Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) released a new admissions plan for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology largely based on lottery rather than academic merit. The new plan proposed by FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand omits the current standardized testing requirements.
FCPS says it will admit 100 students based on high evaluations. The high school would select the remaining 400 at random through something they call a “merit lottery.”
The minimum requirements for this lottery are a 3.5 GPA, enrollment in Algebra I, residency, and submission of a “Student Portrait Sheet.”
The proposed plan says it aims to admit more underrepresented racial groups. The board claims this will “provide the greatest geographic diversity” at the cost of barring entry to other, academically qualified students.
Admissions will also conduct a holistic review of “21st century skills” and experience factors. Qualities considered are: “ethical/global citizen,” “English language learner,” “economically disadvantaged,” and from an “under-represented FCPS school.”
FCPS calls this newer proposal “a moderate change to the process,” implying it may not consider academic merit at all in future admissions.
The school board admits this plan will likely create a “two-tier system” for campus culture: students selected for admission versus students selected at random.
Last month, controversy broke out over FCPS paying “antiracist” theorist Ibram Kendi $20,000 for a one hour virtual presentation. Investigative journalist Asra Nomani published a copy of the agreement between FCPS and Kendi, and recently shared Thomas Jefferson’s new admissions plan.
Nomani couldn’t be reached for comment.
In an interview with The Virginia Star, State Senator Scott Surovell (D-36) explained his support for the measure. He argued that the school’s current admissions standards are corrupt and inequitable.
“I’ve been advocating reform on this for 7 to 8 years now. It favors wealthy families and families that know how to work the system. I think the TJ [Thomas Jefferson] admissions process needs to have some kind of lottery component. There needs to be a regional component. In one of my middle schools, only 2 out of 125 underrepresented students were admitted. That’s unacceptable.”
When asked about parental concerns over the potential cultural issues and academic ability of students admitted without standardized testing, Surovell said those problems won’t really exist.
“I think it’ll turn out fine. There’s a lot of highly qualified students who don’t apply right now because of the atmosphere. TJ is not the most welcoming place if you’re Hispanic or African American. Public schools are supposed to be for everybody, not just the wealthy who can afford it.”
However, former Virginia House member and current Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Richard Anderson told The Virginia Star that the RPV stands behind these families in retaining the current admissions criteria.
“The school board is just going to throw away this merit-based admissions policy, and replace it with a lottery, and just roll the dice. The Asian-American community only has one word for it: racism. It’s diminishing the opportunity for performance-based, merit-based students to attend the best high school in the country. As sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, they will lose their rating as the best high school in the country because they will have significantly reduced the rigor and academic challenges of their curriculum.”
The school board will review the proposal next Tuesday, October 13, during an electronic work session.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Scott Brabrand” by Fairfax County Public Schools.