San Francisco school board ends merit-based admissions to its top high school

San Francisco’s top high school will no longer admit students based on grades and test scores. Yesterday the SF School Board voted 5-2 to eliminate merit-based admission and instead set up a lottery system to determine who will attend.

“This school is lacking in diversity,” said student board member Kathya Correa Almanza, “You cannot determine or make a decision on who is highly motivated until you look into their everyday life. Diversity is not a bad thing.”…

The controversial measure to change Lowell’s admission policy was fast-tracked — introduced and finalized with a vote in one week, rather than the typical two or more. Some who supported the measure still criticized the process, which excluded an in-depth community discussion or any research on what the impact will be of the decision on the school’s enrollment.

Board members said it was important to address the racism and a lack of diversity, which as existed at Lowell for decades, with few Black and brown students, board members said.

It’s true that the school’s demographics don’t match they city’s. Using the merit-based admission process, the city’s top high school was 51% Asian despite the fact that Asians make up just 29% of students in the district. Latino and black students make up 32% and 8% respectively of the San Francisco school population but were only 12% and 2% of the student body at Lowell.

Last year the Vice President of the School Board said that meritocracy was a racist system and the “antithesis of fair.” She had also written on her personal blog that “Being a ‘model-minority’ is not something to covet or celebrate.” Think about that for a moment. The School Board VP is saying that Asian students who excel at academics shouldn’t be proud of themselves or celebrate their accomplishments. What kind of message is that for a school board to send to its students?

One parent in the district told the Chronicle, “Every public school needs to be brought up to the standards of Lowell.” That’s a nice thought but it’s not how things work in the real world. Lowell was exceptional not simply because it put in place high standards but because it selected the students who had already demonstrated an interest in performing at the highest level.

If you really want every school to be outstanding like Lowell, you’d need every parent in the district to be as committed to seeing their student excel as the parents of the Asian students who made up the majority at Lowell. In short, the high standards in the home matter more than the ones in the classroom. But I’m sure the SF School Board won’t dare say anything like that.

One parent whose son is already at Lowell told the Chronicle, “I don’t agree a merit-based system is inherently racist.” He added, “There are lots of ways diversity can be improved or enhanced at Lowell without blowing up the admission process the way it’s being done.”