One of America’s best high schools swaps merit for equity

May 27, 2022 • 9:15 am

I think I’m going to do only short posts today, with perhaps one medium-length one. Here’s a fairly short one based on an article in yahoo! news (click on screenshot to read).

Lowell High School is (or was) one of America’s best and most rigorous schools.  Here’s what U.S. News and World Report has to say about it in its last report):

Lowell High School

1101 Eucalyptus Dr., San Francisco, California | (415) 759-2730
#82 in National Rankings
Overall Score 99.54/100

Quick Stats

Grades: 9-12
Total Enrollment: 2,786
Student-Teacher Ratio: 25:1

Overview of Lowell High School

Lowell High School offers a rigorous curriculum focused on honors-level and Advanced Placement courses, including chemistry, calculus and economics. Lowell High School also offers a variety of foreign languages, and its athletic teams claim more city championships than any other public high school in San Francisco. Distinguished Lowell alumni include three Nobel Prize winners and famed gorilla researcher Dian Fossey.

Lowell High School 2022 Rankings:

Lowell High School is ranked #82 in the National Rankings. Schools are ranked on their performance on state-required tests, graduation and how well they prepare students for college. Read more about how we rank the Best High Schools.

All Rankings

  • #82 in National Rankings
  • #6 in California High Schools
  • #1 in San Francisco, CA Metro Area High Schools
  • #1 in San Francisco Unified School District High Schools
  • #143 in STEM High Schools

As you see, it’s one of America’s best high schools. But not for long  Click to read:

The reason? Because the school decided to prioritize equity over merit, going from merit-based admissions to a lottery system.  From yahoo! (emphasis is theirs).

San Francisco’s Lowell High School, regarded as one of the best in the nation, is seeing a record spike in Ds and Fs among its first batch of students admitted in fall 2021 through a new lottery system instead of its decades-long merit-based admissions.

Of the 620 first-year students admitted through the lottery, nearly one in four (24.4%) received at least one letter grade of D or F in the said semester, according to internal records obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. This marks a triple increase from 7.9% in fall 2020 and 7.7% in fall 2019.

Principal Joe Ryan Dominguez attributed the rise in failing grades to “too many variables.” Last month, Dominguez announced his resignation from the school district, citing a lack of “well organized systems, fiscal responsibility and sound instructional practices as the path towards equity.” [JAC: Donguez took over only last fall!]

The lottery system was born out of a long, contentious battle that began in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Proponents of the new system argue that the merit-based system was racist as it resulted in an underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students, while opponents say it would harm Asian students – who make up the majority of Lowell’s population – and undermine the benefits of a competitive academic environment.

Discussions regarding a long-term policy are still being held. Outgoing District Superintendent Vincent Matthews has proposed an extension of the lottery system, while critics such as Members of the Friends of Lowell group and Lowell’s own Chinese Parent Advisory Council continue to lobby for the return of the old system.

The San Francisco School Board, which introduced the lottery system at Lowell, saw three of its members removed in February after a recall election initiated over misplaced priorities, including what many felt were “anti-Asian” policies.

This is what you get when you prioritize equity over meritocracy, especially when the remediation of inequity occurs far too late down the line. It’s clear that merit is competing with equity, as that’s precisely what proponents of the new system maintain. As usual, Asian students—who are regarded as people of color when they’re attacked but as “white adjacent” when they succeed—are the big losers.

The solution evades me, as I do favor equality of opportunity if not equity, and also feel that some brand of affirmative action must be exercised as a form of reparations. But admitting D and F students does nobody any favors, as by the time the students get into high school, the results of centuries of discrimination have already worked on the students.  I keep thinking about how to fix this problem, because, after all, society owes minorities some reparations. John McWhorter has non-affirmative action solutions (teach phonics, end the drug war, and don’t force everyone to go to college), but I can’t quite go that far.

There are two ways to fix this. One, enacted by Los Angeles and San Diego schools, is to relax grading standards, creating a “holistic grading” system that virtually eliminates Ds and Fthis is done by  keep giving students chances to improve until they get the right grade. That has the merit of giving feedback to students, but the problem of misleading them into thinking that life works that way.

The other way, which I recommend, is a form of affirmative action that will apply while the harder work gets done: trying to create equal opportunity for everyone starting at birth. And we know that that will take years, a lot of resolve, and buckets of money. But it’s the only permanent fix.

