Don’t perpetuate the stereotype
Who can be against fairness in admissions? But “Fighting for fairness in vocational-ed admissions” (Editorial, March 28) perpetuates an old stereotype, that vocational education is for “students who don’t plan to go to college.” Vocational education is not an alternative to college; rather, for many students, it is an alternative pathway to college, one that combines academic and hands-on learning, exposes them to the world of work, and positions them to make informed choices about their future. Given that virtually all good jobs now require some education beyond high school, it should be no surprise these schools are in high demand, since many have higher college-going rates than the surrounding high schools.
Over time, the goal should be that the demographics of vocational schools reflect the demographics of the communities they serve. But students should understand they need to compete for entrance in schools where demand exceeds supply, and schools should have the right to set minimum criteria for entrance into the pool from which a lottery will determine admission. The criteria might include such things as student letters of interest, grades, attendance, and teacher recommendations. The last thing we want to do is go back to a world in which vocational schools are viewed as second-class, only for students perceived as not capable of doing rigorous academic work.
The writer is professor emeritus of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and coauthor of “Learning for Careers.”
Give the people what they want
In “Fighting for fairness in vocational-ed admissions,” the Globe editorial board advances the idea of a lottery to put more fairness into these schools’ admissions. Here is another idea along the same lines: Give the people what they want. If there is a long line to get into vocational schools, that is a clue that the demand is there. School districts and school committees can either respond to that, or they can say, “We know what’s best for your kids, and it isn’t these schools you’re lining up for.”
If school committees asked, they might find that there is a demand among parents and students for a small high school (versus the mega high school that is typically the one and only choice) or for a school with a wider range of course choices than the narrow college-track curriculum. Their wider range may be part of the reason for the demand for vocational schools. The job of a school committee should be simple: Just two steps: (1) Find out what people want. (2) Give it to them.
Let’s invest in upskilling an adult labor force
We applaud the recent attention to increasing capacity at vocational-technical schools (”Fighting for fairness in vocational-ed admissions”) as well as adding more career and technical education courses at local high schools. While this will support long-term planning, we need to also bring attention to meeting the need for skilled labor today. Massachusetts has the opportunity to invest in upskilling adults and immigrants, and we must enhance these investments for adult training pathways to keep our economy moving. Thankfully, we have built some of these pipelines through innovative nonprofit training organizations, the state’s Commonwealth Corporation, and community colleges. As we anticipate an influx of federal stimulus dollars, scaling up skills training and English-language courses for adults would be an effective investment for the Commonwealth.
Executive director, The Workforce Solutions Group
Bring work-based learning to all schools
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius has outlined a vision for investments in education (“A renewed vision for Boston Public Schools,” Opinion, March 29). I believe, as highlighted in your recent coverage of Massachusetts vocational schools, there should be a strong commitment to address a lack of access to career and technical education. In addition to addressing enrollment issues in CTE, we should increase work-based learning for all Massachusetts high school students and provide experiences like the state’s Innovation Pathways that help students with career choice.
Our vocational schools are national models of excellence. So it’s not surprising they attract students from all backgrounds. With limited enrollment, many students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are missing out. I believe our students are choosing vocational schools because they want to test and try. This generation is self-directed and looks practically at educational decisions as means to an end: pursuing a career driven by their passions and interests.
They crave “real world” experience that vocational schools offer and opportunities to apply learning and gain experience in careers before they graduate high school. Vocational schools are answering this cry. But so can work-based learning and Innovation Pathways incorporated into every high school, providing all students with equitable access to opportunity.
The writer is president and CEO of American Student Assistance, a Boston-based nonprofit assisting students in education and career choices.