The recent decision by San Francisco’s school board to restore merit-based admissions at the city’s top high school is a triumph for accomplished students and their families. It’s also a rebuke of efforts to weaken academic standards in public schools — sending a message that politicians and school leaders around the country badly need to hear.
The dispute in San Francisco concerned the admissions policies of Lowell High School, whose alumni include three Nobel Prize winners and a retired Supreme Court justice. In October 2020, the city’s school board scrapped Lowell’s policy of admitting students on the basis of grades and standardized test scores, citing the difficulty of administering exams during the pandemic. The merit-based system was replaced by a citywide lottery, a longtime goal of progressives who say that selective admissions policies disproportionately harm Black and Latino applicants. In the first year of the lottery, the share of Latino and Black students in Lowell’s entering freshman class rose, while the proportion of Asian students fell.