In the meantime, we must at least admit that equity and meritocracy are, at present, not compatible. The more meritocratic your standards, the less equity you get. Then, when we admit this to ourselves, we can set about fixing it. We can’t resolve the problem with tricks like reducing standards and “holistic” grading.


47 thoughts on “One of America’s best high schools swaps merit for equity

  1. Would these students be getting Ds and Fs elsewhere? Are they still getting a better education even while getting Ds and Fs? And a different, possibly more positive experience there? Is this about students or about a school’s reputation? I think I’d be more inclined to sully a school’s record if it meant giving someone half a chance at possibly a better life.

    1. A good point. IIRC some much earlier studies (a decade or more ago?) gave an indication that putting kids in AP classes and having them take the test led to better educational outcomes, even for the kids who did poorly on the AP exam. The experience of the more rigorous curriculum and testing helped them grow. A freshman D at Lowell may still indicate the student is learning more there than they would elsewhere; and it may presage sophomore Cs, junior Bs, and senior As for students who would never otherwise get that sort of education.

      But, the flip side is that the students and parents who worked really hard to get into Lowell, and now didn’t, may feel some justified anger over the fact that their kid was denied that opportunity in favor of another kid who is obviously not prepared to be there. I don’t necessarily think that on it’s own would be a reason to change the system back, but I certainly empathize.

    2. A better education while still getting Ds and Fs? Pray tell what could that possibly look like?
      “I graduated from Lowell”, (with straight Ds) won’t cut any ice on a job or college application once it becomes common knowledge that it’s just another California high school. Reputation, you know.

      Never mind the school’s reputation and do make it about students, the bright, motivated students who would have been assured a place in a stimulating, enriched, environment free of behavioural disruption. (That is the appeal of magnet schools, after all. The teacher can teach calculus and analytic geometry without spending all her time helping the kids who can’t get what “x” means in algebra, and won’t stop calling her racist.). They now have to take their chances in the regular city schools. Very well, they will likely excel there, too, and learn a valuable life lesson. Maybe we can induce them to immigrate and pay taxes here.

      I will say that your insouciance about sullying a school’s reputation (which is nothing but the collective diligent work of thousands of people over many years) betrays a bizarre willingness to destroy things that can never be rebuilt.

    3. I had similar thoughts. The whole point of public school is to educate the public. When a school is selective about their admissions, of course they’re going to have better results on standardized tests and grades, but are they really performing the role of a public school anymore?

      I understand the other side, though, too, that certain students will do better than other students, and can benefit from accelerated programs. Perhaps magnet schools are a solution to this, but the more cynical side of me sees them as a band-aid for the highly variable quality of public schools in this country. Would magnet schools have the same reputations, or even be needed at all, if all schools were high quality and provided their students with a good education?

      Personal anecdote: I grew up in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and both of my school districts were fantastic. I never seriously considering having to go to a magnet school because the regular schools in those districts were already so good. But then, I moved to Texas for my job, so my daughter went to a public school here, and the quality wasn’t great. I understand the draw of a magnet school here, but believe the far better solution would be to improve the quality of the regular schools. But as PCCe pointed out in his original article, those are major efforts that will take many years to implement (assuming there’s even the political will to do them in the first place). So what do you do if you have a school age child now?

      1. So what do you do if you have a school age child now?

        We started kiddo in a private school, and then after moving had him in the local system. It’s a small rural district, but they do a surprisingly good job. The teachers have been great. I’m a big believer in ‘most kids will do just fine in most academic settings’. A strong preparation in learning how to learn is more important, imo, than leaving high school knowing something specialized.

      2. “The whole point of public school is to educate the public. When a school is selective about their admissions, of course they’re going to have better results on standardized tests and grades, but are they really performing the role of a public school anymore? . . . if all schools were high quality and provided their students with a good education? . . . But then, I moved to Texas for my job, so my daughter went to a public school here, and the quality wasn’t great. I . . . believe the far better solution would be to improve the quality of the regular schools.”

        Are you specifically reflecting on/addressing the quality of teachers? If so, do we need better teachers? If so, who are these people who ought to be teachers? Were every teacher a subject-matter Ph.D., would that make the critical difference in public schools?

