Although the U.S. has had mixed educational results in recent decades, Massachusetts has defied national trends to emerge as a leader in educational achievement and innovation. Nowhere is that seen more clearly than in career and technical education. Pioneer Institute’s book, Hands-On Achievement: Massachusetts’s National Model Vocational-Technical Schools,explains how the Bay State has combined its industrial heritage, educational excellence, and wise governance to forge a voc-tech system that is second to none. It offers a blueprint for how communities nationwide can leverage human capital and local and regional strengths to meet the needs and challenges of schools and workplaces in the twenty-first century.
“The model that the state uses is one week of academics, and alternating with one week of their shop,” said Chris Sinacola, Editor of the new book Hands On Achievement. “Whatever it happens to be those students are interested in.”
Sinacola’s book studies the work of vocational-tech schools in Massachusetts, a state that’s expanded vocational-tech school access to more students, and saw a dropout rate of under one percent.
“The advantage that these kids will have, especially the juniors and seniors, the approach to work, in a real job, for real money in their field in the community. They get that diploma, and the next week, they may be employed at the same business,” he explained.
The subject matter can vary.
“Automotive, cosmetology or computer aided design,” he noted.
Those are just a few examples of more than 40 industries represented at area vocational-tech schools.
Sinacola said skilled labor like plumbers, electricians, and HVAC are in high demand. Expanding access to these institutions could be beneficial to the student and the economy.
“The real advantage it confers is that ability to have a paying job when you get out, to have real skills that you can use,” he said.
Among the book’s recommendations:
- Expand voc-tech education to serve the 52 communities, primarily in Berkshire and Hampshire counties, not currently in a regional voc-tech district.
- Utilize available public-school space to accommodate the 5,000 students on voc-tech waiting lists.
- Grant all voc-tech schools the same autonomy over budgets, curriculum, and staffing currently enjoyed by regional voc-tech districts.
“Hands-On Achievement” also warns against recent changes to voc-tech admissions policies that threaten these schools’ success. 1) disregarding applicants’ behavioral and attendance records. 2) which are critical considerations at schools where students need extensive training on operating sophisticated machinery.