Thomas Jefferson High School Cuccinelli Ruling

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology is operated by Fairfax County Public Schools.

Fairfax County Public Schools officials on Sept. 23 gave their rationale for proposed admissions-policy changes at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology (TJ), but the public appears unconvinced.

The regional governor’s school, located in the Alexandria area, routinely ranks near the top of U.S. high schools, but has been criticized by some for years because its demographics differ considerably from those of the school system overall.

Current TJ admissions policies require applicants to have at least a 3.0 grade-point average in core classes, be taking Algebra 1 in eighth grade, take an admissions test, provide recommendation letters from teachers, fill out a student-information sheet, pen a problem-solving essay, meet minimum GPA requirements in math and science, and pay a $100 application fee.

Superintendent Scott Brabrand on Sept. 15 recommended that the School Board scrap the admissions test and application fee, enhance the problem-solving essay, boost the core-class GPA requirement to 3.5 and conduct a “merit lottery” of qualified applicants, based on geographical location.

If approved, the new policies would take effect in time for next spring’s TJ application process. The new lottery would apply to students selected for the semifinalist pool.

“We are not lowering the standards of the education at TJ,” said Jeremy Shughart, the school’s admissions director.

The new rules would de-emphasize the admissions test, which screens out some talented applicants, Brabrand said. Some families spend $10,000 to $15,000 per year on test-preparation services to get their children into TJ, he said.

“This not the way to find and spot talent,” he said. “There has to be a better way.”

TJ accepts students from Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties, as well as the city of Falls Church. Some jurisdictions have declined to allow students to apply to TJ out of fear it would lead to a “brain drain” in those localities.

Under the proposed lottery system, FCPS would set aside 350 spaces for Fairfax County students, with 70 qualified applicants randomly selected from each of five geographical areas. Another 62 applicants would be chosen from Loudoun, 68 from Prince William, 18 from Arlington and two from Falls Church. Applicants from private schools would be assigned application pathways based on where they reside.

FCPS by Oct. 9 must submit to the state a report on the demographic makeup of TJ’s student body. TJ’s Class of 2019 was 70 percent Asian, 21 percent white, 5 percent Hispanic, 2 percent black and 2 percent those of two or more races.

Under the new merit lottery, those figures would have been 52 percent Asian, 29 percent white, 8 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic and 6 percent those of two or more races, FCPS officials said.

(The school system’s overall population is 37.8 percent white, 26.8 percent Hispanic, 19.5 percent Asian, 9.8 percent black and 5.7 percent two or more races.)

Just 1.2 percent of TJ’s Class of 2019 was made up of economically disadvantaged students and 1 percent were English-language learners. Under the merit lottery, those figures would have been 8.8 and 2.3 percent, respectively.

TJ officials have made numerous changes since 2011 – from creating the position of an outreach specialist (later reduced to half-time) and adding the problem-solving essay to reducing minimum requirements for semifinalists – but these have not had a significant impact either on the applicant pool or the demographics of those admitted.

“We must remember, representation matters,” said Leona Smith Vance, the school system’s director of equity and family engagement. “Who our children see around them, who they learn with, will impact how they become as adults.”

 FCPS officials must decide whether the TJ admissions process rewards the right student attributes, Smith Vance said.

“For a long time, we’ve rewarded people that have privilege,” she said. “It will be important, when we’re doing any selection process, that we check our biases . . . We all hold them. It helps us make sense of information, it helps us take shortcuts. We must be conscious of our biases.”

Callers at the Sept. 23 virtual town hall, who did not identify themselves, expressed a gamut of views. One suggested that the demographic disparities needed to be addressed at the elementary- and middle-school levels, not during the TJ admissions process.

Another caller opposed the proposed merit lottery, saying it relied on luck, while a different participant supported the changes, saying they would uncover untapped talent. One who telephoned in said 3.5 GPAs at some schools were worth more than at others.

