The Case Against Meritocracy In School Admissions: Lowell High

Most people believe in meritocracy. If you work harder than your peers, you should get more reward. But as we all know, none of us are born with the same circumstances. For example, it may be harder for a poor kid from a single-parent household to compete against a rich kid with two parents and endless resources.

Given this uneven playing field, the San Francisco Unified School District decided to implement a lottery admissions system years ago for elementary, middle, and high school.

It didn't matter if your neighborhood public school was a block away from your home. For the purposes of diversification and equality, your kid might only get accepted to a school 30 minutes across town.

Unfortunately, socioeconomic and racial diversity didn't happen. Instead, wealthier families ended up sending their kids to private school, where the majority of students are white.

Lowell High School Case Study

Lowell High School, founded in 1856, is a public high school in San Francisco. It is considered one of the top high schools in the country due to its AP curriculum, rigorous academics, and illustrious alumni like Supreme Court Justice Breyer.

The Case Against Meritocracy In School Admissions: Lowell HS Example
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There was only one problem. To gain entrance into Lowell, eighth graders had to pass an entrance exam and have a top-percentile GPA. It is similar to magnet schools like Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria, VA and Bronx Science in New York, NY.

Opponents of Lowell's entrance system deemed it elitist and racist given the high school is a public institution. They believed Lowell limited opportunities for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

While admissions to most other San Francisco public high schools are based on a lottery system, Lowell stood out like the last remaining tree standing in a hurricane.

Thanks to the global pandemic, the School Board voted unanimously to eliminate the entrance exam for the 2021-2022 school year. With no grades to earn or exams to take in 2020 given public schools are shut down, the School Board found an opportunity to make a change.

The Lowell admission process will now mirror that at other district high schools in 2021 for one year. Admission priority will be given to siblings, those attending Willie L. Brown Jr. Middle School, and those living in census tracts where students post low test scores. The remaining spots will be assigned randomly. 

The Case Against A Lottery System

Understandably, many alumni, students, teachers, and prospective students are against the lottery system. Here are some of their arguments, paraphrased:

  • A system based on merit is a better system. There are enough high quality high schools based on a lottery system to apply to. Why ruin the best high school in SF?
  • My kid studied so much to try and gain admission to Lowell. Now his fate will be determined by a lottery? This is infuriating. He might as well have kicked back and thoroughly enjoyed middle school.
  • Unless Asians are not considered people of color, Lowell is diverse with minorities and low-income students born to first-generation immigrants.
Lowell HS racial makeup
Lowell High School racial makeup
  • A lottery system will simply drastically increase the number of White students because Whites are the largest racial group in San Francisco at 40%. Blacks are 5.2% and Hispanics are 15% of the city’s population.

More Arguments Against A Lottery

  • The student body doesn't rise to the level of its top-performing students, it falls to the level of its worst-performing students. Houses get messy over time, not cleaner. Just look at what happened to The City University Of New York (CUNY). It was once deemed “The Harvard Of The Poor.” Now, less than half graduate in six years due to a change in admissions standards.
  • Teachers are attracted to good schools with good students. If the academic standards of the student body decline due to the lottery system, the best teachers will leave.
  • The lottery system is doing an unprepared student no favors by admitting them to an academically rigorous school. Dropout rates will increase. Depression rates will be higher.
  • Graduating at the bottom of your class at a good school is worse that graduating at the top of your class at a mediocre school. Universities won't accept everyone from a great school as they, too, seek diversity.
  • There will be more racial tension and stigma against underrepresented minorities because people may think they didn't get in due to merit. Lottery winners are not respected wealth accumulators. Self-made entrepreneurs are.
  • If we can start making all school admissions a lottery system, perhaps the elite universities will also be pressured to admit more people from all backgrounds.

Related: The Rapid Depreciation Of A Harvard Degree

The Case Against Meritocracy

On the other side are plenty of people who are for the lottery system, and thereby, against admissions based on meritocracy. Here are some of the reasons, paraphrased:

  • In a world where the rich and connected get richer and more connected, there is no true meritocracy anymore. There needs to be an artificial way to break the cycle if we are to truly help those who have less opportunity.
  • With centuries of systemic racism estimated to have cost Black people trillions of dollars in lost economic profit, to believe an entrance exam is meritocratic is misguided. An entrance exam is a form of institutional racism that keeps underrepresented minorities down.
  • Discrimination against Blacks is different than discrimination against Asians. We must not ignore the history of slavery and the selective immigration process of Asians in America that give Asians a leg up. Yes, there are poor Asians. However, the inequality is even greater with Blacks.
  • An entrance exam is more of a test for who has more access and more privilege.
  • Lowell has become a pressure cooker where a growing number of robotic students overemphasize grades and test scores, and underemphasize the arts and athletics. A more diverse group of students will ease the pressure and provide more balance.

More Arguments For A Lottery Admissions System

  • A city (country) that better serves all its people is a better city (country) overall. If more underprivileged people can make it out of poverty with a high-quality education, there will be less crime and less financial burden on the economy.
  • A public school should be accessible to the entire public. Selectively admitting students is what private schools are for. There is a growing backlash against private schools and private school graduates. Therefore, we are saving Lowell's long-term reputation.
  • Using the argument asking why aren't more underrepresented people should be allowed to play pro sports or go to the Olympics is a false argument. A good education is a basic human right. Being a pro athlete is not.
  • White families feel intimidated about sending their children to a mostly minority school (welcome to how many minorities feel). With a lottery system, perhaps it will encourage more white families to save money on private school tuition.

A Meritocracy Is Hard To Ascertain

It's worth seeing what comes out of the new lottery admissions system for Lowell High School in 2021-2022. Perhaps there will be several upside surprises that can be built upon. After a year, the Board of Education can reconsider and make adjustments.

If my kids were in middle school, I'd still encourage them to be the best students possible, regardless if high schools have an entrance exam or not. If we believed Lowell was still a great option at the time, and the lottery system still existed, we'd list the school as one of our selections. There is no downside in trying to win the lottery.

I'm not against the admissions change at Lowell because I don't have skin in the game yet. But I fully recognize the unfortunate situation for kids who’ve been studying extra hard to get in and now can’t.

Life Is Unfair

Nobody asked for the pandemic. Life is unpredictable. It's good to shake things up once in a while. Bad habits develop when things stay the same for decades. Further, my kids will likely be of average intelligence since my wife and I are of average intelligence. Therefore, a lottery admissions system might help my kids.

However, I'm also wary of sending my kids to a super high-performing school that has a relatively homogenous student body. School should be enjoyable and too much competition can make one miserable.

Further, grades and test scores are overrated. None of us remember very much of what we learned in college, let alone high school. School taught me how to study and try and get along with different types of people.

If my kids can't get into a well-rated public school that's within a 15-minute drive away, then we will strongly consider private school or homeschool. We are lucky to have these options and we won't take them for granted.

