Every Berkeley High School (BHS) student has heard of the Small Learning Community (SLC) lottery system. This algorithm decides which SLC students will reside in. Many students wonder how equitable the lottery is, and if it’s really doing its best to put students in their preferred SLC. The lottery system’s principle flaw is that in an effort to create diversity, it puts students’ needs second, potentially damaging their high school career.
The lottery system divides kids into three different groups based on where they live in Berkeley. Then names are selected at random, one from each location, and these kids are given their first choice. This continues until certain small schools fill up and kids are then given their second choice and so on. The school has a goal of amassing diverse groups of students in each small school, with a noticeable push to include students of color in SLCs that are historically white, such as Berkeley International High School (BIHS). Statistics from BUSD show that most residents of the hills are white, while the other areas have more minorities. According to the US Department of Education, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits any discrimination or preference based on race. To avoid discrimination, the school approximates by using home locations. The school makes sure that there’s a certain number of people from each location in each small school, and although this may make SLCs more heterogeneous, it can be harmful to high school students’ education.
This system puts many kids, such as BHS student Cole Herman, into SLCs that they’re unhappy with. “I chose AC as my first choice, BIHS as my second. My friend did BIHS first then AC. I was placed into BIHS and he was placed into AC … [It] can ruin kids’ entire high school experiences,” Herman said. When kids are given second or third choices simply because they live in a certain area, students who wanted to be in those SLCs miss out.
The way the lottery is set up is benefitting the school, and not the students, since it improves their diversity quota. It’s understandable why the lottery is run this way. The school wants to make sure that SLCs don’t become racially segregated. Small school diversity is something we should strive for, but the lottery system is simply not the way to do it. All it does is leave more students disappointed or trapped in educational settings that don’t work for them. The school needs to start asking itself what takes priority: a diversity quota, or the success of the students?