“Voc-tech schools’ admissions criticized,” Page A1, March 18). Vocational school demographics — particularly those that serve Gateway Cities — do not reflect the socioeconomic and racial diversity of their communities. This problematic policy outcome is one aspect of a larger debate: Should voc-tech schools prepare students for college or train non-college-bound students for a high-demand trade?

The Commonwealth must view this dilemma as a chance to create both social mobility and equitable educational opportunity. Teenagers from poor and working-class families cannot continue to be shut out from programs to learn a skilled trade and gain a pathway to the middle class.


Many advocate for a lottery system to solve the inequity in current admissions. Certainly, a lottery is superior to the status quo — that’s why I filed legislation to implement such a system. But changing admissions standards alone will not create a path to a trade for thousands of students currently on wait lists across the state. In addition to admissions reform, the state needs to drastically expand investment in the vocational programs available at traditional high schools.

Jeffrey Riley, state commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, must drive change through regulatory reform and targeted grants to comprehensive high schools. It’s time for bold action.

John J. Cronin


The writer is a state senator representing Worcester and Middlesex counties.

Success has increased demand

Your March 18 article about the inequities in admissions to Massachusetts vocational schools is on target. As such schools have become more popular because of their success in preparing young people for both college and careers, they have often instituted admissions requirements that limit opportunities for disadvantaged students. This is ironic since, particularly in communities of color, these schools still carry a stigma from their past as a “dumping ground” for students who lagged in academic achievement, including low-income and Black and Latino youth, English learners, and those with disabilities.


Yet today, students who attend such schools have higher graduation rates and, often, higher earnings than those who follow an academic pathway. Those earnings may help them to pay for postsecondary education which, as your article notes, may be required for some technical careers, such as those in health care.

Unfortunately, the article also perpetuates the use of the outdated term vocational education, which is no longer used in most states, where it is called career and technical education. The use of this term has been promoted in order to help shed the stigma of the “old” vocational-technical education (voc-tech), and I would urge the Globe to adopt the updated terminology.

Ilene Kantrov


The writer is former director of Career and Workforce Success programs at Education Development Center in Waltham and is a current board member of the National Career Academy Coalition.

Isn’t there a simpler answer?

It may seem simplistic, but the answer to the admissions issue at Massachusetts vocational schools is to create more slots. This may be expensive, but the alternative outcome of unskilled adults is more costly. It is ridiculous that any student who is willing to study and improve their future should be turned away from a vocational school.

Ellen Penso

West Newton