It's All About Opportunity

The vociferous battle about admissions is all about giving people as much opportunity as possible. Don’t let the elites have all the benefits.

As a society, we should do our best to give everybody an equal opportunity to succeed. Once we have the opportunity, the responsibility lies upon us to make the most of our opportunity.

Of course, there will never be true equality in everything we do. We must accept this fact. Pushing for equal outcomes is misguided. However, if we see inequality we should do something about it.

Free access to quality personal finance information is one of the main reasons why I have continued to write on Financial Samurai since 2009. After all, financial security is one of the main reasons why we go to school.

I'm still befuddled as to why there isn't a mandatory personal finance class for all high school students. But I'm not going to wait for a school board or the government to help make things better.

I just hope people realize that getting into a prestigious university, landing a job that pays big bucks, and ascending the corporate ladder isn't all there is to life. These are nice accomplishments. However, they won't make you much happier in the long run. Instead, doing something purposeful that helps others will.

In conclusion, I believe there is no such thing as a true meritocracy. Public schools should be accessible to all. Private schools, on the other hand, are free to admit whomever they choose.

Where you go to school is overrated. The median income for Ivy League graduates isn't impressive. It's what you do with your education that matters the most.

Are you for an entrance exam or lottery admissions?

View Results

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Readers, what do you think about abolishing the entrance exam in favor of a lottery system for school admission? Do you think there is such a thing as a true meritocracy?

Update 2/9/2021: The SF School Board voted 5-2 to make Lowell High School permanently a lottery-based admissions system. With over 80% of the school consisting of minorities, the SF School Board wants to provide more equal opportunity for Black minorities. Update 2023: The vote was repealed and it's back to a test to gain admissions.


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56 thoughts on “The Case Against Meritocracy In School Admissions: Lowell High”

  1. I wonder if the world needs to re- think learning as a whole. From pre-school to college. I’m no expert but in my experience ( mom of two high schoolers), parent involvement is more important than the actual school itself in the early years. In the latter years especially college, opportunities for active engagement in real life projects is as important as theory. Whether that comes from the college itself or hustling for internships or practical work. A motivated person will find the means to be successful (whatever success means to them).
    I could not afford full time pre- schools for my kids. So enrolled them for 2 mornings for the social interaction but taught them to read and write at home. They did great in formal school if not better than most of their peers who had been to expensive private pre- schools. Wonder if “better” schools in some cases are more a perception than reality when it comes to pure theoritocal learning.

    1. I absolutely agree with you that parental involvement is the key! And what I’ve noticed so far is that private school families tend to be more involved because they have more skin in the game.

      But life is a journey, it’ll be fun to see what your daughters do after high school. Best of luck!

  2. While I understand that the traditional admission route to public schools based on where a student lives is problematic, a public school (even a magnet public school) should not have admission based on academic merit, but have admission based in the same way as the other public schools in the district, in this case by lottery. A lottery system makes the school equally accessible to all the students in the district and if a public school is not accessible to all students it is ‘biased,’ whether based on socioeconomic privilege, racial privilege or other factors. Public education should be equal for all students in the district, period.

    Admissions to private schools should be different than admissions to a public school and the fact that Lowell, a public school, did not have lottery admission (the same as other SFUSD schools), is something that needed to be changed and should be changed. The fact that some teachers and parents are fighting this equality is showing bias and is unfair to all the students in the SFUSD. A lottery system may not end up giving a school demographic at Lowell that shows more student diversity than Lowell currently has (because a lottery system is a random system), but it will give the opportunity for diversity and definitely provide opportunity for equality for all students whereas the prior system of merit based entrance didn’t, period.

    (Past bilingual elementary teacher and parent of children of color in the Bay Area)

  3. San Francisco USD are utterly incompetent. There are plenty of excellent teachers, but the administration are useless. They admitted a few months ago that the current system hasn’t improved diversity at all and they are going to change it. They said that if they’d just put kids in their closest school, the SFUSD would have been more diverse!

    The SFUSD made a last minute sneak attack and got this Lowell change passed with as little discussion as possible. They could have easily worked out some comparable system, but didn’t want to. “Never let a good crisis go to waste!”

    Only this year have them moved to an online application system. Before covid all student application had to be submitted on paper and then were typed into the computer system by employees. Imagine, in the capital of the global tech work, the school district was using paper applications in 2020! That was about 15,000 applications for elementary, middle and high schools that had to be re-keyed each year.

    Although San Francisco has the best level rating in California, no SFUSD school is open to students. Not school will be open for another 2.5-months. And then 15% of schools for a small number of children. I don’t expect any middle or high school to be open until 8/2021. They said they only have enough cleaners to clean up after elementary school kids. And those kids are going to be spread out in non-elementary schools i.e. middle and high schools.

    And then during the Lowell discussion the board essentially accused anyone who disagreed with them of being racists. One of the board members was heard on a live mic making such an accusation. They are a complete waste of space.

    And now the big priority is 44-schools have to concentrate on working on renaming. The schools aren’t even open and what they want PTAs and principals to work on is coming up with new names for Lincoln HS, Washington HS, Diane Feinstein HS, Francis Scott Key ES etc.

    1. It is sad that the school board is so behind I’m going through the ninth step process of getting things done to open up school safely.

      But at least the schools are doing online learning. Some group of parents don’t wanna send their kids back because their group of people have the highest coronavirus positivity infection rates. That’s totally understandable to want to stay at home.

      Whatever happens, nobody’s going to be 100% pleased. I think there’s a real fear that schools open, someone gets sick, but everybody has to quarantine for 14 days, and so forth. I know some private schools are shutting down and going online starting Thanksgiving through the rest of the year.

      If my kids are old enough to face this kind of situation, My wife and I would not wait for anybody and just the tag team homeschool teachers for the year. I know not every household has this capability.

  4. You need more actual Lowell grads and maybe current Lowell students commenting. Everyone’s experiences are different and nothing should be stereotyped or generalized. I know people like stereotyping Asians based on what little they know, and most of that are invented myths.

    I thought Lowell was 50% Asian right now, not over 60%. People get scared and disgusted when a school or place has an ok percentage of Asians, while they don’t mind when a place is over 90% white, black, or Hispanic. Double standards, as usual.

    In the end, what it is is anti-Asian racism, particularly directed towards people of Chinese descent. People don’t like Asians, know very little, love to generalized and stereotype, and have an innate, knee-jerk disgust towards Asians. In my experience, being Asian American and knowing plenty of other Asian Americans, we have the least of those stereotypes, not the most.

    Lowell is a creative, cool, multifaceted, progressive, and artsy school. I went in the 90s, and I know that. It’s not the disgusting robotic Chinese ferris wheel that everyone thinks it is. Most people who went to Lowell during my day and afterwards are interesting, well-rounded, liberal, and classy.

