Posted on September 9, 2021

Lowell Got Rid of Competitive Admissions. New Data Shows How That’s Impacted the School’s Diversity

Emma Talley, San Francisco Chronicle, August 26, 2021

Gabrielle Grice, a junior at San Francisco’s elite Lowell High School, often struggles being the only Black student in a classroom. Group projects are a sore spot because she can rarely find students who look like her.


Black and Hispanic students at Lowell say they often feel isolated, historically making up a very small portion of the student body. But this year, Lowell is seeing a shift in its racial and ethnic makeup after it suspended merit-based admission for its ninth-grade class, with more diversity than in recent memory, if not ever.

This year’s ninth-grade class will have more Black and Hispanic students combined than at any time in at least 25 years — according to available state data on race and ethnicity that goes back to 1993.

The data bolsters arguments made by supporters that getting rid of the competitive admissions process would boost diversity in what has long been considered an academically elite public high school — and one embattled by racist incidents.

After more than a century of using academic-based admissions — most recently an entrance exam and grades — the school board permanently stripped the high school of its academic-based admissions process in February in a controversial fast-tracked proposal. Admission to Lowell is now primarily a lottery that takes into account school preferences by students as well as other factors.


But the switch left the city divided given Lowell’s reputation as an academically rigorous school for students with Ivy League dreams.


Of the 644 enrolled freshmen, nearly 25% are Hispanic and 5% are Black, according to district data, up from 14% and less than 2% respectively, last school year.

White students make up 16%, down from 21% in 2020 and Asian Americans constitute 42% of the freshman class, down from 50%.

The remaining 14% of freshmen include those of two or more races, those whose race or ethnicity was unknown, and one Pacific Islander freshman. {snip}

Irene Lo, assistant professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, said the shift at Lowell can be completely attributed to the new admissions policy.


But opponents argue the move is hurting Asian American students and taking away a springboard to achievement for low-income families. Opponents also charge that it was done without proper public input and that the school was already diverse.

Attorney Harmeet Dhillon, a critic of the new admissions policy, noted that before the change Lowell’s student body was 82% non-white.

The board’s problem is not underrepresentation, it is “a perceived over-representation of a community of color the Board disfavors — Asian Americans,” she wrote in a 14-page letter to the board after its decision in March.