        (Ph.D.s aren’t qualified to teach K-12 on that basis only. Not even Nobellists, I gather. There are required child development, eucational theory, and classroom management courses. Of course, what with the ongoing juvenilization/infantilization of college students, these courses may be required of university professors down the pike. “I like the way this student is resting her voice, looking up, paying attention.”)

        Is student motivation a contributor to the quality of a school? A highly motivated, self-directed student can occasionally make a teacher somewhat superfluous, no matter how outstanding the teacher At the same time, the public expects that teacher to somehow motivate an oppositionally defiant, obstreperous student. Everyone should have, and seek out, the “privilege” of dealing with that challenge.

        Cultural influences outside the school have a bearing on this.


        “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” – Richard Hofstadter

        “Amusing Ourselves to Death” – Neil Postman

        “The Age of American Unreason” – Susan Jacoby

    4. Even if they are getting a better education – which I doubt – their presence at the school forces teachers to reckon with their lower abilities and, hence, means that other students have a worse education. So their supposed chance removes from other students the chances they would have if the underachieving students were not in the same classroom.

    5. I live in SF. Because of the school’s reputation, people assume it’s provides better education than other SFUSD schools. The truth is that the merit based admissions created a virtuous cycle that produces desired results. The only students that go to the schools are those that take their education very seriously. This eliminates distractions like bad behavior from a few kids that you see at other high schools. This means the best teachers want to teach at this school. IMG Academy only brings in kids that are super serious about athletics and have demonstrated elite ability. The best coaches and trainers want to work with these students. So IMG has great athletic programs.

      It’s not that Lowell is inherently better. There’s a self selection bias that primes it for producing great results. The solution is to allow Lowell to keep merit based admissions and actually fix the problems at the of the SFUSD schools, rather than introducing a lottery where (over time) this virtuous cycle will be broken. Why would the best teachers want to teach there when the distractions eventually resemble that of any other school in SFUSD?

      Furthermore, the suggestion that merit based admissions are inherently racist implies that black & brown students are incapable of achieving a sufficient level of merit for admission. That’s BS.

      1. “… the suggestion that merit based admissions are inherently racist implies that black & brown students are incapable of achieving a sufficient level of merit for admission. That’s BS.”


        But I think it needs to be said that “achievement” doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I am starting to wonder _where_ the poor students are from – socioeconomically. What is their family like, what is their home like.

        Those things can be sufficiently “distracting”, as you said, as to degrade quiet studying. To say the least, and to ignore family in involvement.

        I don’t know what to make of that, just sayin’ in haste here.

  2. The solution evades me

    Well the cynical city response will likely to be to force Lowell to lower their grading standards. I bet SF elected officials will try that, and I bet there will be much protesting from Lowell teachers and students.

    But since we’re really looking for “how do we better prepare ALL our students in lower grades to handle such a rigorous curriculum in higher grades,” I think some of these things would be in order:

    1. State-provided free tutoring, after school study hours, etc. to kids who aren’t keeping up on their own.

    2. State-provided free after school ESL training for those who need that too/instead (note the “needs ESL” group does not necessarily equal the “needs additional subject matter help” group, which is why I list it separately. There of course may be some overlap).

    3. The “free repeat” method, as you suggest Jerry. I actually have little problem with this, so long as it fits into an elective slot and we don’t accidentally induce kids to stay in HS forever. If a senior wants to retake the Chem course they did poorly in as a Junior, sure, let them, and replace the first bad grade with the second better one. Grades should be about achieved and currently held competence, not merely a record of how you got there. And allowing such a repeat is IMO better for the student’s long-term education than that same slot being a home room or free study period.

    4. Raise teacher pay in those schools where kids are having the most trouble/doing the worst…to be higher than the pay provided for students at the better public schools. IOW, provide a real and significant career incentive for our best educators to go to the schools that need them the most.

    I’m sure there are other things we can do, but that’s what springs to mind.

    1. Would your 1. be subject to any kind of audit or quality control to determine if the great expense actually did help the dullards keep up with the bright students? Or would it just be provided in ever-increasing quantities as a human right forever? After all, if a social program doesn’t work, it means we aren’t spending enough money on it. And cancelling a failing program gores the rent-seeking constituency that it spawned.

      I don’t think the teachers unions will let you do 4., especially because in a budget that is going to be already greatly strained by tutoring, the only way to pay teachers more in bad schools will be to pay other teachers less. Since the unions rigidly insist the collective agreement and its seniority rules be followed to the letter, there is no point even talking about it.

