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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

TJ admissions process is discriminatory, federal complaint charges

The entrance to Thomas Jefferson High School on Braddock Road, Annandale
The Coalition of The Silence, an advocacy group formed by former Fairfax County school board member Tina Hone, has filed a federal civil rights complaint charging the admissions process for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) unfairly excludes black and Latino students.

The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education July 23, was joined by the Fairfax County  chapter of the NAACP. The Coalition of The Silence was launched in January to represent the interests of economically disadvantaged students, minorities, and students with disabilities in FCPS public schools. 

Of the 480 students in the Class of 2016 at TJ, only seven (1.5 percent) are African American and 13 (2.7) are Hispanic. In contrast, 26.3 percent are white and 64.2 percent are Asian. The remaining 5.4 percent are listed as “multiracial/other.” Only six students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

 “We frankly feel we have no choice,” Tina Hone told the Annandale Blog. “This is not a new issue,” she said, noting that the school board has been talking about it for years.

“At the meeting on the 19th, the entire conversation and the presentation we saw gave no indication that FCPS will take reasonable action on this. It’s shameful,” Hone said.

Hone was referring to a July 19 school board meeting where the board talked about changing the admissions process in response to data that showed a growing number of TJ students need remedial work to meet the school’s high standards.

“We seem to have the worst of both worlds, unfortunately,” said Mason board member Sandy Evans at that meeting. “We’ve got students being admitted now who are not prepared to do the work, and we also have not increased diversity.”

The nationally recognized, highly selective school lends prestige to Fairfax County. but while it’s in Annandale, it doesn’t do much for the students who live here. A handful of middle schools send the vast majority of students to TJ. For example, among students in the class of 2009-10, 66 were from Longfellow (Falls Church), 45 were from Rocky Run (Chantilly), 68 were from Carson (Herndon), and 41 were from Kilmer (Vienna).

Some parents pay hundreds of dollars to private companies to prepare their students for the school’s rigorous entrance exam.

Among students in the TJ class of 2009-10, a much smaller percentage came from middle schools in the Annandale/Mason area. Only six were from Glasgow, 10 were from Jackson, two were from Poe, and none were from Holmes.

The complaint charges that black and Latino students are underrepresented at TJ because FCPS fails to assign enough of them to programs for gifted students in elementary schools. As a result, by the time they get to the eighth grade, it’s too late for them to be considered for TJ. If everyone can’t compete on a level playing field, the system is discriminatory, the complaint alleges.

“Enormous disparities in the admission of black and Latino students to TJ—a public high school currently ranked number two in the nation, is simply unacceptable,” the coalition states. “These disparities in TJ admissions are symptomatic of far deeper patterns of discrimination across the Fairfax County Public School system that begin as early as kindergarten.”

According to Hone, “it doesn’t matter if FCPS’s failure to resolve the issue is intentional or not. It still violates Title VI.”

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits schools receiving federal funds from discrimination on the basis of race, national, origin, gender, or other factors.

21 comments:

  1. Why work harder when you can just force somebody else to lower their standards for you?

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  2. Tina Hone is a bleeding heart. I do not know the TJ process but I am guessing it is based on grades and extracurriculars. Maybe she should file a suit against the US College system.

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  3. Anyone has to admit that the the shocking number is the six kids eligible for free/reduced lunch. Six out of 480! That says that not nearly enough is being done to get kids in need the same opportunities as the wealthier students in the county. You know intelligence and aptitude is not based on how much money your family has.

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    1. So in 2012, one party (Democrats) Fairfax County is selecting children to attend TJ based on the color of their skin? Attendance at TJ is based on achievement and demonstrated intelligence, not opportunity. You don't remove one from TJ that has demonstrated the ability to attend TJ successfully to take a chance on another that hasn't. The elementary school GT selection is based on achievement and intelligence, not a gut feeling. I have 3 in the system and that is the fact.

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    2. Why is it the county's responsibility to do what the parents should be doing? If they do not apply, if they do not study, if they do not do extracurricular activities it is now the government responsibility to either step in and get them to do it or lower the standards at the school. Take responsibility for your own kids!

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    3. Zac in Annandale7/25/12, 12:10 PM

      If you are going to bring politics into this blog, please remember it was George Bush and a Republican congress that created NCLB. This act unmasked the inequalities in education and for maybe another year or so will hold educators accountable for it. If this line of logic confuses you, please research it before you reply back to my comment.

