A lawsuit has been filed against what many consider to be the nation’s top public high school, The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, Virginia. Coalition of The Silence, an advocacy group led by former county School Board member Tina Hone, and the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP have filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson has resulted in too few minority students.
For full disclosure, my children are in the Fairfax public school system and have been part of the gifted and talented program — though I doubt they will apply to Thomas Jefferson.
The 17-page complaint points to a disproportionately low number of black and Latino students admitted to the school. They insist that the programs arise early in the failure to put minority students in the gifted and talented program on the elementary level.
While the school has been trying to boost minority participation, it does not have numerical goals for enrollment. Some parents have argued against the reliance on test scores as opposed to more flexible standard that rely more on essays and background.
Hone has not suggested any specific remedies and says that “there has to be a fix to the pipeline that feeds into the process.”
As someone familiar with the gifted and talented program, I am skeptical of the challenge. While the low minority participation numbers are a legitimate concern, TJ remains the premiere public school for math and science in the nation. While the country as a whole continues to fall behind other nations in math and science, TJ is one of the few exceptions — attracting brilliant students who are given highly advanced training. Math and science are fields given to objective testing and scoring. Students should be assured that they will be measured on their objective scores and rewarded for the hard work necessary to achieve admission.
There is no suggestion that TJ is actively trying to keep out minority students. Indeed, the school has been trying to recruit minority applicants. However, this school is the goal of thousands of students who want to go into math and science careers. The final selection should be based as much as possible on their objective performance on math and science tests. My concern is that we have a school that is an exception to the declining scores nationally — a school that has achieved international recognition due to its demand of top performance on these tests. It is a success that remains a point of pride for Fairfax — even those of us without kids at the school.
I do not believe that lower minority admission numbers are enough to justify the Administration ordering changes for the TJ admissions process. Indeed, there appears to be a higher representation of other minority such as Asian and Indian students. TJ is a system that focuses on demonstrated ability — primarily through objective math and science tests. That seems to me to be a fair emphasis for this type of school. What do you think?
Source: Washington Post