      Poorly prepared students may be motivated to work harder when surrounded by brighter, more achievement-oriented students with involved parents, provided they haven’t been indoctrinated by CRT to believe that scholastic success is for Oreos. Or they may just give up and become disruptive, degrading the educational environment for everyone. This is a negative incentive for teachers to want to work in them.

      The Toronto District School Board is replacing the audition-based entry criteria for its arts schools with a lottery system open to all who write a litter of interest. “It would be cool to take dance at school!” will buy you a ticket. So I watch these failures with interest.

    2. “Raise teacher pay in those schools where kids are having the most trouble/doing the worst…to be higher than the pay provided for students at the better public schools. IOW, provide a real and significant career incentive for our best educators to go to the schools that need them the most.”

      Surely there are at least a few outstanding teachers who might take a pay cut in order to be in a school bereft of obstreperous, oppositionally-defiant students, it taking only a few of them to make life miserable for the rest of the students.

      I think retired Fortune 500 CEO’s, politicians and economists should go into the above para. 1 schools as a second career since, by definition, they are omniscient and omni-capable.

  3. I agree 100%.

    It is important for this analysis, however (I hate this however because this news saddens me utterly), to clearly define the point or objective of grades 9-12, aka “high school” – or below that in the U.S. public school system.

    I begrudgingly have come to accept that academics, in depth, at best is only part of the objective of the U. S. public school system.

    That leaves, in my view, social growth. They have stated as much for years – social/emotional psychology as a framework. That appears to me to be what would explain the “equity” decisions above : prioritization of social growth apparently _at_the_expense_of_ academics – or something more complex, such as hoping social growth will let academic achievement happen by itself.

    All of it is important, of course. Every family should have a good school available in any location in the U. S. to rely on, with the ups and downs of life. And students of all dimensions need to be able to get out there on their own independently when they graduate 12th grade – not necessarily college/uni, not necessarily vocational/technical. But economically it appears these two things – social growth and in-depth academics – do not act independently.

    Some book titles I am going from :

    Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way (Ripley, A.)
    The Collapse of Parenting (Sax, L.)
    The Bee Eater (Whitmire, R.)

    Film : Waiting for Superman, which includes Michelle Rhee, the subject of The Bee Eater.

  4. For the Nth time, society needs merit in a crisis—and there is always a crisis. When a dam threatens to break and destroy a city, when an asteroid puts Earth in its path, when the next pandemic comes, when war comes to our shores, when an unexpected spate of neonatal deaths occurs, when a tense foreign policy negotiation needs to happen to prevent disaster, etc., merit will matter.

    High school is too late. Equity needs to be built in at or before birth. I don’t know how this is to be achieved. But I do know that persons of merit will need to figure it out.

    1. How you achieve that is by working with the parents/parents to be. Help them out with child development information and modeling. Make reading to kids easy. If parents have trouble reading, help THEM out. Find ways to help them make time, if both parents are having to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

      Whether kids get read to as babies and toddlers is one of the most reliable predictors of school success.

      Good nutrition is another. If parents are exhausted after working their two jobs, it’s a whole lot easier to grab takeout on the way home from work than it is to cook nutritious food and have to clean up the mess afterward.

      Poverty affects outcomes in ways we don’t often face as a society. If we want good results, we are going to have to make real investments. I personally doubt that those in power really want to see success. It’s a whole lot easier to con stupid, uneducated people than people whose critical intelligence has been developed.


  5. I am all in favor of a class-based affirmative action, where the idea is to help people of all races who have to overcome disadvantages of birth.

    I am not in favor of affirmative action designed to achieve a specific outcome in terms of racial demographics.

    Unfortunately, the equity genie is out of the bottle. This was an announcement from the DOE that came out in the last day or so:

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced $40 million to provide research opportunities to historically underrepresented groups in STEM and diversify American leadership in the physical and climate sciences through internships, training programs, and mentor opportunities. Beneficiaries will include Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and other research institutions. Harnessing America’s best and brightest scientific minds will be key to unlocking the climate solutions that will help achieve President Biden’s goal of a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.

    1. The DOE funding, based on the brief announcement you put here, sounds like a good idea. They are funding opportunities, which if well-executed can have a positive impact. I don’t see anything here about equity intead of competency. It could be a successful program if students see STEM as an exciting avenue with these opportunities and mentors. There are capable students who have had no exposure to STEM, so had not considered majoring in a technical subject. Such subjects may just seem foreign or intimidating to some competent students because of their background. It is not too late at the College level to entice students into STEM.