    Over 80% of users on say that Lowell students are “creative and artsy.” That’s much more than most schools. I never saw Lowell as some robotic, old-fashioned STEM school (and STEM is cool), but as an incredibly well-rounded, very high-quality school that emphasized athletics, writing, the arts, etc. This is very much the Asian students who go into Lowell and come out of it, too.

    People need to stop stereotyping and looking down on Asians.

  5. EnrichmentInSelectivity

    Sam mentioned that the SF school district implemented a lottery system years ago to foster diversity, but diversity did not take place because wealthier families ended up sending their kids to private school. If this has happened already in the rest of SF, why would Lowell be any different? It seems that residents have already spoken with their actions that they do not want diversity when it comes to academic achievement levels.

    For a school, I think it’s important to distinguish between 1) fostering diversity in race, socioeconomic status, gender, etc., versus 2) fostering diversity in achievement levels. For parents who want to send their children to a selective school, I believe they want the former type of diversity but do not want the latter.

    To give the background for my perspective, I went to smaller public schools from kindergarten through 8th grade and never connected with my classmates and spent most of those 9 years thinking I was a different species. I was more academic and achievement-oriented. Even for academic discussions, when I went in depth in analyzing a book’s nuances, my classmates looked at me like in a haze, clearly not quite comprehending. I regularly pointed out social norms that were based on biases or logically fallacies, and I could tell no one really understood me. I’m not saying there was anything wrong with them; in fact, if there was anything wrong with anyone, it was with me perhaps having matured earlier than normal. I then started high school at a very selective school that I needed to test into with the SSATs. I also needed to interview in person, write at least five essays, and obtain recommendation letters. At this school, my life was suddenly filled with so many like-minded classmates that I felt like I was in an alternate reality. The day I entered 9th grade changed my life forever for the better. I had much more analytical conversations. I was enriched by an achievement-oriented population that for the first time put me in my place about my own intelligence and achievement. I learned that achievement came in many forms. Some were purely academic, like mine. Other students were nationally and internationally-ranked athletes. Still others had civic achievements, such as changing legislation in their home counties or towns. Still others had overcome unbelievable hardship and found a way to excel in school. One of my classmates from a high-crime and very underprivileged neighborhood managed to raise his five siblings for 8 years under the radar while his mother had substance abuse issues. The school had diversity in the form of achievement but not the level of achievement. This homogeneity of achievement levels motivated and enriched me.

    Many comments here indicate that the high school experience at a selective high school has the primary purpose of college admissions, but I completely disagree. Attending a selective school changes how you think and changes your basic reference point and standards in life. 9th grade was the start of my current life as I know it, and where I went to college is secondary.

    To comment on whether the system should be based on an exam or a lottery, I think the people have already spoken on the issue. Haven’t SF residents just moved their kids to private school? I would do the same. I’d be misguided to think that this achievement-oriented environment that was so enriching for me wasn’t made possible by a school that purposefully excludes those that are not high-achievers. That is, this enriching environment was possible precisely because diversity in achievement levels was eliminated by excluding anything other than excellent. Although people can criticize how excellence is defined, from a parent’s point of view, a flaw in this measurement isn’t going to stop me from aspiring for my child to be exposed to a system that worked for me and did provide me enrichment.

    People think providing universal access to a selective school will provide more opportunity universally. I don’t know why it’s difficult for people to understand that the fact that the access is not universal is what provides the added opportunity. If I am intent on my child attending a selective school precisely so that s/he can experience the enrichment that comes from a selective school, I, just like other parents who have done the same, simply would send my child to a selective private school because I have the option to do that. To take away selectivity from public schools, however, would just lead to the wealthy primarily having this option. Whatever enrichment Lowell had from being selective and only from being selective would be gone.

    Any disagreement on whether a selective school is actually more enriching than a non-selective school that provides diversity of achievement levels is a matter of opinion and actually an inconsequential disagreement. In the end, it’s not about who is right so much as it’s about how parents’ opinions will inform their decision-making. If enough parents want selectivity, they will just do whatever they can to send their kids to selective schools, and the whole exercise of non-selective admissions at Lowell will be futile.

    1. Thanks for sharing.

      “ Attending a selective school changes how you think and changes your basic reference point and standards in life.”

      I do believe in the change in reference point benefit and what is possible.

      Can you share where you went to college and what you were doing with your life? Even though Jan 2015 Photo Can you share where you went to college and what you were doing with your life? Even though you say that the purpose of high school is this above, I think those parents definitely look forward to the end result of what could be.

      1. EnrichmentInSelectivity

        I agree that parents definitely look to the end result. My parents certainly did when we were discussing school choices!

        I applied to 12 colleges and was admitted to 11 of them. I ended up going to the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship even though I did not qualify for financial aid, and I attribute this to the extent to which my high school peers pushed my boundaries. I then went into patent law. I started off in big law and am now at a pharma company doing drug patent litigation. I ended up getting a full scholarship to a first tier law school. In the end, I came out of law school completely debt-free. My parents joke that they paid for three degrees for the price of one.

        This might be more of a consideration in the legal field where pedigree and connections are more important than, say, in a field like tech, but in addition to college admissions, my HS alumni network has provided me with a great deal of mentorship and opportunities throughout my career as well. Penn has a fantastic network, but there is something about a common experience during the formative years of 14-18 that can’t be beaten by anything you experience as an adult. There have been two major instances in my life in which HS alumni connections have made a difference in my career trajectory.

        For the case for or against attending a selective high school, I don’t think the question should be, “Can you go to a non-selective school and turn out fine?” Of course, the answer to that question will be a wholehearted yes. The question should be, “Will attending a non-selective school allow you to fulfill your full potential as much as attending a selective school?” When people say, “I went to a non-selective school, and I turned out fine,” they’re missing the point. The threshold statement they have to be able to say is, “I went to a non-selective school and ended up just as successful as I would have had I gone to a selective school.” Whether this is the case will be different for each kid. A few students did not thrive at all in my high school and went back to their hometowns and did better than they would have in my school. They were excellent, but this environment did not work for them. So, I believe it really does depend on how much synergy there is with the student and the school, and the environment is not the best for every excellent kid out there.

        For me, I know myself enough to know that I would not have been as successful had I not gone to a selective school. I would have done what it takes to get into a top college, but I would not have pushed my limits to the extent I did. Complacency is in my nature, and I would have been content to excel without getting too uncomfortable. Even now when I consider my track record in my career, I get complacent with my good performance until I think and ask myself, “If every lawyer I worked with or against kept me on my toes the way my high school classmates did, would I still be feeling so pleased with myself?” I ask myself this question every now and then to remind myself that you don’t always see your true peers (or true competition other than yourself) until it’s too late for you to prepare. This was the same realization I had when I entered 9th grade and thought to myself, “Where did all these smart kids come from?” Even now, 19 years later, my high school experience informs my motivation and reference point.

