When it comes to keeping students engaged in high school, the average comprehensive school has a lot to learn from vocational education programs, says Paul Reville, former Massachusetts state Secretary of Education and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"The biggest problem we have in secondary school is boredom," Reville said. 

To counter that, he says comprehensive high schools should adopt the hallmark of vocational education: applied learning, where students get a chance to use the skills and tools they've learned in a school setting. At Worcester Technical High School, for example, a partnership with Tufts allows students in the veterinary medicine program to help provide low-cost pet care for families in central Massachusetts.

"It's a deeper way to learn about some of the skills and knowledge you need because you're actually doing it," Reville said. "It's just more motivating and engaging for students."

That strategy is working. According to Reville, vocational schools in the state outperform comprehensive high schools on MCAS tests, graduation rates, and dropout rates.

"We've had a sea change, where 'voc' schools used to be dumping grounds for students comprehensive schools couldn't be successful with, to a time now where they're very successful," Reville said.

To hear more from Paul Reville, tune in to Boston Public Radio above.