Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST, or TJ) is a regional magnet school in Fairfax County that consistently ranks as one of the best high schools in the country. Prior to 1997, officials overseeing the very competitive admissions process practiced affirmative action by denying admission to approximately 30 White and Asian students each year to permit admission of 30 Black students with lower scores and grades. In 1997, parents of one of the displaced students sued Fairfax County Public Schools and won. Over the summer of 1997, FCPS had to offer admission to the 32 students who would have been admitted to TJ were it not for their illegal affirmative action.
Since that year FCPS has spent tens of millions of dollars in efforts to increase the number of Black and (to a lesser extent) Hispanic students at TJ. At one point there were 11 different programs in FCPS designed to increase the number of Black students in gifted programs, enrolled in AP and IB programs, admitted to TJHSST, and admitted to colleges. FCPS has an entire division devoted to helping Black students to perform better and close the achievement gap between Black students and White and Asian students. FCPS expanded Gifted & Talented centers, now called AAP (Advanced Academic Placement) centers from 4.5% of the elementary population to 16% of the population in an effort to capture more Black and Hispanic students. For years there were special TJ prep courses available only to Black and Hispanic students. Those students were tutored two evenings a week and on Saturday for three years, fifth grade through 7th grade and the first months of middle school prior to taking the TJHSST admission exam in December. The Young Scholars program began about 15 years ago offering extra help and free summer school to students in schools with high numbers of Blacks and Hispanics. The program was established to get more minorities into GT/AAP programs and into TJ. It costs millions a year and one or two Young Scholars is admitted to TJ. Of course those students may well have been admitted to TJ without having been in the Young Scholars program.
None of the efforts of FCPS have resulted in increasing the number of Blacks admitted to TJ. Over the last few years as few as 4 Black students were admitted in 2010, to a high of 10 this year, just over 2% of those admitted to the class of 2018. Meanwhile the number of Asians has increased every year. In 2008 more Asians than Whites were admitted to TJ for the first time. Asians were 45% of the students admitted. Asian percentages have increased every year since then. In 2010, the class of 2014, 57.5% of those admitted were Asians with Whites down to 34.6%. Two years later the TJ class of 2016 was 66.2% Asians, Whites were 26.3%, and Blacks were 0.8%. This year the class of 2018 is 66.3% Asian, Whites 24% and Blacks 2.1%.
Now it appears that FCPS is attempting to keep down the number of Asians at TJ. The top math student at Kilmer AAP center was denied admission this year. He is ethnically Chinese and so brilliant at math that he was allowed to take the exclusive American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME) open only to the top math high school students across the country. He qualified to take the AIME despite being only in the 8th grade. He has had a love for math that has been demonstrated throughout elementary and middle school. He is also a straight A student. This young man is not the only Asian to be denied admission to TJ this year. Other exceptional Asian students at Kilmer Middle school, Rocky Run Middle school, and other schools were also denied admission. It is difficult to find reasons for their rejections. They are outstanding students who have excelled in math and science.
There has been speculation about the excuses FCPS might be using to discriminate against Asian students. One possible explanation might be the essays that all applicants must write as part of the TJ admission process. Asian students may not be as politically correct in their essays because they have not received coaching on such topics. Asian students are more likely to write about how hard they work to learn more and to achieve higher grades. That would not be considered as politically correct as writing about how wonderful diversity is, or how loving other people is more important than hard work and excelling in academics. But it’s only speculation since no one knows why, and how, FCPS is keeping deserving Asians out of TJHSST—yet it is common knowledge that they are. The local members of the Asian American PAC 80-20 have grown concerned about this discrimination and are alerting their members to the problem. We do not yet know what course of action they will recommend to their members.
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