        This is a very long answer to your question, but yes, I think I was fairly successful having gone to a great college and currently have a lucrative career as an executive and lawyer. For me, it was a synergistic result of the school’s actual education, the peer factor, and my own foundation as a student. If I had continued in a non-selective high school in my hometown, I think I would have still gone to a great school and would have had a successful career, but it wouldn’t be the level I am at now. My net worth (or my parents’) would be lower due to school loan payments during the critical early-career savings/investment period, and I would not be at the same level at my career in terms of compensation/seniority/responsibility/impact.

  6. The Social Capitalist

    This identifies the very problem of public education. That some schools are better than others, that they offer different level of education, that they don’t have reasonably similar course offerings.

    It is almost preposterous to think that most 13-14 yo kids know or should know their academic/vocational path. Schools like these put children in the position of success/failure and not what they are truly there foe – learning.

    My idea – a school should draw its student body from the area its in with as much diversity as can be allowed. We learn from others, their stories and backgrounds, their similarities and their differences as much as we learn from teachers and textbooks. If parents then feel the education is insufficient they can feel free to supplement, home school or private school. Not that I am totally in favor of the latter two as they homogenize learning but people have a right to segregate on an individual level – just not in public institutions.

    Also, one of the dumbest things schools have stopped doing is offering basic courses such as driver’s ed and home ec. People that choose to drive will do so for theist 50-60 years. I think that is a good lesson to learn. Same with home ec. Boys and girls should learn financial basics and some basic skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. Engineering classes are important, AP classes too but let’s teach our kids how to learn before we teach them what to learn.

    1. “ Also, one of the dumbest things schools have stopped doing is offering basic courses such as driver’s ed and home ec. People that choose to drive will do so for theist 50-60 years. I think that is a good lesson to learn. Same with home ec. Boys and girls should learn financial basics and some basic skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. Engineering classes are important, AP classes too but let’s teach our kids how to learn before we teach them what to learn.”


      Also, it really seems to me that parental involvement and tutoring goes a long way for kids. Not sure why parents don’t get more involved, at least on the weekends.

      What am i missing?

  7. I’m going the middle ground. There needs to be some testing if a school wants to keep academics rigorous. Students will have to have a baseline of academic abilities to benefit from Lowell’s curriculum. But what if they do a lottery of say, top-scoring 10% vs top 1%. The school’s curriculum may have to drop to a less advanced level, as there will be kids who struggle—or they could create different levels of difficulty in each subject to accommodate a wider range of abilities.

    So yes, that school’s academic test scores drop, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the teaching has to go down. It doesn’t mean that the school can’t have great enrichment programs if the kids aren’t all Yale material. Why is it so important that kids have to learn college-level material before college? Grades and test scores are not the only measure for a great school (there’s a fantastic private school, St Ann’s, in NY that doesn’t even grade their students–many of whom go on to Ivy League). So academic competitiveness decreases but if that means lower income families have better chance at taking advantage of a great public education, I think society overall benefits.

    1. Sounds great. Would only work if there is no grading on the curve, or maybe grading at all. It’s hard though being aware that you are not as smart as many of your peers, much like being part of the free lunch crowd when everyone’s going on family ski trips.

      When I attended Lowell, it wasn’t even the teachers teaching/assigning college-level material. Many of the kids were naturally curious and advanced that they read books and learned on their own. Some were already at the college level by sophomore year. That’s what made some of the discussions lively, so if you aren’t prepared and motivated, you’re just feeling lost half the time.

  8. Canadian Reader

    My child isn’t school aged yet- but when she is, she will attend the public elementary 1 block from our house. School acceptance is based on catchment. I’ve timed my walks a few times to when school lets out so I could speak with some other moms with kids in the school. I’ve only heard good reviews. Our child will definitely be a minority in the classroom as we live in the most densely populated Chinese part of Vancouver. I haven’t noticed any inkling of racism since we moved here, so I don’t expect this to be much of an issue. The community has been extremely friendly and welcoming toward us. Anyway, I’m looking forward to my child attending school with other children whose parents put a focus on academic performance and respect for teachers.
    When I went to school is was based on catchment and they just streamed the smarter kids into different classrooms. I never really thought about it growing up. My husband went to academic schools in the same city I wasn’t even aware of growing up. When we reflect on our learning experiences- it’s clear he had a superior education. He says by high school he was mostly streamed with majority Chinese kids. Same thing in University.
    If I really think about it- I was a poor kid and my mom wasn’t really aware of education quality differences. Like I’m the only person in my whole family to go to university- many did not complete High school.
    The biggest influence on me was being streamed with the “smarter” and usually wealthier kids, who ultimately were my friends. I learned early how different their lives were and always aspired to move up. So it seems to me that wealthy families have a responsibility in the community to try and practice inclusion. I think it’s through friendship and encouragement that we can influence struggling children the most.
    I can certainly understand the fear in promoting friendship between your child and poorer children, but by keeping them in a community of only wealthy they will only understand competition between people who are just like them. Sounds great, but I don’t this will make for a better world.
    My comments are more general towards this topic, as I don’t live in the US and can’t appreciate all of the factors in such a differing education system.

  9. It’s an interesting topic. Two points to make, neither of which will be popular. First, I would never send one of my kids to a school where they would struggle and most likely underperform. There is no upside to that kind of pressure being placed on a kid by a parent. Second, we should ask ourselves about how the US will compete in a globalized and democratized economy. Perhaps we should place some priority on fostering and enhancing the educational opportunities for the brightest and most motivated students and recognize that they will be doing the heavy lifting for all of us once they enter the workforce.

    Maybe we should extend the logic of the SF school system and drop entrance standards for universities, medical schools, MBA programs, etc. Let’s use a lottery. We can use the same lottery to select our physicians and financial advisors to avoid hurting the feelings of the products of a system that is based on factors other than merit.

    A better solution could be more funding and emphasis on magnet schools that excel in areas other than ultra-competitive academics. Provide great alternatives for students to obtain an excellent education that doesn’t produce perfect SAT scores but instead produces young adults that are prepared for a bottom 99 % university or a career of their choice.

    1. Well that’s what I was thinking, a lot of the admissions system for the best universities like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc. so that we all get a chance to attend. That would be great, especially if you are an over represented minority who get throttled by admissions.

  10. FiredforLife

    Unfortunately, your data for SF students by race overall and by public school system appears to be incorrect. The data appears to be as follows:

    SF Public Schools:
    Asians: 40.9%
    Latino: 27.2%
    White: 12.9%
    Black: 9.7%
    Other: 9.3%

    Moreover, the percentage of white students actually decreases as they age, so while the overall share may be 12.9% it is only ~8.9% at the public high schools.

