Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Malden, MA

Re: Reform of Vocational School Admissions

Dear Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education:

We understand that the Board will receive testimony at its regularly scheduled meeting this week concerning vocational high school admissions policies. We hereby submit for the record the attached letter to Secretary Peyser and Commissioner Riley, dated January 31, 2020, which was signed by 23 Massachusetts mayors, that outlines longstanding concerns about how those policies lead to unfair disparities in the admissions of protected classes of students. To date, we have not received a substantive response to the letter, other than an acknowledgment of its receipt.

As explained in the letter, questions about the disparities in vocational admissions are hardly new. Municipal officials, labor and business groups, and civil rights organizations have complained for years that the vocational schools use their selective admissions authority to select higher achieving students, and exclude students who might benefit from a vocational education. Because vocational schools are required to report the demographic composition of their student bodies to the state, DESE has long been aware of the disparities, but has not stepped in to address the problem.

We are concerned that after assurances last year that it was at last ready to change the system, the Department appears to have kicked the can down the road again, citing the complicating effect of the pandemic. As much as, if not more than, any other class of elected officials, mayors appreciate the degree to which the pandemic has made it more difficult to execute on other priorities. But we note that by the time the Department had received our letter, it had been at work on the matter of vocational admissions for the better part of the previous year, and had already received responses from the six schools with the worst records of disparate admissions on how they proposed to rectify them. That was eight months ago, at a point when the Department already had all the information it needed to move forward with amendments to the admissions regulations, even if it meant forestalling their implementation on account of the pandemic.

The intervening months have reminded everyone of the pernicious effects of systemic discrimination, which should make the effort of fixing vocational admissions all the more pressing. We urge you not to permit another set of vocational school applicants to be unfairly denied admission, and proceed, for the reasons set forth in our January letter, with the abolition of selective vocational admissions.


Jon Mitchell
Mayor, New Bedford
President, Massachusetts Mayors’ Association

Geoff Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO


cc: Governor Charlie Baker
James A. Peyser, Secretary of Education, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education