EXTERNAL Mandating lottery for voc-tech admissions wrong way to broaden access


Friends of Vocational Technical & Agricultural Education,

In the event you had not seen it, we are forwarding this Op-Ed published today by “Commonwealth Magazine”.

Please share this email with your State Senators AND State Representatives…and remind State Senators that we oppose the Cronin Amendment to the Senate Budget (#771) which would mandate a blind lottery!


Mandating lottery for voc-tech admissions wrong way to broaden access

Pushing for such change via state budget, with no hearing or public debate, especially troubling

Students at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School.

STEVEN C. SHAREK May 15, 2023

WE READ WITH great concern about the effort afoot to impose a blind lottery admissions process on our nationally-recognized vocational technical high schools through an amendment to the state budget. Without a public hearing. Without public debate. Without any previous study of the issue by the Legislature.

The Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA) represents schools that enroll more than 51,000 students in Chapter 74 high-quality vocational technical and agricultural programs. We are educators and administrators who have dedicated our lives to educating young people from all backgrounds and preparing them for fulfilling careers.

We adamantly oppose this specific language mandating a blind lottery, especially through such a hasty process, because it does not solve the problem of equity and access and would almost certainly have negative impacts on students from many protected classes, especially those with disabilities.

First, this isn’t the way to do it. The budget is not the appropriate forum to debate admissions policies.

A bill mandating a lottery (S. 257) was just filed for the first time this session. There has been no previous legislative debate on this proposal. There has been no public hearing.

Enacting such a sweeping change without a hearing, debate, vetting by the Joint Committee on Education, public input, or feedback from the Commissioner of Education, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or the Secretary of Education – is deeply concerning.

We are serious about expanding access to a more diverse student population and conducting our admissions processes as fairly and equitably as possible. Over the past two years, nearly 97 percent of our voc-techs have made changes in their admissions policies, practices, or staffing. We know there is still work to do. We welcome anyone who is willing to come to the table and work together to identify further improvements and achieve real results. This budget amendment would short circuit those discussions.

Second, a lottery dodges the real issue. It’s not the solution.

The fact is this: There’s a huge demand for vocational education and not enough space in our schools. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates there are 6,000-11,000 students on wait lists. That fact won’t change with a lottery. It will just rearrange who sits in the seats, with 6,000-11,000 students still on the outside looking in.

To fix this, we first need to add more seats by expanding our existing schools and building new ones. Second, our schools need unfettered access to our middle schools so we can inform students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, about the value of vocational education. Put another way, we need better access to reach the very students our detractors say are being excluded.

“An Act to improve access, opportunity, and capacity in Massachusetts vocational-technical education” (H.538/S.274), filed by Rep. Frank Moran, Rep. Adam Scanlon, and Sen. Paul Feeney, would do just that. It proposes a $3 billion investment in Chapter 74 schools and programs and policies that would ensure us better access to middle school students to spread the word about the value of a voc-tech education.

Third, a lottery is no guarantee of success.

A lottery won’t guarantee that any student – or any group of students – gets into a vocational school. It just turns the admissions process into a blind game of chance. It does not guarantee desired enrollment outcomes for students with disabilities, low-income students, students who are just learning English, or students of color.

In fact, simulations run by some of our schools demonstrated that a lottery would yield exactly the opposite result of what proponents seek. That is, a lottery would result in lower numbers of enrolled students in some protected groups.

This is especially true for students with disabilities. In many of our schools, the population of students with disabilities far exceeds the percentage of such students in their sending districts. In fact, five of the top 10 schools in Massachusetts with the highest enrollment of students with disabilities are voc-techs. With a blind lottery, that percentage is likely to plummet.

Finally, while some schools are starting to experiment with a lottery or partial lottery, the initial results have not (contrary to the public claims of lottery proponents) eliminated “gaps” between admissions offers for protected classes – and others.

MAVA is committed to the proposition that any student who wants access to a vocational-technical education should have it. We welcome a thoughtful discussion about how to best bring that vision to reality. A last-minute amendment to the state budget is simply not the way to do it.

Meet the Author

Steven C. Sharek

Guest Contributor

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Steven C. Sharek is executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators.

David J. Ferreira

MAVA Communications Coordinator


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