As outlined in a recent Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) policy brief, Understanding Excess Demand for High-quality Career and Technical Education in Massachusetts, there is significant demand in Massachusetts for high quality vocational technical education (VTE), with more than 3,000 students on waitlists, particularly in Gateway Cities. To continue to support and promote the expansion of high quality VTE, as I noted at our September 2019 meeting, I plan to propose revisions to 603 CMR 4.00 Vocational Technical Education Regulations to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) in two phases, while the Department continues to provide policy and programmatic support to create new opportunities for students, such as through the After Dark partnership programs.
Career and vocational technical education programs at the high school level are provided in a variety of settings in Massachusetts: in regional and municipal vocational high schools, in comprehensive high schools, and in partnerships with educational collaboratives, post-secondary institutions, and other organizations. Vocational programs may receive federal funding, state funding, or both. Programs that receive state funding must comply with the high standards outlined in Chapter 74 of the Massachusetts General Laws and in the Board's regulations on vocational technical education at 603 CMR 4.00. Chapter 74 approval entitles districts to higher funding levels specific to vocational technical education under the Chapter 70 state aid formula.
The Board most recently amended the VTE Regulations in 2018 to align with the Language Opportunity for Our Kids Act, Chapter 138 of the Acts of 2017 (LOOK Act) and to extend the Sheltered English Immersion ("SEI") requirements already in place for academic teachers to include teachers of VTE programs. In 2015, the VTE Regulations were amended to address operational issues related to vocational schools, including program approval, student admission, and non-resident tuition.
I am bringing Phase I of the proposed regulatory changes to the Board this month for initial discussion and a vote to solicit public comment. These proposed changes are designed to address three main objectives: (1) support the creation of new VTE programs and expand access to the full range of programs for students; (2) strengthen program quality; and (3) streamline the vocational educator licensure process and create additional pathways to licensure. With the Board's approval at its November 19, 2019 meeting, the Department will solicit public comment on the proposed amendments to the regulations and incorporate feedback, with the goal of bringing them back to the Board for a final vote in February 2020.
Phase II will include proposed revisions to admissions criteria and procedures to promote equitable access to VTE for all students. This issue has generated significant interest and discussion from multiple stakeholders. The Department will continue to engage stakeholders over the next several months as we prepare proposed changes to this section of the regulations, which I expect to bring to the Board later in FY20. In the meantime, the Department will work with the field to improve access to vocational education for English learners, particularly in Gateway Cities. We will also work closely with a small number of vocational schools to explore potential changes to their admissions, recruitment, and retention processes, and will use what we learn from them to inform Phase II of the regulatory amendments. We will be asking these schools to examine their data, policies, and practices related to admissions, recruitment, and retention and to work with their sending districts on improving access to vocational education for all students. The Department will serve as a resource to assist districts in this work. I will report to the Board on our progress.
The Department's proposed changes and rationale for such changes are provided in the attached regulatory revision and rationale document. I have highlighted below some key items:
(1) The proposed regulatory changes will support the creation of new VTE programs and expand access for students to the full range of programs. These proposed changes are needed to adapt to changes in labor market demand and post-secondary training in the vocational sector, and to promote access to the full range of VTE programs for students in the following ways:
(2) The proposed regulatory changes will strengthen program quality. These changes are designed to codify and clarify minimum expectations of program quality, consistent with the significant funding the Commonwealth makes available for vocational technical education. The codification of program requirements, including scope, sequence, and time, will also promote consistency in quality across state-approved programs.
(3) The proposed regulatory changes will streamline the process for individuals seeking vocational educator licensure and expand the pool of candidates for districts seeking to hire licensed teachers. Outreach to the vocational community, including the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA) and teacher surveys, revealed that districts often experience challenges recruiting and retaining licensed teachers. A major reason is that many vocational educators transition to teaching from industry, and they may not possess the kinds of degree credits that the current vocational licensing regulations require. Licensed vocational teachers also shared concerns about difficulty in acquiring additional vocational licenses. The proposed amendments are designed to reduce the burdens on teachers while maintaining necessary standards to ensure highly qualified educators in the following ways:
The Department solicited feedback and input regarding these proposed changes from a wide range of stakeholders over the past year, with intensive engagement from May through August 2019, which included dozens of presentations, meetings, conference calls, and email exchanges. In addition to consulting with individual school superintendents, principals, educators, parents, and community advocates, the Department consulted with a variety of professional organizations, representative associations, and Board advisory councils, including but not limited to:
The Department also received input from a working group of educators focused on SEI for English language learners, and the state universities that offer vocational teacher preparation courses.
If the Board votes on November 19, 2019 to authorize the solicitation of public comment on the proposed regulations, we expect to take the following steps between now and the February 2020 meeting:
At the November 19, 2019 Board meeting, Department staff will be available to answer your questions, including Senior Associate Commissioner Cliff Chuang and staff from the Office for College, Career and Technical Education; Office of Educator Licensure; and the Legal Office.
1 VTE exploratory programs are half-year or longer programs for grade 9 students designed to help them learn about their talents and interests relative to a variety of different vocational technical programs. In these programs, students spend time in different vocational "shops" before deciding which vocational field they want to pursue with the remainder of their studies.
2 When a student seeks to attend a VTE program outside of their home district, the student must send the home district an application asking them to pay the student's non-resident tuition to attend that program. If the home district approves the application, they will also be responsible for providing the student with transportation, if needed. See M.G.L. c. 74 §§ 7, 7C, 8A and 603 CMR 4.03(6)(b).
3 The existing appeals process is found at 603 CMR 4.03(6)(b)2. If a home district rejects a student's application for tuition to attend an out-of-district vocational program, the student's parent or guardian may request that the Department review the rejection. In such appeals, the decision of the Commissioner to uphold or overturn the rejection is final.
Last Updated: November 12, 2019
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