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Ethnic diversity at Lowell High

Lowell Admissions: Will changing high school admission policies fix the achievement gap?

•••••••••• January 26, 2023 ••••••••••

Everyone seems to have their own version of the truth. The ongoing controversy over admission to San Francisco’s Lowell high school is a good example. This debate has been long on opinion and short on facts.

The issue is heating up AGAIN. This spring, the SFUSD high school task force is scheduled to present recommendations on future admission policies to the Superintendent.


Let’s take a look at some of those arguments and match them against the data for San Francisco.


The real issue is not selective admissions. It is the failure to educate all our children well in the early grades.”

Ethnic Diversity

Is Lowell High school less diverse than other San Francisco high schools?  The short answer is “no”.  

California tracks schools using a diversity index that reflects how evenly distributed students are among the race/ethnicity categories. The more evenly distributed the student body, the higher the number. A school where all of the students are the same ethnicity would have an index of 0.

The chart below shows how Lowell’s diversity index score has steadily increased over the last two decades.

Ethnic Diversity chart

This dramatic increase is the result of an admission policy specifically designed to increase diversity. About 70 per cent of students are admitted on grades and test scores alone. Another 30 percent are admitted using additional criteria, such as the ability to overcome hardships, socioeconomic status, and extenuating circumstances. Schools are prohibited from using race as a criterion.

How does Lowell’s ethnic diversity compare to other high schools?

Lowell is more diverse than most other high schools. The chart below ranks SFUSD high schools and shows that Lowell’s diversity has increased more than all other schools but one.

SF Diversity Chart

Should City or school district demographics be used?

One question to ponder is whether high school diversity should be measured against the diversity of the city or the diversity of the school district. They are very different,

Lowell serves over 35% low-income students. The district serves about 50% low income. Should Lowell be considered “elite” because it serves less low-income students than the district? San Francisco has about 10% of low-income children. Using City data, should Lowell be viewed as serving large numbers of low-income students?

Forty percent of San Francisco’s children are white. Should Lowell —with about 17 % white students—be considered a “white privilege” school because it serves a higher percentage of white students than the school district (13%)? Or should it be considered a school that serves predominantly minority students?

There are several major differences between the child population in the City and the students in the school district and at Lowell. Compared to the City:

  1. Child poverty is much higher in the district and at Lowell
  2. The white student population is much lower in the district and at Lowell.
  3. The Asian population is significantly higher at Lowell.
  4. The Black and African American population is low in the city, in the district and even lower at Lowell.

About 30 percent of San Francisco students do not attend public schools. That’s why there is such a discrepancy between the number of white students in the school district versus the city.

Lowell Admissions Chart

Who gets into Lowell and why?

Under a selective admission policy, students are admitted based primarily on their academic performance.

Under a lottery, students are admitted by chance. This results in admitting some students who are not proficient and rejecting some students who are.

Look at the charts below.  They show SFUSD 8th-grade proficiency levels for Asians and Black and African Americans. Both groups have faced historic discrimination. 

Black and African American Proficiency 8th-grade proficiency

Proficiency Chart

Asian Proficiency — 8th-grade

Proficiency Chart 2

The data shows most Black and African American students are not ready for a high school designed for high performing students. Most Asian students are ready.

Now, make an educated guess.

  1. Under a selective admission policy, which group will have a higher percent of high performing students admitted?
  2. Using a lottery, which group will have the highest percent of low performing students accepted?
  3. Using a lottery, which group will have the highest percent of high performing students rejected?
  4. Which policy will result in the highest number of students failing?

You got it. Under a lottery, a higher percentage of low performing students will be admitted. The lottery also results in a higher percentage of high performing students rejected.

Does that change your view of which policy is most equitable?

If we all want equity, are we looking at the real issue?

The real issue is not selective admissions. It is the failure to educate all our children well in the early grades.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback:

January 26, 2023

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