Lowell High School in San Francisco, California, has long been known as a public school dedicated to developing excellence in its students. Its educational resources have attracted many high-achieving families to the area. Lowell’s academics rank among the best in the nation, placing in the top 1 percent of California schools in math performance while producing such distinguished alumni as Justice Stephen Breyer and three Nobel Prize laureates.
Recently, however, “equity and diversity” activists have dismantled Lowell’s admissions system, leading a cadre of school board members to vote 5-2 to eliminate the merit-based admissions. According to the latest figures, Lowell is 50 percent Asian American, 18 percent white, 12 percent Latino, and roughly 2 percent black. The activists say this proves, not that black, white, and Latino children need much better academic preparation, but that Lowell’s admissions program systemically excludes black students in favor of white and Asian applicants.
A new resolution proposed by Lowell High School board members will permanently replace the school’s admissions system based on grades and test scores with a random lottery.
Lowell High School is the only high school in the San Francisco Unified School District with a merit-based admissions system instead of a lottery for entry. Indeed, the merit-based process is critical for the school to earn its reputation as a center of excellence whose students will ultimately go on to serve their community positively.
Julian Chan, a 2010 Lowell graduate, explains, “What they are doing would mean there would be no more Lowell High School. It’d just be another San Francisco public school, and we all know Lowell is not just another San Francisco public school.”
Yet “equity” activists made the devolution of the only public high school in San Francisco with merit-based admissions requirements a major thrust of its agenda. Citing the lack of black students, the school board released a proposal on Feb. 2 entitled “In Response to Ongoing, Pervasive Systemic Racism at Lowell High School,” suggesting the school’s admissions process reinforces “segregation” of black and Latino students.
The San Francisco School Board also took lessons from antiracist lecturer Ibram X. Kendi on how Asian American dominance on standardized tests reflects “racism” against black students:
[Advocates for standardized tests] will claim white and Asian kids on average score higher on tests because they are smarter or work harder. Meaning Black and Latinx kids are not as smart or not as hard-working. Meaning white and Asian kids are superior.
Board member Allison Collins was one of the school authorities taking her cues from Kendi, muttering in one town hall meeting with defenders of the merit-based process: “I’m listening to a bunch of racists.”
This is the kind of awful logic that unfairly blames Asian Americans for playing by the rules of the game. If standardized tests are a metric for entry into an academically excellent public high school, then it is not “racist” for Asian American students to study for them to get in. On the contrary, it shows both intelligence and preparation — meritorious characteristics we need to see reflected in more American students — to perform well on a standardized test.
But the biggest reason, it seems, that the school board is acting so quickly on eliminating the merit-based admissions program to Lowell High School is because the idea of merit itself is odious to its most fervent of today’s “social justice” advocates.
“Lowell High School has often been referred to as SFUSD’s ‘elite’ ‘academic’ high school,” the board wrote, “[but] San Francisco Unified School District does not believe that any student or school is more or less ‘elite’ than any other school.”
The hard truth is, however, Lowell High School has been referred to as an elite academic high school because it is an elite academic high school. Lowell’s mission was always to train the brightest students and offer a place for gifted students to achieve their full potential in the San Francisco region.
The school’s website asserts it is “one of the highest performing public high schools in California” and a four-time National Blue-Ribbon school of excellence. Without Lowell, parents of gifted children would likely be forced to dig deep in their own pockets to send their kids to private schools that can hone and refine their abilities.
Due to the coronavirus lockdowns, Lowell High School eliminated the merit-based admissions process for one year. Tellingly, a Change.org petition of concerned families with more than 11,000 signatures, reveals that Lowell High School alumni and parents feared back in October of 2020 that “the transition will become permanent and remove one of the two remaining academic and merit-based public high schools in the city.” Sadly, it appears their apprehensions were warranted.
The school district has also aggressively moved to implement other parts of a broadly “antiracist” agenda during this time, including renaming San Francisco Schools (including a school named after Abraham Lincoln) and adopting “ethnic studies” curricula in all of its high schools focusing on “African American Studies,” “Latino American Studies,” and “Asian American Studies.”
Ultimately, the elimination of Lowell’s merit-based system represents, yet another victory for the “equity” advocates who use the narrative of systemic racism to tear down San Francisco’s centers of excellence in the name of diversity and desegregation. Sadly, unless more Americans stand up to the schemes of leftists, Lowell will undoubtedly not be the last bastion of distinction to be toppled.