Most parents hope for a meritocracy based education system - equal opportunity for all with achievement defined by individual success through hard work based on results. Like many parents in Fairfax County we have dreamed about our children working hard to get into Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ)- the top ranked high school in Virginia and the United States. TJ was established in 1985 and selected students based on merit - an admissions test score, academic achievement, essays and recommendations. Any rising high school student in Fairfax County can apply. Many students begin preparation early on. Come 2021, the TJ admissions process is set to change.
Virginia’s Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni, decided to create a task force to seek out ‘equity-and-inclusion’ at TJ and 18 other schools in Virginia. TJ applicants have never been selected based on race but solely merit for admissions. Secretary Qarni and the Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, Scott Braband, are aiming to change the entire application process to do the following: completely eliminate the rigorous admissions test and solely create a lottery system which would include all students who have a GPA of 3.5 and higher and coursework in Algebra.
As Fairfax County taxpayers, we have the right to question why TJ’s admissions process “needs” to change and how that change is quickly being made without adequate input from residents. TJ has maintained top national rankings. Brabrand stated, “We have been working to understand why the talent at TJHSST does not reflect the talent in FCPS,” Brabrand said in a news release (WTOP). How can Brabrand say that with a straight face?: Fairfax County is home to some good high schools, but also some poorly ranked schools like Annandale High School (ranking 3,376 in the nation and 84 in Virginia).
If a child puts in extra time and attention to test preparation and in turn succeeds and scores higher on an admission test, he/she should not be penalized. If a child is blessed to have parents who pour greatly into his/her life and help enable test preparation, he/she should not be penalized. Adjusting and changing admissions requirements with the verbal intent of getting to a specific race ratio not only dilutes the academic rigor of TJ but handicaps those students who would have earned a spot strictly based on merit.
I am concerned that I have not heard anything from my Member of Congress, Gerry Connolly. He represents families of TJ students as well as families of those hoping to make it into TJ. I would like to know where he stands and if he will work to protect a merit based system. Unfortunately, Representative Connolly continues to refuse to debate his opponent, Manga Anantatmula. Representative Connolly simply is not in touch with the needs of constituents. Manga has clearly stated her support for a meritocracy based education system. If elected to Congress, Manga will take a stand to honor the hard work of students in Virginia’s 11th District.
Elizabeth T. McCauley