  6. Well we know what usually comes next: “equitable” grading, to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Meritocracy is racist, and the increase in failing grades will be addressed not by admitting that the school’s initial idea was a failure itself, but by saying that the way grades are calculated is not “holistic,” or doesn’t “reflect all ways of knowing/types of knowledge,” etc. And they will keep circling the drain chasing this elusive “equity.”

    The failure here will be placed on the people and institution that gave the grades, and the fix will be to change the grading system. I hope I’m wrong about this.

    1. > we know what usually comes next: “equitable” grading

      And education is a stepping stone to the job market. It will be interested to see how long it takes for this to develop into another level of name bias / name discrimination: success-oriented companies engaging in name bias against demographics who statistically were graded up and PC-oriented employers engaging in name discrimination against demographics who were graded down or not grade-shifted.

      I don’t think that PC-based employment discrimination will be able to survive in an internationally competitive market for more than another 10-15 years. As we wait it out, though, it’ll be a race to the bottom.

  7. Nobody says that elite universities that flunk half their freshmen class are less elite. (This is common in engineering, for example, where they take far more students in first year than there are spots in subsequent years, on the assumption that a good portion of the class will abandon engineering for something else.) For most elite schools it’s a point of pride that a lot of students can’t cut it. So why do we assume a prestigious high school is going to go downhill just because more students are struggling?

    I’m not surprised that some students were not prepared to be dropped into a much more rigorous academic environment and struggled to adjust. It’s not terribly unexpected, and judging the success or failure of this initiative on the first year is premature.

    I do feel for the exceptional students that don’t make it in. Private school may be an option for some, but I’m sure there are many students of modest means that used this school as a springboard to Ivy scholarships.

    1. But you’re just changing the cutoff point. Instead of testing to get in, students will instead test to stay in. There’s still a meritocracy at work, but now 150 students flunk freshman year instead of 50. Will those 100 new flunkees be better off for having won the lottery but flunked out? No.

      Recognize this for what it is — the usual socialist hatred of competition and success. Advanced by people who fear someone else will surpass them somehow, they would rather drag everybody down to the lowest common denominator rather than let anyone succeed at a higher level. It’s disgusting, contrary to what made the US a rich power, and rots at our history of innovation and improvement.

  8. It is absolutely true that the solution involves equality of opportunity at young ages. Sound nutrition and health care, safe neighborhoods, secure housing, and quality public education from toddler on up are required. Sounds like utopia, but we can approach a better society if that is what we value.

    Regarding do-overs, this idea of re-doing work until you get it right has crept into colleges. It is problematic for what must be obvious reasons. You develop a solid curriculum for a given time frame for specific level of course work. If everyone who didn’t get an Aor B is re-doing the work, when do they have time to focus on the new material? They will just get farther and farther behind, until they are buried under a mountain of work. How discouraging for the student! If the instructor reduces the demands of the curriculum so people can “catch up,” that lowers the quality of education for all students.

    On the other hand, if a student doesn’t understand the material, they do need to spend time with the material until they grasp it, or they won’t have the foundation for the new material and… here comes that mountain again.

    Solutions? Tutoring for K through 12 can help students who need additional time or attention. Longer school days, longer school years. There is just no way around studying until the light dawns, and that is a skill some students never develop. And definitely implement an accelerated track for high-performing students.

    1. I’m not convinced that those things are “absolutely true”, much as we might wish them to be. It is a form of throat-clearing to say them, like a land acknowledgement. I think* engaged parents in neighbourhoods where the role model is two-parent families, even if the child herself has only one, seem to be more important than any of those services that the state provides. This why McWhorter wants to end the war on drugs and, to be consistent, ought not to want to start a war on handguns. Men in prison cannot be father figures even if they might someday want to be.
      * From the Atlantic: researchers mined administrative databases to look for explanatory hypotheses for economic success of children. Cleverly, they looked at families (from U.S. census data) with two or more children born 5 or more years apart, who moved neighbourhoods between first and last child. The first child would carry the early effects, whatever they were if any, from the first neighbourhood, plus the later effects from the second, while the last would have only those of second neighbourhood. This design allowed control for many confounders.

