classroom of a daycare center without children and teacher
A classroom of a daycare center without children and teacher

Chapman’s News & Ideas Don’t Go to the Head of the Class

Originally published at Creator's Syndicate

If there’s one group the education establishment wants to stop, it is parents, many of them Asians, who push their students to excel.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, is the best high school in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Sadly, its percentage of African Americans admitted during the 2020-2021 school year was 1.77%, even though Blacks represent 10% of students in Fairfax County Public Schools. One school board member called the dearth of Black students “completely unacceptable.”

I agree.

The question is: What do you do about it?

Improve elementary and middle school learning, or change the rules?

In 2020, the Fairfax County School Board proposed changing the standards to get into the prestige institution by developing a “merit lottery,” which sounds a tad Orwellian to me.

According to the nonpartisan Pacific Legal Foundation, the district’s new policy would reduce a different minority group — Asian Americans who composed 72% of TJ’s student body, but 20% of the district’s student population.

By capping the percentage of students allowed from each of the district’s 23 middle schools, PLF argues, the TJ class of 2025 would have 42% fewer Asian American students. No other racial group would lose coveted slots.

The new formula is unconstitutional, Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Erin Wilcox, who is representing parents in a lawsuit to stop the change, told me. Under the new admissions policy, TJ no longer can get “the most highly qualified students.”

Under the status quo, white families (18% of the TJ student body, but 37% of the district) are underrepresented, as well as Hispanics (3% of TJ students, but 27% of the district.)

Among other changes, the new policy eliminated the standardized test.

“Testing drained merit from the pool, and it has drained talent from the pool,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said, according to the school’s online magazine, TJ Today. “The admissions test hasn’t just been a barrier, it has been a wall. A wall that’s prevented access of opportunity for our students and it is time today to tear down this wall.”

It’s as if top educators think there’s something unfair about students who excel.

Former Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni compared students who prepared for the test as having a “leg up,” almost as if they were athletes who took “performance enhancing drugs.”

The Fairfax board pushed the change in 2020 in anticipation of the passage of a state law to require top schools to reflect the diversity of their districts within 5%.

But the law never passed. That’s what a botched rush job the whole scheme is.

Thing is, former Fairfax Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech told me that “there should be no exclusivity in education” and “every citizen should have the opportunity to get a high-quality education, but it can’t happen because districts generally don’t have the resources to do that.”

Domenech added, “If you come from an Asian culture, you are driven to succeed, you’re driven to study.”

Domenech said that by changing the criteria, you give students in less prestigious feeder schools an opportunity they otherwise never get. “Yes, some of them will fail,” he said, “because they haven’t had the preparation that others have had. But at least more than now would have the opportunity to succeed.”

But really, the focus should be on preparing more students of all backgrounds to embrace academic rigor — not to punish Asian American kids for giving their all.

Debra J. Saunders

Fellow, Chapman Center for Citizenship Leadership
A fellow with Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership, Debra J. Saunders worked for more than thirty years covering politics on the ground and in Washington, as well as American culture, the news media, the criminal justice system, and dubious trends in public schools and prestigious universities. Her column is nationally syndicated with Creators Syndicate.