MY REFLECTIONS ON CHANGES TO THE LOWELL ASSIGNMENT SYSTEM

TLDR:  This new board policy is temporary, but should lead us into some deeper conversations.  There are many more “deserving” students in San Francisco than there are spots at Lowell. All schools should have access to the resources such as AP classes and extracurricular activities that are available at Lowell.

On October 20, the Board of Education passed Resolution 2010-20Sp1, which temporarily changed Lowell’s specific and unique admissions policy to align with the lottery used by most other high schools in the district.  The amended policy can be found here:  https://go.boarddocs.com/ca/sfusd/Board.nsf/files/BUDT6W75DB92/$file/Interim%20Lowell%20Admissions%20Policy.pdf

This policy, proposed by Superintendent Matthews, was adopted by the Board of Education for the 2021-2022 school year only. The traditional Lowell admissions policy uses grade point average and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test scores from a student’s 7th grade and the first semester of 8th grade to determine eligibility.That information is not available for our current 8th graders as the state did not administer the Spring SBAC  and our district-wide grading system changed to credit-no credit during the spring semester.Therefore, we cannot adhere to Board Policy 5120.1 (the original policy outlining the Lowell admissions process).

The move to the lottery is a on-year stopgap measure because of our unprecedented situation. This change caught a lot of folks off guard, which is unfortunate. I can understand families’ frustrations about the timing and the lack of communication. We have more than 2,000 applications for Lowell’s ninth grade class every year; that’s a lot of families directly impacted. It’s really important to remember that the entire reason for the policy change is because of our unprecedented situation. Almost everything about this pandemic has caught us off guard and forced us to pivot. Meanwhile, a lot of terribly overworked folks are trying to come up with a workable solution as quickly as possible. The Education Placement Center is the same group of people who are in the process of revamping the Student Assignment System on a very tight timeframe (developing a brand new school assignment system to dismantle school segregation and inequity, coordinating stakeholder listening sessions to educate everyone on the system). 

As I mentioned above, the move to a lottery is a one-year stopgap measure. I like Student Commissioner Shavonne Hines-Foster's suggestion of including an essay or personal statement as part of the updated admissions policy. I think Commissioner Hines-Foster is a fantastic addition to the Board as a student delegate, by the way. I can understand why the essay option wasn’t included in the final resolution. I see that as being problematic for the admissions team - how can you review 2000 essays?  Do we have the capacity for that?  Certainly not this year.  

The rhetoric around “watering down” Lowell is exceptionally discouraging to me.  As I’ve mentioned, more than 2,000 8th graders apply to Lowell each year.  Approximately 900 are accepted and 650 end up attending. Does that mean that the 1100 students who don’t get accepted to Lowell aren’t worthy of being there or wouldn’t be able to handle the academic rigor?  I doubt it.  Applying to Lowell has historically been a separate process from the rest of the SFUSD lottery. Not every student applying to SFUSD high schools chooses to apply to Lowell. Many students will still choose not to put Lowell on their application under this new, temporary process. And we will still have students who “deserve” to attend Lowell who don’t get in, just because there isn’t enough space for everyone.

The board has been trying to address Lowell admissions in a piecemeal fashion for many years. This *should* lead into a larger conversation about Lowell. When you have a public high school with 2,000+ applications for its ninth grade class and only half are accepted, that's a problem. Many people will remember the change to Band 3 of the admission rubric last year which should have gone farther. Eighth graders from private schools should not be considered in any band for Lowell enrollment. Or if they are, we should create a fourth band for private and parochial schools, right behind the SFUSD underrepresented schools.  We also need to talk about the fact that all students at all high schools should have access to the same academic rigor, AP classes, after school activities, etc. as students at Lowell.  One of the educators who provided public comment on October 13 pointed out that Lowell offers 130 AP classes while Lincoln offers 30.  (I haven’t fact checked that, by the way, but tend to take our educators at their word.)  Considering that there are 2700 students at Lowell and 2100 students at Lincoln, this seems like a huge disparity to me. In the same way, all students at all high schools should have access to the same arts programs as students at Ruth Asawa SOTA. 

We really do need to talk about the inequities and racism at Lowell. It’s not fair and accurate to say that everyone at Lowell is racist. But we have seen some racist things happen at Lowell in the past few years. (Remember the Back History Month protest a few years ago?) As with everything we are dealing with in SFUSD, the issues are much bigger than Lowell - our issues are systemic, and you can't blame Lowell for inequities and disparities in elementary and middle schools. But we do know that standardized test scores correlate to family income and parent education level, so any enrollment policy incorporating test scores is actually part of the problem:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/03/05/these-four-charts-show-how-the-sat-favors-the-rich-educated-families/

The SFUSD leadership team has committed to using anti-ractist practices in the district. I think reviewing the Lowell application process should be part of the work. If you want to geek out, here's an article about the huge surge in colleges -  1600 according to EdSurge -  that have gone test optional: 

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-09-25-1-600-colleges-are-now-test-optional-how-many-will-go-back

Test optional policies have been found not to lower the quality of the enrolled student body or academic rigor. Here’s the study: https://www.nacacnet.org/globalassets/documents/publications/research/defining-access-report-2018.pdf

I must admit that I haven't read the entire report, just the executive summary. 

This doesn’t mean I think we should dismantle Lowell next year; in fact, quite the opposite. I think we need to offer more AP classes at all high schools, more clubs and extracurricular activities, and more sports. All high schools had robust visual and performing arts programs like Ruth Asawa SOTA.  As John F. Kennedy said, a rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s change the narrative and focus from watering down our schools to lifting all students to reach their full potential. And let’s make sure we have the funds from our City, state and federal government, to do so!