    SF School Age Youth Overall:
    White: 27.8%
    I couldn’t get the exact break out for all groups, but found an infographic that appears to indicate Asians are the single largest group with ~35-40% of the total, with Latinos in third slot overall.

    Sources: American Community Survey 2013, California Department of Education
    Source: San Francisco Unified School District enrollment by race/ethnicity; Source: CA Department of Education

    So it appears whites are not even close to 40% in either public schools nor overall of SF’s total youth population.

    I think a lot of white families leave SF for the suburbs, because of the anti-white SF educational system [e.g. white people are inherently bad, which these days is somehow believed to not be a racist sentiment itself; MLK = Jesus Christ + Plato + Dalai Lama + Albert Einstein all rolled into one; focus on emotional slogans rather than intellectual rigor; lack of proportional representation of achievements in history – e.g. Chinese, Japanese, European civilizations which have gifted us with nearly the entirety of the modern world / technological inventions; and the deconstruction of honors classes and differentiated learning because there simply were not enough qualified black and to a lesser extent Latino students and so it merely exacerbated the natural IQ gap. Another concern of note is bullying. I had white white and Asian friends who went to largely black or Latino high schools and they were physically and verbally abused mercilessly for no reason other than their race. So now we live in a nice suburb where my half German/Scandinavian, half Chinese kids are learning programming, math 2 grade levels above, science and maker labs, accurate, balanced history/social studies, and most important feel safe and welcomed by the majority white population…

    1. Hi there, can you explain why my data is incorrect? My chart is Lowell HS’s racial makeup. Then I highlight the racial makeup of San Francisco city overall.

      You highlight SF Public Schools overall racial makeup, which is different. But I appreciate the contribution as it’s good to compare.

      I’ll make a further clarification. Or, maybe I did make a mistake, in which case I’ll fix it. But please point it out fo me clearly. Thanks!

  11. Need to have some testing if school wants to keep academics rigorous, but I think they should do lottery of say, top 10% vs top 1%. The curriculum may have to drop to a less advanced level, as there will be kids who struggle—or you create different levels of difficulty in each subject to accommodate everyone’s abilities.

    So yes, that school’s academic test scores drop, but so what? It doesn’t mean the quality of the teaching has to go down. Doesn’t mean the school can’t have enrichment programs if the kids aren’t all Yale material. What’s so important that kids have to learn college-level material in HS?

  12. Interesting conversation. This has gone on for decades with Lowell. Nothing has changed. NOTHING. The School Board has had no clue or success in any social engineering they’ve initiated.

    I attended Lowell in the mid-1980s at the height of efforts to increase diversity through caps on ethnic groups. This lead to intense competition. Out of the 69 points (GPA and test scores) for spots it devolved into an affirmative action of sorts. Everyone knew the breakdown and you knew what you had to score for your race: Asians (67+), Whites (62), Hispanics (59) and African-Americans (56). The policy didn’t achieve for the hoped-for diversity, but many unprepared kids (overwhelmingly of certain ethnicities) that got in struggled and had their academic careers derailed. I had a perfect score, attended private school prior, yet struggled to keep up. I couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like coming from Bayview, Hunter’s Point or Western Addition. The pressure-cooker, grade on curve with super-smart kids was not for me.

    While I would never choose Lowell if I had to do it all over again, it provides an option for gifted and prepared low-income and middle-income kids to attend a rigorous school where everyone is at the top of their game and be challenged and find like-minded friends. In my day, we lived through huge budget cuts to education, everyone was using out of date text books, AP programs were cut, 10 classrooms were in temporary “The Bungalows” by the football field. But the students and their competitiveness MADE the school excellent. Kids who used calculus during Algebra class and had lively discussions, challenging or debating the teachers.

    The School Board is trying to dictate outcomes while eliminating excellence in the process, rather than address the issues that start from kindergarten. If the schools were able to better prepare kids from disadvantaged households, AND foster an emphasis on academics early (that many immigrant families do), you might have a shot diversity in a magnet high school. But that places the emphasis on child-rearing on the school system and while you can save a few kids through the dedication of amazing teachers, it’s not viable policy.

    What has worked has come organically. In the 80s, west-side schools like Washington and Lincoln were terrible but over the years they “gentrified” with high-performing students (back when they were still district schools) shut out by Lowell and made those schools viable as well. That would not have happened if the lottery switch happened earlier.

    The city is unrecognizable now, overrun with politicians who want quick, easy solutions and don’t see their hand in the policies that have turned SF into one of the most expensive places to live with a Rich-Poor divide and less and less middle-class who don’t have the benefit of inherited wealth, Tech wealth, or social programs and rent control for the poor.

    I don’t have any solutions, but wish the School Board and the current Board of Supervisors, would see their hand in creating policies that make it harder for the larger middle-class and moderates. These are the folks who didn’t move to SF to find their inner freak but fix your pipes, teach your kids and nurse you when you’re in the hospital.

    BTW, Lowell was founded 1856, not 1956.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. That is interesting that you scored a perfect score, yet you still struggled. Where did you end up going to college and what did you end up doing with your life? I’m always curious about what happens after attending a magnet school because isn’t that the whole point? To try to get a better occupation and financial standing in the world? Especially if you didn’t enjoy the school?

      My high school tennis team actually played Lowell high school a couple years ago. I spent about 20 minutes walking around the school and frankly, it was a little bit depressing in terms of the facilities. It is also a massive school with over 600 students per class. And I hear people are just studying in the hallways because there’s just not enough space.

      We are really going to have to weigh our options once our kids are in middle school.

      1. Hi Sam,

        I attended UC, followed by law school back East. I struggled because while I was smart and creative, I was finding myself and exploring SF. I wasn’t as laser-focused to work hard and hit the books non-stop like my peers. You might say I was lazy, but any other school I would have been otherwise. The class size was 720 my year and you get lost in the shuffle because you set your own schedule, you select your teachers, and your classes, much like college. Physical plant was grim. If you fall, no one catches you. My SAT scores helped offset the grades and frankly college was a breeze compared with high school –finished in 2.5 years.

        I am not a parent, but I guess it would depend on the personality and your kids’ learning styles and interests. My nephew attended private in SF and struggled bc it was too academic too and ended up in public in Marin for HS. Most my friends’ kids in SF are all private now. I would have benefited from a smaller, creative school, but even the options my parents had for me (SI, University) would not have been right. I eventually became a successful creative professional, career in NY, Europe, Asia after much meandering since the “track” was law, medicine, finance or engineering.

        What schools are you considering? Are you thinking of Lowell?

        1. 720 is huge. Impressed you finished college in 2.5 years, so that’s a good benefit of going to a rigorous school.

          Why do you think SI and University wouldn’t have been a good fit? University is a small school. And do you think there’s anyway parents can eradicate relative laziness from a HS student and get them to be more serious? Or do u think work ethic is genetic?

