Feb 3, 2023 - News

Massachusetts vocational schools draw scrutiny for admissions policies

Illustration of a giant hand writing grades on a revolving door

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new federal lawsuit against Massachusetts education leaders claims the state lets vocational and technical schools "systematically exclude" at-risk students.

The big picture: Votechs have been described as game-changers for low-income, nonwhite students seeking stable, well-paying careers in the trades. But advocates argue the admissions process is booting eligible candidates who fall under those categories.

Driving the news: The civil complaint was filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights on behalf of education advocates and two high school students of color.

  • Advocates are calling the admissions process at votech schools discriminatory, and asking the U.S. Department of Education to intervene.

Zoom in: The schools use a ranking system to admit applicants based on grades, attendance, interviews and other factors. Like private schools, they typically only accept the highest-ranking students, the complaint says.

  • Advocates say the ranking system undermines traditionally marginalized groups like students who are nonwhite, low-income, English language learners and disabled — all of whom are protected under federal law.

By the numbers: Of students who applied to votech schools for the 2022-2023 school year, 55% of the students of color were offered admission, compared to 69% of the white students, the complaint states, citing state data.

  • 54% of students from economically disadvantaged families received offers compared to 72% of their peers, per the complaint.
  • 44% of English language learners got offers, compared to 64% of non-ELLs.
  • 54% of students with disabilities received admissions offers compared to 65% of students without disabilities.

The state Department of Early and Secondary Education said in a statement it is reviewing the lawsuit and “cannot comment on the allegations at this time.”


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