San Francisco Ends Merit-Based Admissions at Top-Rated Public High School

San Francisco’s Board of Education voted unanimously last October to set aside longstanding merit-based admissions at Lowell High School for one year. This decision was allegedly due to the pandemic, but the board had a bigger target in mind. As Katy Grimes now reports in the California Globe, the board has just “voted to end merit-based admission” at Lowell High school, the city’s top-rated public high school.

Board commissioners Gabriela Lopez, Alison Collins, Matt Alexander, Faauuga Moliga, and Mark Sanchez voted in favor of the resolution, along with student delegates Shavonne Hines-Foster and Kathya Correa Almanza. Commissioners Kevine Boggess and Jenny Lam voted against the measure. Opposing the decision was Wenyuan Wu, executive director of Californians for Equal Rights. 

“Lowell’s success to educate and lift up its students, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, has relied on a competitive, merit-based process of admissions based on standardized testing, middle school GPA, essay writing and extracurriculars,” Wu told reporters. “This politicized resolution is wrongheaded and divisive, which would in turn harm all student groups and the school’s long-standing academic track record.”

In merit-based admissions, a school admits students based on their academic record. Giving preference to students on the basis of race or ethnicity is contrary to California law, based on the voter-approved California Civil Rights Initiative, Proposition 209 on the 1996 ballot. Proposition 16 on the November 2020 ballot would have repealed Proposition 209, but the measure lost by more than 2.3 million votes, a 57-43 percent landslide.

Merit-based admissions put power in the hands of students and parents. Admissions based on race and ethnicity empower bureaucrats and politicians. So no surprise that California politicians are slow to question the legality of the San Francisco move against merit. Admissions based on academic merit are also under fire in in New York and Virginia, where last year Fairfax County Schools eliminated the entrance test for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. 

For those opposed to such moves, there is a solution. Restore the right of parents and students to choose the independent school that best meets their needs. True reform and higher achievement will only come when every parent can choose the schools their children attend, as a matter of basic civil rights.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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