          Your career truck was all over the place. Was this intentional or you just want to do a lot of things? I did finance for 13 years and then left and focus on online media now with this site.

          The kids are still very young right now, but Lowell high school is definitely something to consider. I just hope their facilities improve because it’s really run down right now.

          1. Yeah Lowell was bursting at the seams. I remember 720 distinctly because I was ranked 520! Works wonders for one’s confidence, lol.

            SI was an all-boys school back in the 80s–would not have enjoyed. University had the rigour and competitiveness, but with the social snobbery since it drew from some wealthy, old SF families and bred all sort of insecurities. Just my interpretation based on experiences of friends who attended while I was at Lowell as well as ones I met over the years.

            Do think work ethic is intrinsic (my brother was opposite, worked super hard) but it could be learned or birth order (I was youngest). My parents did study sessions with him very early on but not me. Also suspect it was some undiagnosed ADHD. Got bored easily once I “figured things out.” Career track reflected that (not intentional); was kind of good (not excellent) at everything. So I went after, and was given, opportunities to try different fields, industries, while still getting promoted and paid more. Thank god for transferable skills.

            I would think the ideal is to find a student body that has enough to challenge your kids, they feel they are thriving instead of struggling, and have enough like-minded kids to become friends with. People only care where you went to college and that only lasts first few years after graduation.

  13. Equality of opportunity doesn’t equate to positive outcomes for students. It could just mean that everyone has equally bad opportunities, which is true for many public schools in LAUSD.

    Instead the focus should be on upward mobility.

    Outside of a few rare exceptions, upward mobility doesn’t happen without a high school diploma, so the emphasis should be on providing additional tutoring for at-risk student or even allowing alternative means of fulfilling graduation requirements such as vocational training.

    For the high performers, the bar should be kept high to ensure competitiveness because these students deserve all of the opportunities their talent and hard work affords them as well.

  14. Eddy Hariyanto

    I am an immigrant myself, I have lived in SF for almost 24 years and I am so sorry if my English is not 100% correct. The topic is very interesting, and I could not help myself not to make any comment. Basically, in my opinion the issue is not that simple, there more complex issues. When you gave the stats about the attendance of Lowell HS, it really stood out that Lowell HS has 61% Asian, but those 61% needs to be broken down to more specific Asian, because there are so many countries represent Asians. For example, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Philiipine, Indonesia, Singapore, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and so many more countries. After all, those 61% Asian can not be label as racist or inequality of admission to Lowell HS ( maybe you can label things with “racist” in order to get what you want ) Not to mention that some of those Asians belongs to poor family.
    The other main issue, the authorities did not put enough budget for education!! There was an article few years ago, it cost so much more money to take care an inmate/year than a good budget for a student. Whose fault is this?? Of course, not enough budget for education is also the main source of problem, let’s be honest, money is not everything in life, but not having enough money ( financial freedom ) is creating many problems! So, those people who are in charge for education, they should not mix politics with education, get your goal straight, get enough funding to help the students ( books, tutors, laptops, unlimited internet access, anythings that will support a low performance student becoming an excellent student) Anyway, the bottom line is, those smart people who is incharge for education in SF, they have too much time on their hand trying to bring down an excellent school, becoming just an average school, by compromise, meet in the middle, instead of bringing low performance school to the highest level. It is sad! Thanks for reading my comments, and I am so sorry for any grammatical or spelling errors! Stay safe and healthy!

  15. Interesting article with lots of nuances. I’d suggest reading Dream Hoarders by Richard Reeves as it speaks to directly to this topic – not entrance exams per se, but how the opportunity for advancement is being overwhelmingly taken by the upper middle class.

  16. I have mixed feelings about this change. If the school kept its same academic standards I could see how it could open up opportunities for kids who otherwise wouldn’t have this chance. I know some kids who are incredibly bright who just don’t do well on tests. This could be their big break. However, it does punish the high achievers who don’t need the lottery. As a general rule I don’t like punishing success.

    Most of us use meritocracy for everything. I want the best financial advisor, doctor, plumber, teacher, and so on I can get.

    We wouldn’t accept this type of social engineering when it comes to our finances but we accept it when it comes to our kids. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It just seems hypocritical to me.

    Thanks, Bill

  17. I voted “Other” because I actually favor both an entrance exam and a lottery. In my view the fairest process would be to determine what curriculum and program your school will offer, create an entrance exam relevant to what you’re teaching, and determine what score on that exam demonstrates an ability to benefit from the program. Any student who scores at or beyond that level should then be entered into a lottery, which will determine who among that group will be admitted.

    This ensures that students who cannot keep up and who will likely obstruct the brighter students’ education won’t be admitted, and also ensures that the process won’t privilege those who are the best at taking tests and the most diligent in their studies, the sort of people who are willing and able to center their entire lives around pleasing the system. Test results reflect not only actual intellect and knowledge but also conscientiousness and conformism.

    Those who are just as knowledgeable and able to do the work intellectually but are not willing to dedicate their lives to studying will score lower than an equally brilliant and knowledgeable student who is willing to do so. To me this seems very unfair and contrary to the idea of merit, and leads to an “intellectual elite” that tends to be smart but also dull, dependent, and uncreative, and that excludes much true genius in society, thus in some ways not being an intellectual elite at all. A lottery system with an exam cutoff solves much of this problem.

    As for selective schools in general, everyone should have access to an education that challenges them on their level and does not bore them or go too far over their head, and selective schools are a way of achieving that. I myself favor giving the opportunity to skip grade levels rather than selective schools, since it’s a much more flexible solution that doesn’t require special facilities. That said, schools that are selective by subject where that subject requires special facilities, e.g. schools for the arts or sciences, are a great idea.

  18. I got whipsawed from school to school in different states when I was a kid. I went to nine different schools during K12. Some were great and some were indefensible. The best one was in rural Mississippi, if you can believe that.

    The worst was a middle school in Arizona where at least half the kids were the sons and daughters of indigents and migrant workers and they taught at the lowest possible level. For example, science class was nothing but old movies. Older readers know what these were like: “Zinc oxide is important in our daily lives. How important? Let’s take a look.”

    I am anything but a fan of big government, but the differences in level of funding between schools (other than COLA adjustments) are criminal. Adequacy of education within the same society (even though it is a big one that stretches from sea to shining sea and beyond) should not be geographically dependent on what town, county, or even state, an US citizen is living in.

    The school systems will point at the budgets they get and, the politicians will point at anything else (besides themselves), and nothing ever gets done.

    Diversity versus meritocracy? I don’t wan’t the most diverse doctor cutting on me, I want the most qualified doctor cutting on me. Period. The same thing goes for designing aircraft that fly over my neighborhood, and a million other things. But it shouldn’t even be an issue, everyone should have access to the best education their brains (and motivation) can handle from day one, making lotteries pointless.