      What they found was that moving from a mostly single-parent neighbourhood to one where most families had two parents improved the economic success of the second child relative to the first. A move in the other direction blighted the second child relative to first, even when controlling for race and socioeconomic class of the two neighbourhoods. This was, as I said above, independent of whether the moving families were themselves nuclear or fragmented. Of course families don’t move randomly. They have reasons for moving which range from thrilling to tragic. But the neighbourhoods they fetch up in seems to matter to the success of young children who receive a larger dose of their surroundings.

      1. If you think “Sound nutrition and health care, safe neighborhoods, secure housing, and quality public education” are analogous to land acknowledgements, I wonder how we are going to communicate! My list is quality-of-life basics that any loving sane parent (or anyone) wants for themselves and their children. Land acknowledgements are noise. Isn’t this discussion about quality public education, because we believe it is vital for our democracy? The state has a hand in creating the inequality that leads to the lack of the listed qualities, so the state (that’s supposed to be We the People) has a hand in correcting it.

        Of course engaged parents are ideal for children. I certainly don’t want the state to replace engaged parents. In the study you reference, what life events allowed the single parent household to be able to afford to live in a two-parent neighborhood? In the US, the association between economic stability and two parents is a fact. The people most likely to be in poverty are children and their single mothers. I am not surprised that a single mother moving to a neighborhood where the child plays with, and goes to school with, children from two family homes benefits the child. There is a whole cascade of positive influence that would result from that. Including, to bring it back to our discussion, parents who have more time to get involved with their children’s education and demand more from their local public schools.

        1. The evidence from the study cited in the Atlantic is that none of those things you mention really matter independently. They are all highly correlated with parental characteristics, things that good, aware, involved, at-least moderately successful parents strive to do anyway. Providing extra helpings of them, like nutritious school lunches, say, to kids who don’t get kale shakes at home, or paying apathetic parents to attend PTA meetings, doesn’t compensate. Parents who want their kids to succeed read to them. Is it the reading or the wanting that helps them succeed?

          The state has very limited capacity to provide nutrition, healthcare (other than vaccinations), secure housing (whatever that means—are you talking locks that work or the right not to pay rent?) and public education of quality above a certain floor. Even there, the quality of the students matters more than class size and computer investment, to get back to the Lowell school issue. Doesn’t society say we already provide those things at great public expense? Even East St. Louis isn’t Somalia, but I agree it’s hard to get teachers to work in either place. Sure, everyone wants good things for themselves but I think you and I disagree fundamentally on how much the state should spend to equalize consumption of these goods when scholastic success depends so much on attributes that the state can’t fix: parents. I specifically reject the idea that the state ought to correct income inequality in the same spirit that it corrects inequality in measles vaccination. Income inequality is the prize, not the evil.

          The study was from census data: changes in address that occurred between births of first and last child, then look for characteristics discernible from census data that correlate with later success of children. You can’t know why anyone moved, you can only know where they moved to and what happened to their children. The significant driver of success was move to a two-parent neighbourhood. Not necessarily a wealthier neighbourhood, but a better role model. Even if mum stayed single, and she probably did, moving to a neighbourhood where her children saw two-parent families was good for them. If she moved to a mostly one-parent neighbourhood, even if dad stuck around, the later kids did worse. There is clearly an element of upward and downward mobility here, but it was more cultural than economic.

  9. “Proponents of the new system argue that the merit-based system was racist as it resulted in an underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students, while opponents say it would harm Asian students – who make up the majority of Lowell’s population – and undermine the benefits of a competitive academic environment.”

    I would like to understand how those who claim that underrepresentation of black/hispanic students is evidence of racism can explain the overrepresentation of another non-white group…as in Asians. Is the system biased towards Asians? Is STEM in particular an academic area that has a strong Asian bias?

    I have not yet seen a satisfactory answer on this question. I have seen pathetic, Orwellian attempts to redefine Asians as Whites (“White-Adjacent”) to try to sweep this inconvenient fact under the rug.

    1. > Orwellian attempts to redefine Asians as Whites (“White-Adjacent”)

      History got there almost 15 years before Orwell. The Chinese and Japanese are apparently ‘honorary aryans’. I really wouldn’t be surprised to hear the New PC crowd quoting that (Along the lines of “Well, if white supremacists accepted them, then we shouldn’t”.)