The School Board is slated to decide Oct. 8 on the final TJ admissions proposal. If the board rules in favor, FCPS officials will develop the revised admission process in the fall and winter, begin accepting applications in December and January and implement the merit lottery in February and March.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

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(23) comments

CJE

Data? OK. Let's have some good data about how much is being / has been spent on cram courses by how many parents. TJHSST's older alumni are wealthy. If they and alumni parents want the school to operate without changes to admissions, they can take the school private.

JM

[thumbdown]to basing admissions on parents being able to pay many thousands for "cram courses". The NAACP and BLM should be all over the Educational Elite on this. Another [thumbdown] for two (maybe three) generations of upscale TJHSST Elitists (parents and alumni) freeloading off the taxpayers to fund what is their de facto private Science and Tech Academy.

NovaParent

NAACP just for your information also represents "Asians" that this change is targeting and tagging as "privileged" families by propaganda of 15k per year. Put up the facts or Shut up.

Or suddenly, are the Asians not brown enough for NAACP now?

Do a little research. Without illegally selecting certain races secretively, all this lottery does is transfer Asian seats to White and this is based on the percentage of kids that qualify for the 3.5 GPA and Algebra 1 requirement. Wake up and look up the facts. They are available publicly if you spend some time and research.

Sorry if you feel that way but no disrespect intended. This is all about politics and November 3rd. If not, what's the rush trying to make such a huge change in 3 weeks without any data being presented?

Just trying to open some eyes.

NovaParent

So, the county spends $44,000 taxpayer money on a gentleman selling his books and a hour zoom call on Critical Race Theory, then blames parents (who also are taxpayers footing this bill) that spend 200$ a month on extra classes "privileged"?

https://thefederalist.com/2020/09/30/fairfax-va-school-district-spent-24000-on-ibram-kendi-books-for-u-s-history-classes/

Charles

I am surprised the NAACP has not vocally opposed an admissions system which is based on parents having thousands to spend on test preparation. TJHSST has thousands of upscale alumni. Where is the philanthropy? Elitist? You should have seen the vehicles TJHSST drove when dropping off / picking up their children at the school a year ago.

CJE

Take the school private. The alumni are an upscale Elite and so were their parents going back decades. School is aptly named after Thomas Jefferson. If they want to play, let them pay, don't expect taxpayers who have children attending overcrowded schools in relocatable classrooms to subsidize these antics.

Lumen

Any data source for saying the alumni are “upscale Elite”?

I suspect you may be right because up until now T.J. students have been admitted based on the merits of demonstrated intelligence and hard work. Thankfully in the U.S. these qualities not only benefit the society as a whole through job creation and technical progress they also allow individuals to increase their own welfare.

The U.S education system already spends a vanishingly small amount on support for high achieving students.

Lumen

What could be more racist than settings quotas based on the color of a person’s skin.

Looking for ways to improve the performance of underrepresented groups (in this case that includes the "white majority” is an excellent idea. Assuming that there must be some systemic problem prevents us from looking at the real causes.

This is a very telling case; we are being asked to believe that the majority population is biased against itself!

Brad

Just another example of social engineering. Decisions on who to admit, hire, promote, etc. should be entirely merit and performance based. Instead, the school system is "dumbing it down" to make it look better statistically based on race. It's ultimately the downfall of a once great America. We don't want the best to succeed anymore based on performance. Now we want x% black, x% hispanic, etc. It's disgraceful and should be challenged in court.

swandive

Not surprisingly, you left out x% white, which would increase 8% points, while the Asian % would drop 18%.

PWC resident since '69

Dumb it down aka diversity

yourenotthebossofme

Why can't the school district just be honest and say that it doesn't want so many white students and so very, very, very many Asian-American students enrolled at TJ based on merit? This has happened because until now admissions have been based on comparable quantitative standards. Instead, the district wants to eliminate the test which is its best quantitative admissions standard and replace it with subjective and fuzzy qualitative 'standards' that are not easily compared. Doing so will allow the administration to mold incoming class composition to meet whatever racial quotas it prefers and achieve its real objective, which is to increase the percentage of black and Hispanic admissions. Whether or not meeting racial quotas is a good goal is debatable. Maybe it is, or maybe it is not, but that is the discussion that should be going on now. All of the palaver about paying for test tutors, buying admissions, and the 'validity' of alternate admissions standards is a smokescreen that allows the administration to avoid discussing its real objective.

