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Selective Admissions Are Back at Lowell High After a Split Vote Reinstates the Controversial Policy
Thursday, June 30, 2022

Selective Admissions Are Back at Lowell High After a Split Vote Reinstates the Controversial Policy

In a striking turnaround, Lowell High School will return to selective admissions in fall 2023, the San Francisco Unified school board decided Wednesday. 

In a 4-3 decision marking a post-recall shift, the Board of Education voted against the superintendent’s plan to extend lottery admissions for Lowell while a task force assesses high schools and makes recommendations. The school will go back to using grades and test scores to determine eligibility.

Commissioners unanimously approved a separate proposal for a task force that will examine schools with selective admissions: Lowell and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. 

President Jenny Lam joined commissioners Ann Hsu, Lainie Motamedi and Lisa Weissman-Ward—all four of whom were appointed by Mayor London Breed—in voting against keeping Lowell in lottery admissions. 

Vice President Kevine Boggess and Commissioners Mark Sanchez and Matt Alexander voted in favor of extending the lottery. 

“I believe in an academic magnet school,” said Lam, who cast the swing vote. “I support, at this time, criteria-based admissions. Lowell as a school is not perfect on its own, and neither is its admissions process. I’m fully committed in ensuring we move forward as a district.”

Protesters both for and against the lottery system rallied outside the district headquarters before the meeting, leading to complaints of shouting over Black leaders. 

The decision lurches Lowell High back to its controversial admissions policy, which could open it up to a lawsuit. The district has maintained that state law does not allow comprehensive public high schools like Lowell to admit students based on academic performance.

Lowell’s selective admissions policy has been on a roller coaster of uncertainty since October 2020, when it was first—albeit temporarily—undone by pandemic-prompted limitations on the district’s ability to conduct special testing for the school. The move to lottery-based admissions was made permanent in January after demands for cultural change, then temporarily undone by a judge’s decision and then reinstated once more—until now. 

The change in status quo fueled the recall of three commissioners who voted for the permanent end of academic-based admissions and were replaced by successors who favored it.

The change back will likely reverse the recent trend of admitting more Black and Latinx students, whose numbers have long been disproportionately low at the selective public high school, contributing to feelings of isolation and inferiority.

Lowell comprises 48.5% Asian students, 17.7% white students, 14.1% Latinx students, 2% Black students, and 5.4% Filipino students, according to district data. Its freshman class admitted through the lottery system is 43.6% Asian, 15.7% white, 21.6% Latinx, 4% Black, and 4.6% Filipino. 

Under the lottery, a higher number of low-income and special education students were also admitted. 

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Reinstating the previous admissions policy will be a demanding logistical task, staff warned. It will take reestablishing procedures with families and many new middle school administrators, which would cost at least $40,000 in overtime work and purchasing tests. 

‘We Need to Stop Harming Children’

Wednesday’s vote came after immense pressure from the Lowell Alumni Association, Chinese Parent Advisory Council and recall proponents to restore selective admissions

Supporters of criteria-based admissions argued Lowell was not at fault for district failures at the elementary and middle school level to prepare students for a rigorous environment, one that better sets up high-achieving students for success.

Protestors gather regarding admission process at Lowell High School, sit in the School Board meeting at 555 Franklin Street, the SFUSD headquarters in San Francisco, Calif., on June 22, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

“San Francisco needs a strong academically focused public high school to support all kids and driven students,” said Shurrin Zeng, CPAC president, adding that continuing lottery admissions would invite litigation. “Destroying Lowell special admissions will deprive families of what they seek.”

Arguments against the lottery system—that it ruins the school’s quality, punishes hard-working students and threatens political and legal repercussions—have smacked critics of the selective policy as anti-Black. 

“Merit-based can equal ‘separate but not equal,’” said Linda Martley-Jordan, of the Alliance of Black School Educators, during public comment. “That is the case. No one is trying to dummy down Lowell. What I’m hearing is students … they’re only quality if they’re at Lowell. We need to stop harming children that way.”

Selective admissions will return for the 2023-24 school year and a task force will make recommendations by April 30.

Ida Mojadad can be reached at [email protected].
  • ” The decision lurches Lowell High back to its controversial admissions policy , which could open it up to lawsuits. State law does not allow comprehensive public high schools like Lowell to admit students based on academic performance, the district has maintained.”

    WHY do you keep publishing this EGREGIOUSLY BIGLY LIE ?

