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Prestigious High School in San Francisco Reinstates Merit-Based Admissions System

Jul 1, 2022

Lowell High School, located in San Francisco, is widely regarded as one of the most elite public schools in the nation. Like Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (whose admissions process we also recently wrote about), Lowell finds itself in the midst of controversy surrounding changes to its admission policy focused on a lottery system. The New York Times quotes David Lee, a San Francisco State University lecturer, who describes the school as “a well-worn and cherished pathway to the middle class, to social mobility.”

According to Soumya Karlamangla of The New York Times, Lowell had a long-standing tradition of selecting students based on test scores and GPA until October of 2020, when they voted to switch to a lottery-based admissions process. The controversial change, which aimed to diversify the student population, was made permanent by the board at the beginning of 2021. Like TJ High School, Lowell faced angry complaints from parents and alumni, especially Asian American parents, according to the NYTimes. Asian American students make up approximately 48% of Lowell’s student body, a much higher percentage than the 35% across San Francisco Unified schools.

The school actually reversed its decision on June 22nd, turning down Superintendent Vince Matthews’ suggestion to keep the lottery system for another year, as reported by NBC. According to The NY Times, this can largely be attributed to the replacement of three school board members this past February. All three of the new board members voted in favor of the merit-based system. With a 4-3 vote, the school will be reverting to merit-based admissions for the fall of 2023.

Karlamangla writes that some were disappointed by the decision, arguing that the system now discriminates against the Black and Latino students, as the lottery system from the previous year had increased the Black and Latino freshman population by more than 40%.

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