Destroying Excellent Schools



By Richard Colman

The ugly specter of bad public education is spreading.

In San Francisco, Lowell High School will, in the 2021-2022 school year, change the admissions policy.  For decades, spaces at Lowell were reserved for academically talented students.  The new admissions policy will use a lottery to admit students.

With the United States competing heavily with nations like China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Israel, and Switzerland, this is no time to deprive talented students of a quality high school education.

In October 2020, the San Francisco school board unanimously decided to switch to a lottery system for entrance into the city’s prestigious Lowell High School.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle (Oct. 20, 2020), Lowell, ” . . .  offers a wide array of Advanced Placement courses, foreign languages, and other opportunities. some of which are not available at other district high schools.”

In the same article, the Chronicle reported, “The debate over what to do about the lack of traditional merit criteria divided the city, with accusations of racism and elitism after community members said the lottery system would water down Lowell’s reputation.”

The article continued:  “Lowell has for decades admitted students on a score that takes into account grade-point average and test results while setting aside a limited number of spots for qualified students from underrepresented schools, making it one of the best high schools in the country.”

San Francisco is not alone is changing admissions policies to public school.  In New York City, according to The New York Times (Dec. 18, 2020), “Mayor Bill de Blasio . . . announced major changes to the way hundreds of New York City’s selective middle and high schools admit their students, a move intended to address long-simmering concerns that admissions policies have discriminated against Black and Latino students and exacerbated segregation in the country’s largest school district.”

The likely consequences of changing admissions policies — policies that switch from merit-based admissions to lottery-based admissions — are that parents living in such places will move away from such school districts or will send their children to private or parochial schools.

Admissions based on scholastic merit are acceptable as long as there is no discrimination — discrimination based on race, creed, or sex — in admissions.

Is there a solution to the presumed discrimination in admissions to elite high schools?

That solution is to provide better scholastic preparation in those schools that offer mediocre to poor education from kindergarten to the grade just prior to high school entry.

One often hears the argument that elite high schools favor the admission of students of Asian or Jewish backgrounds.  If Asian or Jewish students are, because of a lottery system, denied admission because of demands for more diversity, American society will be deprived of talented students who can be expected to go on to win Nobel Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes, or become distinguished leaders in government, the sciences, business, and the arts.

One has only to look at the Manhattan Project, the World War II effort to develop the atomic bomb, to see the perils of diluting educational standards. 

Many of the physicists involved with the Manhattan Project were highly talented Jews.

Albert Einstein, a Jew and a Nobel prize-winning physicist, was born in Germany.  Because of Nazi anti-Semitism, Einstein emigrated to the United States in 1933.

In 1939, Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The letter warned the president that Nazi Germany might be developing nuclear weapons.  After reading the letter, Roosevelt ordered the creation of the Manhattan Project.  Einstein was not involved in the actual development of the atomic bomb.

Many of the chief scientists working on the Manhattan Project, were Jews, such as Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, and Leo Szilard.  If the Manhattan Project had to comply with so-called diversity criteria, the Nazis might have built the atomic bomb first and won World War II.

In today’s American economy, employees will be needed in such areas as artificial intelligence, increased productivity in agriculture and industry, and so-called Big Data operations (like the kind found at such firms as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Intel).

If firms cannot find suitable talent from United States-based students, these firms will themselves relocate to other countries or try to recruit employees from foreign counties to work in America.

Egalitarianism has a place in granting American citizens access to education and employment.  However, discarding merit will only make the United States poorer.


Richard Colman, a biochemist, received masters and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.  He is the founder and president of Biomed Inc.,  a biotechnology, publishing, and informatics company.  He lives in Orinda, California.  

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal

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