    We don’t have enough money in our economy to educate everyone to the limits of their ability and motivation? That’s like saying we don’t have enough time to get organized.

    As for K12 schools? They need to throw out the whole shebang and redesign all of it. For one thing, the seniority basis for advancing is crazy. Kids should be able to work at their own rate, without the only option being to skip ahead an entire year in one bite.

    But first and foremost, we need to start out with asking: What is the purpose and goal of society in educating children until they are legal adults (and possibly even a bit beyond)?

    In times past (last year), teacher’s unions, school administrators, football dads, soccer moms (and, yes, cheerleader moms), school portrait photographers, yearbook printers, school ring jewelry companies, athletic gear makers, and so on, would have been an immovable obstacle. Right now they are weakened . . . .

  19. I agree with public schools remaining open to the whole public and not through testing. It’s already hard enough on HS kids dealing with academic pressures, it’s sad to see 10 year olds worrying about the same so early in their life.

    If you are a top student in a mediocre HS school, u will do very well in college admissions.

    Change will always affect someone hard. The middle schoolers who spent 4 years working to get to LHS will suffer. But the same is said for the coal factory workers who know nothing else at the age of 50 when their factories close. Doesn’t mean we keep doing something that is not great.

  20. Some new information to throw into the mix…

    1) Lowell High School is one of the 44 (out of 125) SFUSD schools considered for renaming because the current names are “problematic”.
    2) Systemic racism, if it does exist, seems to hinder our more vibrant students while helping our higher-IQ, harder-working, punctual students. In example, only 1% of blacks scored 1400 or higher on the SAT, compared to 7% of whites and 24% of Asians.
    3) FS notes that 40% of Frisco’s population is white, but only 12.9% of the SFUSD student body is white (8.9% by high school).


  21. We have this exact same system (elite public charter middle school, lottery system). Summit Middle. It’s been open lottery system but it is one of the best, if not the best, middle school in all of Colorado. You can look it up. Crazy high test scores. With our two kids, we had one attend and one not. It turns out that people who want their kid to go to the school will self-select themselves to apply for the lottery and so weight the school anyways with striving parents. Additionally the word was out amongst the kids about how rigorous the school was so they themselves had opinions about whether they wanted to go. We saw this: my daughter said no way (this is the one on scholarship in engineering in college lol) and my son (now high school) wanted to go. It is a little different than SF because you had to go out of your way to apply to the lottery (can go to the local middle school without effort). Anyways this is a situation where it is a general lottery to get in which did not result in low school quality. Perhaps it would be even better, but the school is top-scoring even with the lottery.

    1. I like the idea of trying to attend a magnet middle school and see how the kids go. If good, then they can continue. If not, then don’t go to a magnet high school.

      But a lottery system for a middle school seems like the only equitable way to go. And hopefully the other middle schools have the same amount of funding.

  22. spaceassassin

    If it’s a single school or even a couple in a district with certain standards or qualifications to get in, I don’t see a concern; so long as there are acceptable options for those who don’t.

    I’m not sure why people get so worked up about a specific school, other than there’s a certain group that likes having their own sand box and a group that dislikes not being allowed in the sandbox, but for all of us in between? Who cares?

    The kids who get into Lowell-type schools are going to perform wherever they go. Sure, there might be some better instructors, more funding, better technology, etc. but there is a host of other problems. I know, I went to one, and barely survived (emotionally and psychologically).

    There is so much pressure on kids these days to perform at the grade and high-school level that we might be doing more harm than good. What negative psychological measure (i.e. anxiety, depression, self harm, suicide, etc.) hasn’t significantly increased over the last 15 years? I think we need to tone it down a notch and not worry about School A or School B, let’s just try and help our children learn to lead purposeful lives, follow their passions and help them learn ways to financially support that lifestyle.

    And on another note, without going down the rabbit’s hole, I think we all know why financial literacy is not taught in school. Money is made BY the financially literate, not OFF the financially literate.

  23. I went to a highly ranked public school that used merit based admissions but gave priority to students who lived within the school zone, many of whom were low-income minorities who would not qualify based on merit. The result was a bimodal distribution with a clear divide between these two groups.

    This isn’t surprising and not necessarily a bad thing. One could argue the poor performing students were still better off because the graduation rate at my school was almost 100% and some may have dropped out at a lesser school. Also, the high performers still went to great universities regardless so they did not seem to be impacted.

    The key to this hybrid model seems to be having the right balance to ensure the great school keeps its reputation as such.

      1. Upward mobility doesn’t happen without a high school degree, so in my opinion graduation rate followed by college admissions of low-income students (regardless of ethnicity) are the most important metrics for determining effectiveness of diversity programs.

        The only danger is that the academic bar will be lowered to inflate these metrics, but grading can be done in a way where it’s not quite as hard to pass but still very difficult to get As.

        I went to a top tier UC and work as a software developer in the bay area.

    1. Christine Minasian

      I would agree with the hybrid model. My kids went to private high schools (and to everyone’s point…who really cares where you went to HS-it’s the kids effort), they did implement an entrance exam but they do also look at need based to create a diverse student body & to give a chance to kids that need it. Almost 40% of the kids receive some form of tuition assistance. The graduation rate is almost 100% with an average ACT of 29 (who cares about that anymore either). To Sam’s point- the teachers are impeccable because they know teaching to good students is very rewarding. The cost is almost $25K though :(

    2. I went to a highly ranked public school as well. There was no entrance exam as our school district did not offer busing or lotteries, and there was enough demand within our school’s boundary that it was very difficult to get a boundary exception. It was a large, suburban public school with a fair amount of diversity, although I wouldn’t call it a bimodal distribution because we had a fair amount of depth. I was on the “AP track” and debate team, which was almost like a school within the school, and the many of my friends went to top colleges or the honors college at our flagship university on scholarship. I think almost all of us from my core group of friends went to some form of graduate school – MBAs, lawyers, doctors, PhDs. We also had great athletics and arts, including athletes who played professionally after college, a b-list actress, etc. We also had plenty of kids who were average and who struggled, and programs to help them. I have a public school bias now because public school worked for me, my siblings and my friends. I’m not sure I’d feel that way in California with the lottery system. I don’t like the idea of putting my kids on a bus for a long ride to school. I appreciate the arguments in favor of the lottery system, but like you, if my kids didn’t get into a decent school through the lottery, I’d likely send them to private school, which does not align with my personal bias and desire to support public schools.

      Our local school district is similar to the one I grew up in, although more bimodal. The COL is high, so we have folks who can afford to live here, and we have service workers and their families who live in affordable housing. However, we also have strong community support for our school district in the form of volunteers and fundraising. I am very happy to send my kids to a nearby neighborhood school knowing that my kids are getting a great education that aligns with my personal values. Like many of our neighbors, our family volunteers within our neighborhood school and we give money to our education foundation to support their initiatives within the district.