    This BIG LIE is pointed out by 2 Attorneys ( Kate Lazarus & retired UCLA Law Professor John Crittenden) in The San Francisco Examiner on March 20, 2022 ( Updated on June 16, 2022 ) :

    “Why California’s Education Code Does Not Prohibit Academic Admissions At Lowell High School”

    THAT State Law was passed in 1993, right ?

    IF it had stopped admissions at public high schools based on the Merit Policy, then WHY did Lowell High School CONTINUE to have Merit Based Admissions from 1993 – 2020 ??? That’s 27 YEARS .

    You can NOT Grandfather in an Illegal Act/Policy, right ?

    Use your Common Sense, Folks. IF you could, Jim Crow Law in the South would have been “grandfathered in” and STILL be in practice TODAY even after the LBJ Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968 were passed.

    The Merit-based Admissions policy @ Lowell High School was ALWAYS legal. When I went there, 100% of ALL Admissions were based on the Merit Policy.

    The FACT that Lowell actually changed their 100% of the Incoming Students are Merit Based Admissions Policy to an Admissions Policy where 70% of the admissions were based on Merit/ 30% of the admissions were based on OTHER Criteria, was a CONCESSION in itself.

    They SHOULD have been happy with THAT.

    But you know the Ol’ Sayin’ : “Give ’em an inch, and they’ll take a Mile.”

    The RACIST LEFTISTS ( Alexander , Sanchez, and the 3 Defenestrated: Allison KAREN Collins, Lopez, and Moliga) really pushed their luck believing Erroneously that the Merit-supporting San Francisco Parents , especially the Chinese/Asian American Parents , would just take it, and NOT fight back.

    They were WRONG.

    … STILL need proof?

    Go talk to Soon-to-be Defenestrated fellow LEFTIST KOOK Boudin.

  • Alas, 3 down and 3 to go.

    Vote out A.B.S ( Alexander and Boggess and Sanchez ) at the next opportunity.

    We won’t forget.

  • The policy isn’t “controversial” except for people who write for two-bit free “newspapers” and idiots who want to push communism.

  • > The district has maintained that state law does not allow comprehensive public high schools like Lowell to admit students based on academic performance

    You should link to the Lowell Alumni Association’s rebuttal that explains why EDC 35160.5 in context does NOT prohibit Lowell or other magnet schools. https://www.sfexaminer.com/archives/opinion-why-california-s-education-code-does-not-prohibit-academic-admissions-at-lowell-high-school/article_09c4c2d0-34f9-553d-9731-5f3f36516643.html

  • Make the top school available only to students with the best support systems and the most resources and shame the students who don’t have the same resources for underperforming. Nothing wrong with that as long as my kid gets in to Lowell. Now get out of my way.

  • I’m glad that Lowell is returning to a merit based admissions policy. But what about the kids that were negatively impacted by the inept BOE over the last few years? My twin boys wanted to go to Lowell since they were in the 6th grade because I told them that I, my sister, my father, and my wife’s father were all Lowell alumni. They worked hard to maintain a 4.0 GPA through middle school with the expectation that it would allow them to also become Lowelites. They were not accepted to Lowell, although other kids with lower academic scores, that they know were admitted because they apparently “lived closer”. My kids were crushed and I was very disappointed to say the least. I believe my kids are the casualties of yet another politicized, failed program that should be operating transparently and for the benefit of our kids, instead of spending millions of our dollars to rename schools. How about put that money into hiring and retaining quality teachers, not substitutes just to fulfill minimum requirements to retain funding?

  • Well done ! Voters are getting what they have been asking for. Thank you for listening. Meritocrazy is the fastest way out of poverty. Racist will tell you otherwise.

  • Should UC Berkeley admissions be by lottery only? If you think yes, then there’s no more to argue with. However, if you think no, then Lowell admissions, which tries to emulate UCB, should continue to be merit based.

    Lowell’s school atmosphere is highly well behaved. Its being accused of being highly racist is unwarranted. There is no proof that it is more racist than at any other SFUSD school, or that the lack of diversity is the cause of any racism found there.

    Identifying Lowell High as a comprehensive school is murky. It has no trade school or vocational school component. It has features of a magnet school and an alternative school.

    As UCB has its merit-based admissions requirements within the UC system, let Lowell have its merit-based requirements within the SFUSD system.

  • It so pains me to see the disrespect and vitriol in these replies. It reminds me that I keep forgetting how divided San Francisco has always been; and that I keep hoping I am wrong when it shows up. Meritocracy breeds selfishness and discriminatory behavior leading some to believe they deserve the “goal” more than others. As we can plainly see, it has led to some pretty restrictive, and some might say, deadly policies. We are all stuck in a system that was designed to keep us separated – poor or no housing opportunities led to poor funding for schools and poor quality schools. And within all of that, and perhaps most devastating, is the ignorance, depression, and violence that results, needing to be “contained” at best.

