Thomas Jefferson High School Sued Over Minority Admissions

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

55 thoughts on “Thomas Jefferson High School Sued Over Minority Admissions

  1. Shuvam:

    I appreciate your opinion and your perceptiveness. I don’t say that because it tracks my own thinking but because you understand that for one to pull himself up by his bootstraps some other person somewhere had to provide the boots in the first place. No one does anything alone and to ignore family resources in this process is simply scotoma. You sound like a kid who should be at TJ, but you might want to ask yourself: “If I were not so fortunate to have enough family financial resources would I be here?” And then ask yourself, “If I am qualified, why should my family’s resources matter in a public school in a democracy?” Maybe that is a question worth discussing at the Model UN?

    Regards,

    Mark

  2. Federal civil rights complaint filed over low numbers of black, Latino students at elite TJ High
    By Emma Brown
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/virginia-schools-insider/post/federal-civil-rights-complaint-filed-over-low-numbers-of-black-latino-students-at-elite-tj-high/2012/07/23/gJQA1sY04W_blog.html

    Excerpt:
    The under-representation of minority children for gifted programs is not a problem confined to Fairfax, said Gary Orfield, a professor who directs the Civil Rights Project at the University of California-Los Angeles.

    “It’s ubiquitous,” he said, “and it really does tell us something about the poverty of our concept of giftedness, because it’s so related to the concept of family income and privilege.”

    Fairfax has tried to address disparities in recent years by tinkering with the way gifted kids are identified. The hope was to capture students with extraordinary aptitude for learning — including those students from disadvantaged backgrounds who arrived in kindergarten with less preparation than their more affluent peers.

    The changes did succeed in identifying thousands more students, but some minorities remain underrepresented.

    For example, of the 12,044 elementary- and middle-school students who qualify for Level IV, 455 are black, according to the school system’s Web site. That means black students account for 3.8 percent of the gifted student population, although they are 10 percent of the student population overall.

    Meanwhile, Hispanic students account for 6.2 percent of gifted students but make up 22 percent of the entire student body.

    The net effect, according to the complaint, which echoes the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that desegregated public schools, is two “separate and unequal” school systems — one that funnels students through advanced programs to TJ, and one that does not.

    “To allow some students access to the richness of the bounty of TJ, without trying to level the playing field for all students, seems to violate the fundamental principle of equal opportunity for all,” the complaint says.

    The complaint also faults the TJ admissions process itself for putting some students at a disadvantage.

    One example, the complaint says, is the “student information sheet” used to assess a teen’s motivation and commitment to math and science education. A question asks students to “Describe in detail your most important out-of-school or after-school activity or interest.”

    “For many black and Latino students, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” the complaint says, “their most significant after school activity may well be babysitting their younger siblings while their parents work.”

    Hone said she and others decided to file the complaint in part because they think that the long-standing concerns about diversity at TJ have been drowned out in recent months by a new worry: that the admissions process is failing to identify the brightest math and science students.

    That issue was the center of attention at a July 19 School Board work session on whether to overhaul the TJ admissions process. Hone said the solution that seemed to garner support from most school board members — increasing the weight of an applicant’s math test scores and decreasing the weight of essays — would not change outcomes for black and Latino kids.

    Orfield, the UCLA professor, said there’s no way to know whether the Fairfax complaint will spur a federal investigation. But he said he believes it merits attention.

    “It’s certainly a justifiable issue to look at closely,” he said. “Really great schools like TJ are huge assets for individuals and for communities, and they should be available fairly to everybody.”

  3. mespo:

    “The solution is broad based and requires targeted educational opportunities for those kids most at risk. We will never make every underprivileged kid a suitable candidate for elite institutions but we can raise those kids to a level of proficiency. ”

    And we wont make every middle class, upper middle class and rich kid suitable candidates for these institutions either.

    At a school like this you cannot relax admission standards for minorities, they end up not being able to do the work at the same level as their peers.

    I would be interested to know the socioeconomic level of the children of Asian and Indian descent at TJ, I will assume some are not at the top rungs of the economic ladder but their families value education and push their children. I think you will find Hispanic and African American families who value education and push their children to excel have capable children.

    The problem is not poverty as there are innumerable stories about people rising above poverty and going on to greatness in all fields, the problem is not valuing an education.

    The other part of the problem is that not everyone can do math and science. I was an ok student in high school and went into engineering, it was a bit harder than high school and there were many students who started out with me who were the valedictorians of their class, they could not do the work and dropped out. It was very damaging to their egos. They were literally shell shocked they could not do the work.

  4. Bron:

    “At a school like this you cannot relax admission standards for minorities, they end up not being able to do the work at the same level as their peers.”

    ***********************

    I think you missed the point of the article and that of Shuvan. Admission is based in substantial part on the ability to participate in after-school activities. If, by economic necessity, you are compelled to aid the family by babysitting or working, you simply cannot participate in those activities. That has nothing to do with mental dexterity in math or science. It is simply financial.

  5. Thomas Jefferson High School For Science And Technology Hit With Civil Rights, Discrimination Suit
    Jul 30, 2012 By Mildred Gaddis
    http://wchbnewsdetroit.com/2411094/thomas-jefferson-high-school-for-science-and-technology-hit-with-civil-rights-discrimination-suit/

    Excerpt:
    Critics argue that students are discriminated against long before they even apply to the school. Of the students admitted to Thomas Jefferson, 64 percent attended top-tier advanced academic middle schools — most of which are limited in diversity, according to the complaint. To correct the high school’s racial imbalance, the plaintiffs argue that the entire district’s pipeline must be reformed.

