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. Hi, I am Shuvam M. and I am currently a sophomore attending TJ.

    The best way to fix this is to fix the education system in low poverty areas, not by suing a school and lowering its prestige. I am a student at TJ and I experienced the admission process. There is no room for bias on race, it is fair competition. Now the disadvantage lies in the schools which may not be able to provide the education or inspiration for students to attend TJ. 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. So the problem here is not the admission process, but the middle schools (and even elementary schools) that failed to provide the students with the resources to be level with other competitors in the competition to TJ. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but in this case the Asian/Indian/Caucasian population at TJ tends to come from families with not wealthy backgrounds, but higher than the average household, usually above 100k per household, maybe even per parent. So these factors are what are hindering the students from representing themselves strongly to the admission officiers, not the school. Parents may be upset, but they should see what the students that made it to TJ did that their child may not have done. For me, I had to participate extensively in Model UN and E-Cybermission, both of which were a part of my SIS and they required quite a bit out of my family’s pocket. Luckily, Rocky Run Middles School (RRMS) had decent funding so was able to cut prices on our trips and equipment. So what these people need to do is fix the system, not just sue to please the parents of the people who weren’t able to make it in. This is just my opinion and I don’t mean to offend anyone.

  2. Selling out public schools
    by David Sirota
    May 30, 2012

    1. Unequal Funding Formulas

    A half-century of social science research confirms that factors outside the school — and specifically, poverty — are far more determinative in student achievement than anything that happens inside the school. This is why, as both New York University’s Diane Ravitch and Dissent magazine’s Joanne Barkan note, public schools in America’s wealthiest enclaves consistently rank among the highest achieving in the world.

    Knowing that, it stands to reason that schools in the lowest-income areas should receive disproportionately more education funding than schools in high-income areas so that they can combat the systemic out-of-classroom factors that schools in wealthy neighborhoods don’t face. With this extra money, they might be able to fund the so-called “wraparound” services that even reformers like Geoffrey Canada admit are crucial to the success of public schools in high-poverty locales.

    Yet, it’s the other way around. As a 2011 U.S. Department of Education report documented, “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding” leaving “students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.” This inequity is further exacerbated by local property-tax-based education funding formulas that often generate far more resources for wealthy high-property-value school districts than for destitute low-property-value enclaves. Inequality also is intensified by devious new taxpayer-subsidized scholarship programs that, according to the New York Times, “have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children” in traditional public schools.

    Policy-wise, changing such funding formulas to make sure schools in poor areas get more funding than schools in wealthy neighborhoods is fairly straightforward. But, then, the commonsense idea threatens the gated-community ethos of the wealthy and powerful who control our politics. It also fundamentally challenges the core principles of a nation that still likens spreading the wealth to confiscatory socialism. Thus, the idea remains off the table — and consequently the increasingly unequal funding of education now effectively subsidizes a system that is cementing inequality for the long haul.

    In practice, that means schools in low-income areas continue to receive comparatively less funding to recruit teachers, upgrade classrooms, reduce class sizes and sustain all the other basics of a good education.

  3. HumpinDog here sitting in for FarkinDog. I have a suggestion. Make Math and Science a priority in all the kindergarten, grade schools, and so called middle and high schools. Instead of making kids qualify for a school, make the schools first qualify in their overall scores before they can indulge in sports and competitve sports. Fairfax would be a good place to set an example. End sports as they know it. Education is number one. We dont need to spend money on coaches who are poachers. We dont need to create a football star so he can get a football scholarship at some went in dumb university like State Penn. We are competing with China in Math and Science. They are laughing at us. How many doctors in your county of Fairfax did you have to import from overseas? How many of your high school football stars now on the streets, meaning out of school, are “on the streets” in terms of their employability? You can not make an illiterate ex football player a coach now can you? Oh, you do already. Sorry Fairfax, you are hopeless.

  4. Present day Golden Rule:
    He who has the gold makes the rules;
    Everybody else gets the shaft.

  5. I think it was New Hampshire that instituted a statewide school system. All school taxes went to the state which made the funds available to all schools on a per student basis. Everyone paid the same tax rate. The result was that the rich communities were upset: their tax rate went up. The poor communities were delighted, their tax rate went down and the quality of their schools went up. I think they dropped this. Rich people rule.

  6. idealist,

    In my area, schools are not financed on a county basis–but on a community basis. A wealthy school district may abut a poor school district. Real estate taxes in each community pay for schools, police and fire departments–as well as other community services like trash pickup and plowing–in their districts.

  7. Well mespo,

    From the demographics…. At least one should be black.
    .. 1.5 should be Asian….. And almost 1.75 should be Hispanic…..just saying…..

  8. Messpo72,

    Excellent idea for TJ.

    There is such a school, although not connected with a “better” school in the Bronx.

    Read about it in “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.

  9. ElaineM,

    Apoligies. I misunderstood which factors you were referring to. However with a financing and school system on a county basis, these factors of resources should even out.

    How it actually works for the folks in Wake County,NC is not clear. What is clear from the latest fiercely fought (by Koch money, no less,) election is that some hate having their kids go to school with blacks due to the bussing system.
    It is codeworded as preferring “neighborhood schools” by the Republicans.

    The libs regained a one vote majority in the school board.

    We had rich and poor neighborhoods in my youth. We have rich and poor communities now.

    Why a county led school system? To insure that equally good resources to all students regardless of community and family resources.

  10. OS,

    Is that the Fairfax School Board of days gone by….or maybe not it seems…..

  11. Mespo,

    What is the minority population in Fairfax County….. Are the school board members appointed or elected…… If elected, are the by precinct or at large…. Looks like a nice family portrait……. White that is…..

  12. Mespo, Perhaps the Fairfax school board would feel right at home at this meeting as well:

  13. Mespo, the Fairfax school board looks just like any photo of the typical tea party meeting or Republican caucus. What could possibly be wrong with that?

  14. Damn Yankee:

    If anyone respected the value of the question, they’d answer it for you.

  15. What is wrong with all white faculty. They have diversity in place, they have females on staff.

  16. Here’s an idea for TJ. Go out into economically deprived middle schools and set up classes for underprivileged kids who want to learn. It’s a “Math/Science JV” and it will allow you to identify kids with potential.

    Just as an aside, take a look at the Fairfax County School Board charged with presiding over minority achievement in the county. Anyone notice anything?

  17. idealist,

    I think you misunderstood my point. I was talking about a societal factor and not about a teacher’s or school administrator’s bias against a child/children. Wealthy communities have more money to invest in their schools. They usually have smaller class sizes and can provide all kinds of enrichment activities and programs for their students. I’d say the system is biased against children who come from families of little economic means.

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