Coveted career-tech programs become selective, college prep and mostly white

Rigorous career-tech programs such as New Jersey’s Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) prepare students for top colleges and careers, writes Catherine Gewertz in Education Week. However many career-and-college programs are selective — and primarily enroll middle-class white students.

On a chilly spring morning, 18 teenagers clamber aboard a 65-foot research vessel and become marine scientists. In big blue nets, they haul in an array of sparkling, spiny, wiggly sea creatures. They identify each one, carefully measure it, and toss it back into the water. The data they collect will help state officials monitor ocean life and oversee commercial fishing licenses.

. . . Only 8 percent are Hispanic or Asian. None are black. Only 6 percent of MAST’s 290 students are from low-income families, even though 37 percent of New Jersey’s students live in poverty.

MAST is one of five full-time competitive-admission career academies in the Monmouth County Vocational School District, writes Gewertz. Applicants, who need good grades, must pass an exam to have a shot at admission.

The district also offers “half-day programs in fields such as plumbing, cosmetology, carpentry, and automotive technology” that are open to all, she writes. They enroll “much larger shares of Latino and black students, and students of poverty.”

MAST began in 1981 as a marine trades program, Gewertz writes. “About 40 white, black, and Hispanic teenagers, mostly from blue-collar families, learned the welding and repair skills necessary to keep the commercial fishing boats working on local waterways.”

As “college for all” became a priority, the trades program was replaced by MAST.

Educators are trying to prune dead-end career-tech programs, writes Gewertz as part of a series on Career Technical Education at the Crossroads.


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Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs

Joanne was born in Chicago and named after her grandfather, Joe Jacobs, who’d been a police reporter for the Omaha Bee-News. At the age of eight, she and her best friend became the creators and co-editors-in-chief of "The Wednesday Report" for four years. After years as a San Jose Mercury News columnist, Joanne started an education blog in 2001 and wrote "Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds." She freelances for online sites, newspapers, magazines, foundations and think tanks. In addition to blogging at, Joanne writes Community College Spotlight at
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