  24. Thank you for sharing this information and generating an honest conversation on what may be a sensitive topic for some people. Personally, I identify with both sides of the argument you present; I grew up in a very difficult family with very little access to resources due to financial constraints, but I worked very hard to score highly enough on the SHSAT in order to gain admission to one of the public, magnet high schools in NYC (Bronx Science). There, the student population was majority Asian (not rich, white people) and the children of financially-struggling immigrants who strongly encouraged their children to study hard, independently of their middle school curriculums. In the past, this school has been the target of several activist groups which claim that the student population lacks racial diversity because certain groups are unable to afford the expensive prep courses for the admissions exam. This argument, however, has been shown over a long period of time to be based in very little truth. The student population lacks diversity because some groups have cultures of scholarship at all costs.
    We continued to work hard to eventually be accepted to elite universities. At university, I got to know many people who had every resource/privilege/opportunity served to them by their parents. Having to see this was annoying to say the least but I continued to work hard to eventually gain admission to medical school and graduate. I say all of this not for self-congratulations but to convey that, 1. I don’t have any trouble discerning my personal achievements from the opportunities/resources/privileges that were served to me (there were none), 2. People pushed along by their parents on the path to “success” are also sometimes robbed of this sense of personal achievement and work-ethic (e.g. “Impostor Syndrome”), 3. Despite having moments of envy towards people who had an easier time accomplishing the same things, I think these privileged people are also bright and will contribute to society, 4. I strongly believe that these systems should be merit-based and socioeconomic factors should be considered, not racial, 5. Lottery systems for these high school admissions may create some equity if we think within the dimensions of race and socioeconomic status, but they also successfully impede the development of a child’s goal-seeking behavior and sense of accountability, which are probably things we should be teaching them at that age, 6. People with money and resources will still always manage to get their way, whether it be by sending their children to expensive, private schools or by hiring expensive tutors to ensure their child’s success, etc. Hopefully, people can consider this mix when they think about admissions exams vs lottery systems.

  25. Sending low performing students to a high performing school is not doing those students any favors. Public school is failing our children, think of all the students who graduate high school and can barely read or do math? They got sham highschool diplomas and the teachers just looked ththe other way and passed them to the next grade. I’m all for school choice via vouchers as it would make public schools step up their game. (Sweden has a voucher system, it showed that the public schools improved because they were in competition with private schools )

  26. The Alchemist

    If Lowell is the ONLY school in the City that has the entrance criteria instead of the lottery, I say keep it that way. Aspiration breeds excellence. For kids that study hard but don’t get in, they’re still ahead of the game because they’ve developed excellent study habits and learned to work hard. They may be disappointed not to have gotten in to Lowell, but they can still excel in another school. They’ve gained because they had a hard goal at which to aim!

    Anyone who doesn’t want to deal with the “pressure cooker” of a Lowell can simply choose to go elsewhere. Freedom of choice is a glorious thing!

    My fear is that all of the public schools are being dumbed down to a frankly disturbing degree in the name of “equity”. What’s very, very troubling is that so many people seem to think that “equity” is just short for “equality”, as in, “equality of opportunity”. It’s an intentional linguistic obfuscation; equity in fact means “equality of OUTCOME.” Which is a phrase that effectively equates to a certain authoritarian political ideology that has wreaked havoc in every nation where it has been implemented. Artificially enforcing equality of outcome, taken to its logical conclusion, never ends well.

    I totally agree with what you said here, Sam: “As a society, we should do our best to give everybody an equal opportunity to succeed. Once we have the opportunity, the responsibility lies upon us to make the most of our opportunity.” Bingo!!!

    On a related note, have you seen what the San Diego Unified School District is up to these days with regard to grading policy? Just keep lowering that bar, and see where it leads…

    1. Interesting commentary on equity and equality.

      Forcing equality of outcome is a losing proposition. And anybody who expects equality of outcome is misguided. There are too many factors in the world that lead to various outcomes, even if we control for the same education and background settings.

      Nope.. don’t know what’s going on with SDUSD. Will check it out!

    2. Lowell is the same as Stuyvesant or Bronx science in NYC or Thomas Jefferson in DC. These are only 1 or 2 public schools in an entire system – of which there are many other public and private schools to choose from. If these schools are the premiere and require an entrance exam, so be it as the number is small. It is not a general representation of the public school system. Once you take away the entrance exam, all it does it make the school become on par with the other public schools around. The way to make schools equitable is to ensure equitable funding of the school system in general, and even after that happens, there will still be inequity amongst students for a variety of reasons (resources, family emphasis on education, social reasons). A lottery system to a premiere school most likely will not change these fundamental problems as they are deeper.

  27. The #1 ranked high school will likely change its admission practice as well. I guess going lottery-based is in vogue.

    Every argument for merit vs lottery has its place. However one thing is certain: Asian Americans that should have qualified based on merit will be the group that’s most likely to lose their place in the admission more than any other ethnicity. Ouch.

    1. Interesting. Didn’t know TJ, a school I would never hav gotten into, is doing something similar.

      The $100 application fee should have most certainly been done away with years ago. That is clearly a a barrier for low-income families. I’m surprised they had on in the first place.

      It’s the same thing with preschools and their $75-$150 application fees. I feel it’s a racket that needs to be adjusted, especially if you don’t get in. How about a 80% – 100% refund for rejects?


      “FCPS’s school profile for Thomas Jefferson, during the entire 2019-2020 school year, showed the following demographic breakdown at the institution: 71.5% Asian, 19.48% White, 2.6% Hispanic, 1.72% Black, and 4.7% other.

      In a recent meeting, Brabrand said the demographics of the entire Fairfax County Public School system, in fall 2019, broke down as follows: 37.8% White, 26.8 percent Hispanic, 19.5% Asian, 9.8% Black, and 5.7% other.

      The proposed admissions policy would eliminate the admissions test, application fee and need for teacher recommendations. Instead, FCPS would look to create a “merit lottery” for Thomas Jefferson admissions that would select interested, qualified students, at random, from certain geographic “lottery pathways.””

  28. Is there a system anywhere that works better than ours, from which we can use as a model?

    I agree with your conclusion though. Plenty of my friends went to private school all the way and ended up anywhere from janitor to doctor. The ones that went to low-end public schools were the same, if not more socially adept. Believe you can and stay out of jail = success.

    1. Yes, school vouchers like Sweden has. It improved public schools because they were in competition with private schools . Of course teachers unions are against it.

  29. Wow fascinating situation! I can see how the pandemic made them change the process. But I can also understand how this stirred up a lot of controversy. I certainly don’t know what the best approach is but will be curious to see how things go and if they will give up the admissions test all together after the first year.

    I just wish they would spend more time helping get SF public schools open versus spend hours on changing admissions to one school.

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