The School District of Philadelphia’s Lottery System

By: Liangquan Wu (282)

Introduction to the Lottery System 

In early November 2021, the School District of Philadelphia announced the lottery system for its magnet high school admissions. To be eligible for a high school’s lottery, a student would have to meet specific criteria listed by each school. For example, Central High School required its applicants to have A’s and B’s, 95% attendance, and to score well on a district administered written sample. Once a student fit all of these requirements, they were entered in the lottery, where schools randomly distributed lottery offers to prospective students. This attempt of the School District to make the selection process fair was met with controversy. 

This controversy was especially prevalent among students that were already attending magnet high schools in the district. Some students felt that this system was detrimental to the admissions process, while others felt that this was necessary to create fair opportunities for students. 

For the Lottery System 

Unfair public educational system could be interpreted as a cycle in which students from underprivileged communities receive fewer resources, which negatively affects their ability to succeed in the next level of education. This negative impact stunts an individual’s growth and potential, causing them to stay in underprivileged communities. Race disparities inside the magnet schools are another reason why some students support this system. Data released by the school district show that out of the 198,645 students 

enrolled, 52% are African American, 22% are Hispanic, 13% are white, 7% are Asian and 5% are multiracial. However, if we look at the demographics of a magnet high school like Central, we see percentages that don’t reflect the district’s averages. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Central’s 2020-2021 student population includes 18% African American, 7.7% Hispanic, 30.2% white, 30.8% Asians, and 4.9% multiracial. These statistics highlight distinct differences in races that are overrepresented and underrepresented in magnet schools such as Central. The races that are underrepresented in magnet schools are often historically known to be more disadvantaged as compared to the overrepresented races. For example, redlining, a system where areas of high African American inhabitants receive less funding, still has its lingering effects in this city. 

Against the Lottery System 

The students that feel that this system is detrimental to the school system say that the lottery is much more unfair than the previous system. This side believes that your chances of getting into a magnet school should not be decided by luck, but by your academic statistics. Since the system groups everyone who passes the basic requirements into the lottery, it cannot distinguish which students have better statistics than the other. Students who worked extremely hard in academically rigorous schools were put into the same lottery as students who barely met the requirements and from less academically rigorous schools. With this system being implemented out of nowhere, some 8th graders lost countless hours of dedication to this system. For schools like Masterman, who prioritizes its 8th grade students for highschool admissions, it completely destroyed their normal way of admission. This led to many eighth grade Masterman students to be rejected from its highschool and many took it to social media to petition changes about this system. Another term of the lottery system that some students felt was unfair was that underrepresented zip codes were prioritized in the application process. Along with the students, some parents also felt that this system was unfair. They felt that a lottery did not and could not reflect the hard work their children poured in the past nine years. Back in December 2021, protests started to arise in combat against the lottery system.

Talk about our incoming class Statistics 

The district revealed that the demographic of this year’s Central selection lottery would conclude with 611 students receiving offers. Of the 611 students, 32.8% are Asian students, 23% are African American students, 12.6% are Hispanic/Latinx students, 6% are multiracial students, and 25.2% are white students. This year’s admission process shows an increase of admissions of underrepresented races. However, there are many questions that we need to monitor on the benefits of this system. Would this system eventually match the demographics of its students to the rest of the city? Would this system make opportunities for students of all backgrounds more accessible? Should the entire magnet school system be abolished? Only time will answer these crucial questions in our school’s development.

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