As a father of two public school kids (11 and 13 years old) and a firm believer in the value of an open, free, and well-funded public school system, the past year has been unbelievably challenging and unsettling.
We choose public schools for our children because we believe that free access to education creates a diverse environment where students from different ethnicities and social and economic backgrounds can meet and enrich each other.
This year the Board of Education decided that admissions tests will no longer be required for Lowell High School, and that students will simply participate in a lottery to get spots in public schools (with the exception of SOTA, which is audition-based). The reasoning – in summary – is that since ethnicity proportions of the general population in San Francisco and amongst the students at Lowell aren’t aligned (Asians, for example, are highly-represented at Lowell), it stands to reasons that somehow admission tests are unfair, racially biased, and a barrier to equality and inclusion.
The fact that different ethnicities are unevenly represented in elite schools is indeed a problem. It is a problem that should be addressed earlier in the education cycle, however. In an equal and fair society, a blind admission test should yield a fair distribution of ethnicities and backgrounds. If that doesn’t happen, it’s because the school system failed kids leading to these tests. If we’re aiming for a smart, accomplished, creative, innovative and resilient nation, standards are fundamental to progress.
The idea that merit is a barrier to diversity and equal opportunity is a tragic distortion of reality and it’s actually racist in itself. It’s another way to say that under-represented minorities can’t get a fair share of the seats if access is controlled by a blind skills test.
I am firmly convinced that the SF Board Of Education is well-intentioned. I believe all of their decisions come from an ideal of equality and fairness. But, as Churchill once said, “however beautiful the strategy, occasionally you need to look at the results.”
And the results aren’t good.
The policies of the Board have alienated a lot of families. Many have decided to pull their kids from SFUSD. Private schools had unprecedented application volumes, and in the City, a whopping 30% of the students choose private over public, well over the 9% average for California. If the intent of the Board was to create a more inclusive school system, sadly the impact of their decision is to further exacerbate the divide. Families who have the means to move elsewhere or put their kids in private school will do just that and SFUSD will continue to lose resources, diversity, and ambitious students–who one day become citizens. That’s sad.
If we want to fix this problem, we need to go to the root of the issue. Currently the Board is elected, and the reality is that most people can’t really form an opinion on the candidates. We invest time to choose our mayor because we understand the impact of that decision, and we have elements to judge political and social figures. There are a number of more effective ways to appoint a board that truly represents the best interests of families and students and a reform of this system is overdue.
Categories: letter to the editor