  6. Thanks, Elaine. Here’s more from the article at HuffPo:

    “Gary Orfield, a professor who directs the Civil Rights Project at the University of California-Los Angeles, tells the Washington Post that the underrepresentation of minority students in gifted programs is not unique to Fairfax.

    ‘It’s ubiquitous,’ he said. ‘And it really does tell us something about the poverty of our concept of giftedness, because it’s so related to the concept of family income and privilege.'”

  7. Shuvam M says “….There is no room for bias on race, ”

    I agree. The bias of the school system is economic.

    “it is fair competition.”

    Only if everyone has the same opportunity in preparation as Shuyam notes:

    “Now the disadvantage lies in the schools which may not be able to provide the education or inspiration for students to attend TJ.”

    Well stated.

    “A major factor in the admission process is after-school activities and academic achievements ( many of which are done through after-school activities ) so if the school does not have enough funding to start or maintain these activities, it puts the students at a disadvantage during the second cut.”

    I’ve long favored the approach of all school tax dollars going into a common fund where all schools get the same amount of money per student. Good schools benefit all of society, all of society should pay for them for everyone.

  8. Blacks and latinos not being able to do science or math is the only discrimination here. It is an enigma how the race card can be played when the objectivity of test scores is the deciding factor. Its always stated that blacks and latinos are at a disadvantage due to their culture and financial situation. This is rubbish. Majority of the Indians and Asians admitted to these programs come from no better if not worse economic backgrounds as the blacks or latinos. This bs is all around the U.S. but until these children drop the notion that the only important things in life are aspiring to be rappers or hoops players they will never measure up to par.

  9. Mootsman:

    ” Majority of the Indians and Asians admitted to these programs come from no better if not worse economic backgrounds as the blacks or latinos. This bs is all around the U.S. but until these children drop the notion that the only important things in life are aspiring to be rappers or hoops players they will never measure up to par.”

    ****************************

    Fairfax County, VA is the third wealthiest county in the nation but the median income numbers reflect the same disparity based on race as exists nationwide.

    Median Household income in Fairfax County, VA:

    White $114,626
    Asian $94,253
    Black $74,709
    Hispanic $70,421

    Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation
    http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/Rankings.aspx?state=VA&ind=6406

    I don’t see any evidence to support your hypothesis. I just see your own rather prejudiced personal feelings.

  10. The Core Knowledge Blog
    Report: U.S. Needs More “Exam Schools”
    by Robert Pondiscio
    July 31st, 2012
    http://blog.coreknowledge.org/2012/07/31/report-u-s-needs-more-exam-schools/

    Excerpt:
    Yes, but are they any good? By admitting high achieving students, exam schools are front loading high performance. Finn and Hockett are clear-eyed: “Much like private schools, which are more apt to trade on their reputations and college-placement records than on hard evidence of what students learn in their classrooms, the schools on our list generally don’t know—in any rigorous, formal sense—how much their students learn or how much difference the school itself makes,” they write. “As one puzzled principal put it, ‘Do the kids do well because of us or in spite of us? We’re not sure.’”

  11. “I think that it was interesting that Asian students are demographically over represented, for which there are many esplanations, all valid.”

    There’s exactly one valid explanation for why Asian students are overrepresented, and black and Hispanic students underrepresented: race differences in intelligence.

    The existence of those differences is not in dispute by serious scientists; indeed, it should be perfectly obvious to everyone. And those differences guarantee that in any large population (the school-age children of Fairfax County, for example), above any given threshold of intelligence (giftedness, for example, often defined as an IQ of 130), there will be proportionally more East Asians than whites, and more whites than either Hispanics or blacks. Which is exactly what we observe.

  12. Totally agree! Blacks are just crying baby. If they can meet the objective math and science admissions criteria, they will be admitted too. Otherwise, what’s the point of letting in a math & science retard and wasting a precious spot which should be filled by a more qualified candidate? From both fairness and investment points of view, this just doesn’t make sense. If you don’t have the stomach to digest the math & science milk, don’t cry baby!

  13. The selection process is lacking the true competition in search for a real talent. The students who are tutored to test are the ones who get to the school, while the school should focus on the students that prove their love for science and technology through reputable gifted and talents programs such as Johns Hopkins, summer enrichment camps, participating in county, state and national Olympiads. Does Fairfax County school system have Olympiads to identify the STEM talents?

  14. As a recent prospective applicant, I can say several of these barriers are no longer of issue. The TJ SIS has been altered to what I feel is a much better screen. Rather than as an available packet of questions prone to the effects of economic disadvantage, the most recent SIS was conducted in a timed test-like session with unknown questions. None of the questions gave overt attention to achievements largely related to available opportunities. The attention was delegated to student interests and passions as it should have been originally.

    • And how these unknown questions could help to find a talent? What are these unknown question based on? I asked TJ admission office about the correlation of the math test results to the grading of the student in Algebra I or his/her preparedness for taking Algebra II honor classes in a Fairfax County High school. I was told that TJ test cannot be considered as a benchmark for choosing the High School math classes. Isn’t it a waist of money? So many students take the math test for TJ and they cannot utilize this test as a credit for advanced classes in a high school if they are not admitted to TJ.

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