Alison Collins, the vice president of the San Francisco Board of Education, has classified meritocracy as racist even when selecting students for advanced or gifted programs. As we discussed earlier, this has been an academic campaign as educators and others take tests to denounce selection based on academic performance. San Francisco is about Lowell High School, where top students were selected through tests and grades. Most cities have such gifted programs or institutions, although we have discussed calls for the elimination of all gifted and talented programs in cities like New York. Lowell had a majority of white and Asian students and only two percent of his students were African American. Collins and other board members want to abolish performance-based selection in favor of a blind lottery system.
Collins’ remarks from a public meeting of the San Francisco Board of Education on October 13, 2020 were recently published by Sophie Bearman of San Francisco’s online publication Here / Say Media. In the meeting she explained: “When we talk about merit, meritocracy and especially meritocracy based on standardized tests, then those are racist systems. You can’t talk about social justice and then say you want a selective school that will keep neighborhood children you think are dangerous. “
Collins made the statement in support of a resolution, titled “In Response to Persistent, Pervasive Systemic Racism at Lowell High School,” by Collins, Board Chairman Gabriela Lopez, Commissioner Matt Alexander and Student Delegates Shavonne Hines-Foster and Kathya Correa Almanza was written.
Newsweek cited at least one Lowell teacher who opposed the abolition of schools as a place for high-performing students, saying that the system is racially blind and is intended to reward “the hardest-working children in terms of academics.”
Talented programs and elite academic schools are designed to enable students to achieve their full academic potential with other students working at the highest levels in math and other disciplines. It is often difficult for such students to achieve this potential in traditional settings. Teachers need to develop their classes as a whole in the subject areas. This often means that academically gifted children are held back by traditional curricula or lesson plans. These students may actually underperform due to boredom or the lack of challenging material. Many simply leave the public school system. In addition, students tend to perform better when students make progress at a similar level. Teachers can then focus on a lesson plan and discussions tailored to students with a similar proficiency level.
Switching to a lottery system at Lowell would obviously transform the school into a traditional academic program. We can discuss the importance of having such schools for the most advanced students. I believe such schools are an important part of public education. Not only do we reward students for their remarkable academic achievements, but we guarantee all students that they can get as far as their interests and abilities require. These schools are the source of pride in many cities in showing the full potential of students in science and other fields.
I do not agree that the meritocracy is inherently racist. Students of all races benefit from such schools. While there is significantly less diversity at Lowell, the best solution is not to eliminate such programs, but to work harder in the earlier grades so minority students perform excellently (and ultimately gain admission to such programs).
There is a need for meritocracy in science and society. Indeed, such results provide racially neutral systems for advancement. While subjects like math have been classified as racist (and a University of Rhode Island professor recently classified all science, statistics, and technology as “inherently racist”), these were areas in which many color intellectuals could advance.
We need objective systems of comparison for student abilities and performance in the academic field. We use such tests and results in college admission selection, and society uses such systems for business and career advancement. The world is becoming a far more competitive place. Other countries are not giving up meritocracy. They urge their most talented students to achieve even more in specialized programs and advanced courses. We have to do the same if we are to remain competitive as a nation. By eliminating elite programs like Lowell, not just these students but our entire society is taking away an opportunity. These are some of the best developing minds in our country and they should be enabled to reach their full potential through dedicated schools and programs.
I’ve been a huge public school supporter all my life. While my parents could afford private schools, they helped form a group to keep white families in the Chicago public school system in the 1960s and 1970s. They wanted their children to be part of a diverse school environment. I sent my children to public schools for the same reason. I see our public schools as an important part of our society as we shape future citizens.
These efforts in San Francisco and New York will only encourage more families to leave our public school system and may increase rather than decrease diversity issues in our student body. The need to reach greater diversity in top public universities is real and needs to be addressed. The solution, however, is to provide younger students with better educational opportunities in order to improve them, rather than lowering (or eliminating) access standards in these schools. This is certainly more difficult than just having one lottery system in place for all schools, but it gives students of all races an opportunity to develop.