      (Sorry for invoking Godwin’s Law)

    2. I think it’s just selection effect. Asians immigrated to North America only 150 yr ago as indentured labour to build the railways. Even as uneducated labourers they knew what it would take to make their children succeed in the face of casual and official racism: education, investment, and staying out of trouble with the law. Of course many present-day Asians are immigrants themselves, selected for likely economic success. Asians in North America are the striving subsets of their countries of origin, with culturally propagated drive to be successful and not bring shame. Asians know there is no future in grievance studies at university, not for them anyway: they don’t look the part. So they do STEM.

      1. By “Asians”, of course I mean residents and citizens of Canada or the United States whose birthplace or ancestry is a country in southern or Eastern Asia. No slur intended and I don’t mean people current living in an Asian country.

  10. I am curious about what the kids who are doing badly would have to say. Why did they want to go to Lowell? Was it their own idea, or their parents’? Did they understand how demanding it would be before they got there? Are they willing to work hard as the school expects them to? Why do they think they failed? Do they think next year they will do better?

    Are they going to stay at the school? Do they regret going there?

  11. But admitting D and F students does nobody any favors

    Isn’t the role of schools to teach? A first year student at a new school gets one D or F letter grade – to me that says opportunity! An opportunity for the teachers to teach, to educate, to prepare. I cannot imagine branding a student as not-worthwhile because of a bad grade in their first term at a new school.

    Perhaps they could provide a transition module the summer prior? I was talking to some friends who went through the Alaska state college system and they all said that the ones who attended UA Fairbanks, where there is a stellar ‘rural student transition support system’, fared far better than those who attended other campuses. Obviously not perfectly analogous, but predicting that some students may need help adjusting to the higher standards is not far fetched.

    1. That which shall not be said: some individuals simply lack the innate ability to succeed at that level.

  12. Is anyone up for driving on bridges or flying on airplanes designed by “engineers” chosen by lottery?

  13. First, I would like to state my kids attended and graduated from Lowell High School under the merit selection process. For those of you who don’t know the selection process, it is not based on privilege and inequality. The old process has three tiers. Tier 1 is based on grades and test scores. This represents around 70% of the 9th freshmen enrollment. This is purely based on merit. No race, income status, or other factors are included in the first round selection. This is truly about the numbers. Tier 2 and 3 are split evenly from the remaining students. Tier 2 represents students with extenuating circumstances such as single parent, free school lunch participants and others. Tier 3 is for underrepresented schools. Students admitted under tier 3 are recommended by their middle school principal or counselors. More than 25% of the freshmen enrolled are not merit based. I believe this gives the opportunity for many kids who want to attend Lowell who don’t have the grades or test score an opportunity to do so.

    Lowell High School is a goal for many San Francisco students. These kids have worked extremely hard since the beginning of middle school to get into Lowell. Just imagine working hard is not a factor in getting into Lowell. Everyone can get in regardless of how hard they work. Will some of these same kids not work just as hard? I don’t know but it sure gives them an extra incentive to do so. And what are we teaching our kids when hard work doesn’t pay? I asked my kids what makes Lowell so successful. They said it’s their fellow students. They are the ones who drive themselves to study hard, not the school or the teachers. This starts when they are young. Furthermore, Good study habits, math fundamentals, basic writing skills, reading comprehension and other important skills can’t be taught in high school. These things start in elementary and middle school. If you throw an unprepared kid in a vigorous academic environment, most likely they will not succeed. I asked a veteran administrator from the district what are some of the common traits that he sees a Lowell students. One trait that stands out is the ability to grasp concepts quickly. This is something that you can’t teach a freshman in high school. This an accumulation of learning and experiences through the lower grades. If the school board wants to improve the level of education in high school, they need to start at the elementary school level. They need to increase funding for afterschool tutoring programs for kids that are falling behind as mentioned in other posts. I volunteered in my kids’ schools extensively and followed some of my kids’ classmates all the way to college. I see the same kids that fall behind in 2nd and 3rd grades are the ones who struggled in the upper grades. These are bright kids and want to learn. But for certain circumstances not under their control, start falling behind. SFUSD needs to catch these kids before they can’t recover. Remember, in order to understand division, you will need to know multiplication. And for multiplication, you will need addition and subtraction. If we catch them when they are younger, they will be ready for Lowell. At that point, why just have one Lowell. The SFUSD can replicate the Lowell curriculum to all the other San Francisco high schools then we don’t have this discussion. Lastly, some of you may say it’s the teachers’ responsibility to bring the kids up to grade level. But our teachers are overworked and underpaid. We need to correct that too.

