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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Career tech pays off in Massachusetts

Students at career-tech high schools in Massachusetts are more likely to go to college and earn more than similar students who take a traditional path through high school, concludes a new book Hands-On Achievement: Massachusetts’s National Model Vocational-Technical Schools by the Pioneer Institute.

Outcomes vary by career specialties: Health-care concentrators are significantly more likely to enroll in college, while construction students are less likely to go to college but see a big earnings boost seven years after high school. Every career field showed a benefit.

Both test scores and graduation rates are higher for vocational school students in Massachusetts, writes Hechinger's Jill Barshay. They must meet the same academic standards and take the same tests as traditional high school students.

"Researchers were able to compare students of the same race or ethnicity, family income and most importantly, with the same eighth grade test scores, grades and attendance records," she writes. "The only difference was that some had career training in high school while others took traditional high school courses."

Students who studied health care, education, information technology, arts/communications and business were more likely to enroll in college and earned more seven years after high school graduation.

Construction and transportation (including auto repair) students were less likely to go to college, but earned significantly more than their non-CTE counterparts.

Massachusetts has invested in high-quality vocational high schools, spending about $3,000 more per student on facilities and teaching, notes Barshay. A cost-benefit analysis estimated "the public gains between $56,500 to $113,900 in higher earnings and reduced welfare expenditures for each vocational high school student in Massachusetts." But other states may not have the same results.

In Massachusetts, "local employers work closely with voc-tech schools," points out Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. "Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford, Mass., for instance, collaborated with the Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank to create a branch where full-time employees worked side-by-side with students."

In A Tale of Two City Schools: Worcester Tech and Putnam Academy Become Models for Recovery, Pioneer looks at two schools with "high numbers of low-income and special needs students" that "leapt from the bottom of Massachusetts voc-tech rankings to become leaders."

One piece of advice: Work with local business leaders.

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