InsideCommenter

My brother goes to TJ, and the reality is if you read the article and know about the school it's only 21% white, the percentage of white students would INCREASE under this plan to 29% white.

The reality is that most everyone at TJ has been studying to get in since ELEMENTARY school. Most of the students at TJ realize this is unpalatable.

Citizen52

Let’s be honest. The school district is not targeting white students. It seems to be targeting Asian-American students. The propaganda that all of these parents are paying unbelievable sums to prep their children for the admissions tests for advantage is just wrong. It’s also wrong that these families are labeled elitist. Tell that to my immigrant Vietnamese neighbors who came here with nothing and whose kids were admitted out of sheer determination and hard work.

InsideCommenter

That's nonsense and people do spend thousands to get in to the schools. There are a few vietnamese students however, the vast majority come from more wealthy Asian demographics such as Chinese, Korean, and Indian(I myself am Indian American).

This sheer determination and hard work is there but it is coupled with parents who make upwards of 250k+ a year, drive luxury cars, and start putting their kids in prep school starting when they're 5 years old. It's a waste of taxpayer money. My brother got in, and he only did prep for a year compared to his peers, don't make up stories.

Joe Christmas

If admissions are being watered down (kids in bad schools can get high GPAs but not the test scores) to let in more students of a certain color (because that's what this is really about), then let them in but also remove them if they can't get the grades while at TJ.

Day2Day

The problem with this is that the students who are there will have their education impeded by classmates who can't keep up. The students who are struggling will suffer the consequences with their GPA, which will impact them long-term, when they might have higher GPAs leading to better long-term opportunities in a normal school. Those students are also taking up space that a better qualified student could be using. If you remove that student after a year or two, replacing him or her would be difficult because a new student would have missed out on the earlier years of a TJ education and, therefore, be behind compared to his or her classmates.

Joe Christmas

I agree with you. The 9% quota is too high and may lead to some disruption in class and in the hallways and outside, etc. They will also enter with IQ's far behind the others and probably won't be able to keep up at all. But on the other hand, I agree that TJ shouldn't just be a school churning out robots that study all day and score high on standardized tests. Such folks are usually the worker bee's in the workplace but not the managers, who need people skills. So I"m hoping there is a happy medium somewhere in between.

CJE

Arlington School Board candidates are being provided with a link to this article and are being asked why Arlington taxpayers should support this definitely Elitist and arguably Racist admissions system.

Day2Day

The current minimum GPA is 3.0, but what is it in reality? I have a hard time believing the students accepted actually have GPAs that low or even 3.5 to be able to meet all of the other requirements and also thrive at the school. While I do believe diversity is important, so is a high-quality education. TJ is the best high school in the country and that's not a formula you want to mess with. I agree with the parent that said you should do something about the inequality before students get to the TJ application process. That would lift up the most students while keeping the TJ formula for success intact.

CJE

Take the school private. Outrageous that admissions are correlated with parents being able to spend $10,000 to $15,000 on test preparation.

Lumen

She didn't say the was any statistically significant correlation, just that people spent money on it.

NovaParent

Principal of TJ started a baseless lie and everyone since then started repeating it. Parents I know if spend 200-250$ a month year long to argument their school learning. This is no different from SAT prep or Kumon or other centers. If parents chose to spend their money on helping their kids instead of other luxuries or expensive hair styling, why is it being demonized?

I dare any of those people to prove those numbers right or apologize/resign. Our superintendent he's paid north of 300,000 and he calls others privileged? Please!!!!

Put the good of kids/school ahead of your political ambitions.

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