    1. Thanks for that. You are up against cultural forces that want to tear everything down in preference to helping smart people succeed.

  14. Why not equitable lottery based admission for school sports teams? Being on a high school team is considered for college admissions. How is it fair that only kids that are good at sports can be on their school teams?

    1. Sports? Now that’s important! Too important to be left to chance. But scholastics? Meh.

  15. Perhaps these students were getting D’s and F’s all along. The fact that this brought down the standings of a premier school is irrelevant imo. Last time I checked there wasn’t a place on college applications where you put the ranking of your school and not your personal class ranking. It may take time to bring up the school ranking but the opportunities afforded all students at this school may, in even the smallest increment, help the D’s and F’s. Also the issue of grade inflation at such elite schools might be at play. “You gave my child a ‘C’??!?? That’s not possible they’re really, really smart”. (Teacher changes grade to an “A”.)

    1. I think you misunderstand. It’s not that the Ds and Fs of the lottery students bring down the standing of the school. It’s deeper than that. As Todd Lee @ 13. says, it’s that the school is no longer seen to be worth the effort of cultivating good work habits in middle school to prevail in a competitive process to get in. Many lottery students therefore lack those habits and this degrades not just the bell curve of marks but the learning environment for the students who have them.

  16. Stanley Fish made an excellent case that the mission of academics/professors in higher ed should have two parts : a “this”, being everything to do with knowledge, evaluation of it, etc. ; and “not that” – namely, what is perceived as “activism” or other ideologically-oriented leadership. The book title is Save The World On Your Own Time. I read it here because PCC(E) highlighted it.

    Public education in the United States is considerably different than higher ed such that, as expressive as that book title is for the mission of universities, in my view, public education is very much in the business of growing a healthy citizenry, as much as – or more so – as preparing that citizenry for higher ed. It might be said that public education has been working to “save the world”, starting with its own citizens in the United States for centuries already.

    Why this whole long comment? Because the admissions criteria shown in the post appear designed to “save the world” (and others highlighted here), and there might be something to it (as little sense it makes to me) in the context of _public_school_in_the_town_it_serves_.

    Charter schools/etc. might be viewed as that – though it is complex, I imagine. So all these flavors if public schools might have to come to grips with, per Fish, their “this” and “not that”.

    Apologies for the long windedness.

    1. > public education is very much in the business of growing a healthy citizenry

      What are your feelings on mandatory community service, either during or after school years?

      It’s been fascinating to watch how it is implemented in various jurisdictions (countries, usually). I know several supporters who raise great points. Still, I have a hard time reconciling it with the idea of ideological neutrality. Is the destigmatization of homosexuality, marijuana use, mental health issues, and suicide neutral or political? Every time I see an Ad Council ad, my skin crawls, realizing how many people think their public service announcements are ideologically neutral and beneficial. There are very few ‘community service projects’ that are not inherently partisan – even if they are values shared by two parties.

      I’ll definitely look up the Fish book. Thanks!

      1. “What are your feelings on mandatory community service, either during or after school years?”

        Don’t take this the wrong way – but I will decline to comment. (Since I over-comment anyway, this will be personally therapeutic!)

        Yeah, important ideas – and thanks to PCC(E) for highlighting Fish’s book. Cheers.

  17. 1) San Francisco School District is not the whole SF Bay Area. It is only one of more than 90 school districts with high schools in the Bay Area.

    2) Lowell HS is (was) the only public high school in all of Northern California that had been competitive admit and only residents of SF were eligible to apply.

    3) Lowell has not released data about which subjects resulted in the D or F grades for a 9th grade semester. When did Lowell know these kids were having trouble? What is the comparison to high schools in the school district systemwide? What are the percentages at other school districts in the Bay Area?

    4) Lots of questions. SF is not the dominant city of the Bay Area. What did kids not learn during their 8th grade pandemic year, especially since SF school board had made it ILLEGAL to teach algebra to 8th graders? What was the distribution of grades? Let’s see the real data before making conclusions. Just one city out of 90. How many Lowell kids will be required to go to summer school? Each grade. That will give interesting data.

    Chris Stampolis
    Santa Clara, CA

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