A letter to the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School Board members:

Since its inception in 2014, the Regeneration Project Committee of the New Bedford Economic Development Council has been deeply concerned with improving local public education, knowing that an educated workforce and citizenry are essential to a high-performing city that can provide all its residents the opportunity for economic success and the ability to live fulfilling and successful lives.

To accomplish this mission, all New Bedford’s public schools provide the foundation to produce a skilled and well-trained local workforce able to succeed in jobs today and in the decades to come. This is the core function of New Bedford High School and especially of the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High, which is charged with vocational and technical training for more than 2,000 students annually from New Bedford, Dartmouth and Fairhaven. A vocational high school education certainly allows for students to go to college, particularly in those study areas where that is a requirement. However, its traditional role of providing technical training for career paths that don’t necessarily require college is a resource that continues to have enormous value to students interested in such jobs, as well as to the industries which desperately need those new additions to fill the needs of an aging workforce readying for retirement.

As appointed members to the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical School, you are preparing to present state education leadership a proposed new admissions policy designed to make admissions fairer, particularly for students in protected classes, including racial minorities and students with learning disabilities. The school currently uses admissions criteria that include academic performance, attendance, and disciplinary records, plus recommendation letters from students’ guidance counselors to choose its incoming class of ninth-graders.


However, while in compliance with current state regulations, that policy is now failing to deliver the intended results of providing an opportunity for students who desire and would benefit most from a quality vocational education. A recent report from DESE demonstrates that the percentage of students admitted to the school does not reflect the overall New Bedford area population of incoming ninth-grade students. In fact, the percentages of low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners at GNBRVTHS are less than half of the percentages of the student body at New Bedford High School, a comprehensive high school that has no admissions policy and must accept all students regardless of race, language, income status, learning disability or middle school academic performance. The result of the current admissions policy is hundreds of students who apply for and would greatly benefit from a high-quality vocational education are denied admission.

Superintendents and principals from comprehensive high schools have consistently noted that many of their students — including students who have had attendance and minor disciplinary problems — could have been better served at a vocational high school that would enable them to learn useful skills for desirable jobs and would motivate better attendance and classroom performance. However, the current admissions criteria are based less on a student’s desire to obtain and benefit from a vocational education than on his or her middle school academic performance.

Recognizing that, GNBRVTHS leadership this year adopted a limited lottery system as a pilot from which a total of 61 of the 561 eighth-graders were admitted from sending districts.

Because that first attempt at changing the policy has proven to be insufficient for addressing the unequal opportunities for admission affecting protected student populations and ignores DESE’s Chapter 74 regulations, which direct vocational schools to choose applicants who have “the ability to benefit from a vocational education”, DESE has recently mandated that GNBRVTHS go beyond this first attempt at a policy change.

Further, by selecting applications from the highest-performing middle school students, GNBRVTHS has been able to report significantly better student performance on state MCAS exams with enrolled students who may not be interested in a vocational education but instead who are planning to apply to college or university in areas unrelated to their area of shop study. While higher MCAS scores may enhance the school’s reputation, they appear to reduce the number of graduates trained and ready to work in the traditional and technical trades vocational schools are best known for. This has the effect, while unintended, of undermining the school’s mission to train the local trade-focused workforce of tomorrow.

A modest increase in the number of students admitted via lottery will not level the playing field for hundreds of students in protected population classes, even should GNBRVTHS eliminate middle school academic performance and attendance as criteria for selection. Instead, the School Committee should jettison those criteria in favor of a universal lottery system for all qualified applicants — that is, students who have successfully completed eighth grade. This would be similar to the regulations governing admission to Massachusetts public charter schools. Adopting this change would eliminate complaints that GNBRVTHS is able to “cherry pick” the best-performing students from sending districts.

We know that members of the School Committee face a significant challenge in applying an admissions policy that is fair and equitable. A universal lottery system that would give all qualified students the same chance for admission to GNBRVTHS is the best instrument to achieve the goal of providing students who would seek a vocational education with the best chance of accomplishing that objective. And just as importantly, such a change should mean that the school is able to produce more trained citizens for the highly skilled jobs of the future.

We are writing on behalf of The Regeneration Project of the New Bedford Economic Development  Council — a collaborative platform that represents community, institutional, and business leaders who are committed to shaping, advocating for, and tangibly advancing strategies for sustainable and shared growth for the City of New Bedford and the region. We endorse the adoption of a universal lottery admissions policy and urge the school board to implement such a policy for  the 2023-24 academic year.

Members of the Regeneration Committee of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.

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1 Comment

  1. There should be no lottery system for students applying to GNBRVTHS, the children applying have the best grades in junior high school and no attendance or disciplinary problems. The parents are the people creating the problems by first not raising their children properly, and second, many of these parents just want their children avoiding NBHS, and that’s a fact.
    The application and selection process is color blind, and the children admitted to Vocational high school are the best candidates to succeed regardless of color.
    One more issue is also the parents fault for not learning the English language, and more importantly, making sure their children learn the language, the addition cost for translators in schools is a burden to the tax payerd, and many of these non English speaking families aren’t tax payerd, many aren’t in the country legally, and these are the problems that will continue as more illegal immigrants pour across the border and contaminate America with more problems and no solutions. The federal, state, and local tax paters shouldn’t be required to fund the growing costs to all cities and towns created by illegal immigrants, and it’s going to lead to the downfall of cities everywhere like it has in New Bedford already!

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