We read together. We are deeply concerned about efforts to impose a blind lottery admissions process on nationally accredited vocational technical high schools by amending the state budget. Without a public hearing. Without public debate. Without any research on the issue of the legislature.
The Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA) chapters represent 74 schools that enroll more than 51,000 students in high-quality vocational, technical and agricultural programs. We are educators and administrators who have dedicated our lives to educating and preparing young people from all walks of life.
We strongly oppose this special language mandating a blind lottery, particularly because it is a rushed process, does not address issues of equity and access, and will certainly negatively impact students in many underserved classes, especially those with disabilities.
First, it’s not the way to do it. The budget is not the appropriate forum to debate admissions policies.
For the first time in this session, legislation was introduced to compel a lottery (S. 257). There was no previous legislative debate on this proposal. There was no public hearing.
Without a hearing, a debate, a joint committee on education, a public opinion, or the opinion of the commissioner of education, the board of elementary and secondary education, or the secretary of education, it is very dangerous to make such a big change.
We are serious about expanding access to a diverse student population and making our admissions processes as fair and balanced as possible. In the past two years, nearly 97 percent of our voca-techs have made changes to hiring policies, practices, or staffing. We know there is still work to be done. We welcome anyone who is willing to come to the table and work together to identify additional improvements and achieve real results. This budget amendment will shorten the discussions.
Second, the lottery avoids the real issue. It is not the solution.
The reality is this: There is a high demand for vocational education and not enough space in our schools. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates 6,000-11,000 students are on the waiting list. This fact does not change with the lottery. It accommodates only 6,000-11,000 students sitting on the seats looking in from the outside.
To fix this, we must first add more seats by expanding our schools and building new ones. Second, our schools need unlimited access to our middle schools to inform students, especially disadvantaged ones, about the value of vocational education. Put another way, we need better access to reach the students our detractors say are being marginalized.
“An Act to Improve Access, Opportunity, and Affordability of Vocational-Technical Education in Massachusetts” (H.538/S.274), introduced by Rep. Frank Moran, Rep. Adam Scanlon, and Sen. Paul Feeney. . Chapter 74 has invested $3 billion in schools and programs and policies.
Third, the lottery does not guarantee success.
The lottery does not guarantee any student – or any group of students – admission to a vocational school. It turns the admissions process into a blind game of chance. It does not guarantee enrollment results for students with disabilities, low-income students, English language learners, or students of color.
In fact, simulations at some of our schools have shown that the lottery has the opposite effect that its supporters want. That is, the lottery results. Lower Number of students enrolled in some conservation groups.
This is especially true for students with disabilities. In most of our schools, the number of students with disabilities far exceeds the percentage of students in the districts to which they are sent. In fact, five of the 10 schools in Massachusetts with the highest enrollment of students with disabilities are VOC-Tex. In a blind lottery, this percentage can be reduced.
Finally, while some schools have begun experimenting with a lottery or semi-lottery, the initial results (contrary to the public claims of lottery proponents) have not eliminated the “gaps” between admissions discounts for protected classes – and others.
MAVA is committed to following the ideals that any student seeking vocational-technical education should have. We welcome thoughtful discussion on how best to bring that vision to reality. Last-minute revisions to the government budget are not the way to go.
Steven C. Shark is executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Professional Administrators.