    I don’t know the history of how Lowell HS got started; and I will research it when I am done with this reply. As a pediatrician, I was always interested in not simply pulling the young people out of the river (treating the illness or behavioral issue), but rather also and especially looking up river to see who was throwing them in. It seems in our education system, we know who is throwing the children into the river, however, we don’t seem to have a grasp of how, or the will, to stop it. If we start with the premise that we care about “all” of the children in this fine city, we might want to change more about how we educate them. Is lottery vs merit the only 2 answers for our high schools? Why only one such merit-based high school? Does remembering facts and knowing how to take a test help young people to be loving, empathetic, caring human beings? With a merit-based system, what happens to the child, whatever their racial or ethnic label, who does not get in to Lowell simply because they scored 1 or more points less than the “cut off”? I have many questions and do not profess to have the answers as that is for us to create together, however difficult it will prove to be.

  • Hooray! Some sanity back! MLK wanted people to advance by MERIT and NOT by the color of their skin.
    Lesson: Don’t mess with Asian Americans on schools and safety! Or else you get RECALLED. Reminder: SF is 33% Asian.

  • As a Mexican man, I have to call this out. Please, please, PLEASE stop calling us “Latinx.” Enough is enough! We don’t like it! Look at the data: 98% of us don’t use it, and 40% of us (including me) find it OFFENSIVE! (Before you ask, I put a link to it below). “Latinx” is awkward to say in English, doesn’t work AT ALL in Spanish, is yet another example of US cultural imperialism towards Latin America and the “X” feels like erasure and othering. ¡No soy un “equis”! (“I’m not an ‘X’!”)

    It’s obvious that ‘Latinx’ was invented by clueless white people who want to show how woke they are, but never understood how the culture in question would respond because they never actually bothered to ASK the people from that culture what they think.

    Should there be a gender-neutral term in Spanish? Maybe… but in our language and culture, “Latino” when used as an umbrella term is considered gender neutral, even though it has a masculine ending. This is what I mean about asking people from the culture. Assuming something’s the case in other cultures just because it is in the US is ignorant and bigotry. That said, if we as a culture decide we need to be more specific and create new gender neutral terms, that’s fine. As long as WE are the ones making the decision AND the words.

    At least stick with “Latino,” even though I’m not that hot on “Latino,” either. What was wrong with “Hispanic”? That’s what we use in Mexico, and in the rest of the US. “Latino” is supposed to be more inclusive, but it still excludes completely indigenous Latin Americans with no Latin ancestry AND it brings up this whole “X” gender mess. If you want to include Brazilians which is why “Latino” became favored (and they are not marginalized in the US by the way… Brazilians who can afford to come to the US are VERY well off), why not use “Latin American”?

    Or better yet, stop treating us like a f’ing monolith and just refer to us by our nationalities.

    Source: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/many-latinos-say-latinx-offends-or-bothers-them-here-s-ncna1285916

    Oh and while we’re at it: no, white people participating in Day of the Dead festivities is not f’ing “cultural appropriation,” stop trying to tell us what we should be offended about.

  • Here to applaud this ^^
    First time I saw the x I thought, uhmmmm what? How would a Spanish speaker pronounce that? La-TINH (x like in Oaxaca)?

    I had a Salvadoran mother and Sicilian father so I call myself Hispan-ish.

  • Congratulations Lowell!

    Now, what I’d really like to see is at least two more academically-driven magnet schools developed, one in Bay Vew/Hunter’s Point, and one in Marina. Note, magnet schools, not charter schools. This reduces the pressure on Lowell (who are horribly over-populated), and increases options for families for whom the commute to distant Lowell is a problem (and it really is, up to an hour each way!).

    Gosh, you know what I’d really like to see? A state-of-the-art technical arts magnet school that immediately places students into apprenticeships as electricians, plumbers, and mechanics.

    And you know what, I’d really like to see a true alternative education magnet school for students who can’t function in regular school settings – and these kids exist, and no matter how hard we try and how much money we spend, we are not serving these wonderful kids in our comprehensive schools.

    Otherwise, what I’m seeing is a steady downward trend in the quality of education in SFUSD schools. Teachers are increasingly being tasked with differentiating their instruction across multiple grade-levels of ability with the result that no one is getting the attention they need.

  • No Latin person I know uses “LainX”. Only virtue signaling, and largly clueless, white people.

    Bill Maher was right last week when he said it’s use was driving Spanish speakers to the GOP.

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