Top San Francisco high school aims to abolish admissions standards in the name of equity

San Francisco is considering doing away with the rigorous standards for academic achievement because those standards are being reclassified as racist.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY

San Francisco is considering doing away with the rigorous standards for academic achievement because those standards are being reclassified as racist. Lowell High School in San Francisco is the top secondary school in the city, and it's primarily attended by Asian students.

"In response to ongoing pervasive systemic racism at Lowell high school," a resolution was brought  by SF Board of Education Commissioners and Student Delegates to change the admissions process.

The proposal calls for Lowell High School to "use the regular admissions process that is used by other comprehensive high schools in SFUSD in the 2021-2022 academic school year" as opposed to a merit based admissions system.

The school would move to a lottery-based admissions protocol, removing the academic barrier for entry. Lowell is the only high school in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) that uses testing for entry. The breakdown of the school is about 51 percent Asian, 18 percent white, near 12 percent Hispanic, and almost 2 percent black. The school district as a whole is about 33 percent Asian, according to NBC.

The resolution asks that the SF Board of Education team up with the NAACP "to facilitate the creation of a Community Coalition to define and oversee and equity audit and resulting action plan to address the exclusion and ongoing toxic abuse that students of color, and specifically Black students, have experienced at Lowell High School since the school's creation."

In order to do this, the commissioners and students ask for the demands of the 2016 Lowell Black Student Union be implemented, and results published. An equity audit is requested, as well as an action plan, and a review of policies regarding bullying.

The commissioners and students ask for anti-racist curriculum be implemented in the school, as well as "equitable distribution of academic and extracurricular activities." It is asked also that a complaint process be implemented, as well as the establishment of "an ongoing community-based peer review process to ensure the work... progresses over time."

"Be it further resolved," the resolution reads, "That the Community Coalition will frame its work around" these questions:

"How do we learn about the experience of Black students and families at Lowell and how do we center their healing, liberation, joy and excellence? Where do we see tenets of white supremacy culture and patriarchy showing up in interactions, communication, curriculum, and policies at Lowell High School?

"What is the hidden and unspoken mission of Lowell High School and how to we communicate a clear and explicit mission that focuses on antiracist outcomes? What antiracist teaching, learning, and assessment practices are necessary? What adult learning structures will support this change? how can we leverage Ethnic Studies, Equity Studies and Black studies in this work?

"What racist policies exist and how can we design antiracist policies, structures, and systems? What mindset shits and equity consciousness development are necessary to facilitate this change, for students, staff, and in the community?

"In what ways has Lowell High School perpetuated racism throughout SFUSD and San Francisco and how do we align district policies with its core values and antiracist vision?"

There has been some pushback from parents, according to journalist Sophie Bearman, who wrote that many parents she's "spoken to disagree with that framing, pointing out that academic achievement shouldn’t be demonized." She said that still other parents "say reform is needed but that the process shouldn’t be rushed and that community input is needed."

She also shared a video of Commissioner Alison Collins who spoke in support of the resolution. Collins said "When we talk about merit, meritocracy, and especially meritocracy based on standardized testing, I'm just gonna say it, in this day and age, we cannot mince words. Those are racist systems.

"If you're gonna say that merit, y'know, is like fair, it's the antithesis of fair and it's the antithesis of just. And so, y'know, you can't use equity, you can't y'know, talk about social justice, and say that you wanna have a selective school that keeps certain kids out from the neighborhoods that you think are dangerous.

"Like that's all kind of Trumpian language. And in San Francisco, I'm proud to be a member of this board, and I'm proud of our families and our student leaders. And I'm, y'know, I don't think we should be shy about naming those things."

Lowell High School is a school that has a minority-majority of Asian students. Writing in Teen Vogue about her experience at Lowell, Lisa Wong Macabasco said that it was at Lowell, where she remembers "blearily haunting the school's coffee machine, enduring five AP classes, pulling all-nighters, editing the school paper," that she "began considering [her] racial identity."

She writes that this was while being "...surrounded by a vast range of fellow Asian Americans, who compose the majority of the 2,700-odd students."

Macabasco writes about "The bewildering issue of race in majority-minority schools, the cocooned bliss of being a nerd among nerds, the college-admissions beauty-pageant-cum-deathmatch, and what it takes to endure the self-esteem-decimating academic pressure cooker that is San Francisco's top public high school."

The SF Board of Education Commissioners and Student Delegates do not mention that for one racial minority in the San Francisco area, the admissions standards at Lowell are not a problem. Those Asian American students who are high academic achievers have not been held back by these standards, and are thriving as a result of having access to an academically rigorous, free, public school.

If they pass this resolution, San Francisco will begin the process of breaking down barriers to achievement by taking away the concept of achievement, not by making it more possible for students to achieve according to proven standards of success.

Lowell has graduated stellar achievers, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and three Nobel Prize laureates.

The resolution is up for a vote Feb. 9.


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