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  4. Why is it the responsibility of the county to do what the parents should be doing? If they do not apply, if they do not study, if they do not do extracurricular activities it is now the government responsibility to either step in and get them to do it or lower the standards at the school. Take responsibility for your own kids!

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    1. Zac in Annandale7/25/12, 12:21 PM

      What if you do apply, study, and do many extra-curricular activities and have been getting straight A's since grades were given? And then you don't get in. You are a child of color and the school you attend has whites as a minority. These are the families that Tina Hone is speaking for.

      Unfortunately, the students that receive free or reduced lunch don't really enter this equation simply because most of them will not apply and do not have the resources to do the extra-curricular things that makes a child look good on paper.

      Again, Tina Hone is speaking for the families that did everything they were supposed to, and still did not get in. Whether you agree with or not, that is the situation.

      If you were a person of color and did everything you were supposed to as a good parent, what would you do?

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  5. Yes, the TJ admissions process does discriminate - on the basis of ability!! Every child in Fairfax County is equally screened in second grade to assess whether they have the ablility to enter into the Advanced Academic program. Every black and Latino and every single student- assessed on an equal basis! So no one is being discriminated against! If the child has the academic ability they will be served by the school system in this way. There is no discrimination in standardized testing. It is completely fair, inherently. You can't just "assign" a minority student so that they have higher numbers in the Advanced Academic Program. To do this would be a dis- service to the student because they would be in a setting that is not appropriate for their academic abilities. This is just ridiculous.

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    1. Not quite true. The initial screening is a standardized test that is administered to all kids. But not all kids are equal when it comes to test taking. More importantly, the cutoff number for this test to be considered for AAP changes yearly. Why? Because there can only be a certain number of kids that are deemed 'center-eligible' because there is only so much space in the AAP centers. There are a number of kids (my son is a perfect example) who don't get accepted to a center but can still excel in AAP classes. Our ES had a in-school level 4 AAP class for 3-5th grades and my son was 'guested' in for all his ES years. He excelled and benefitted greatly from being in this class, outperforming a majority of them. Not every student is capable of it but there are many who could and should be in an AAP class who are not.

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    2. >>More importantly, the cutoff number for this test to be considered for AAP changes yearly. Why? Because there can only be a certain number of kids that are deemed 'center-eligible' because there is only so much space in the AAP centers.
      >>>

      Not quite true. The benchmark score is for the 2nd grade pool, NOT for AAP eligibility. The central office staff can only screen so many files, and that forms the 2nd grade pool. Parents and/or students can complete a referral form and get screened, just like all the other students in the 2nd grade pool.

      Also, there is no space-limitation in AAP Centers. From the FCPS website:

      http://www.fcps.edu/is/aap/faqs/esfaqs.shtml

      Are there space limitations?
      No, all students found eligible for the Level IV services are guaranteed placement.

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  6. Children who grow up in a home where there are lots of books; have parents who read to them at an early age, take them to science museums and historic sights and on vacations abroad, have high academic expectations, and pay for private tutors to help them pass the TJ entrance exam have a clear advantage. So it is not a level playing field.

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  7. It is obvious that it is not a fair and equal method of determining who gets into TJ. If only 6 students are low income, this lets us see that these students are not being put into a situation where they could get in. Okay, they might be screened for entrance into AAP in 3rd grade, but something happens by the time they are in 8th grade that puts them at a disadvantage. Extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, test scores, parental involvement in school...things that parents who are wealthier can better provide are not being provided for poorer kids. This is not the fault of the smart and able poor kids that SHOULD be getting into TJ. Remember, just because a child comes from a poor background does not mean they are not smart. There is definitely something unfair going on.

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  8. If any given student is experiencing the something that happens by the time they're in 8th grade that puts them at a disadvantage, it is parental low standards, a disinvolved family life, and lack of raw ability.

    Responsibility cannot be fully placed on the school system. Education results in success only when the parents are strongly involved. You can't expect a child who is not capable of the work or have the raw intelligence to survive in an environment like TJ. They would sink in 5 minutes. You are not doing them a favor. If they are not prepared by 8th grade, it is too late. By then it is apparent if the parents didn't frame the child's life in an environment of expectation and mental nourishment, and a love of learning.

    A low income in no way precludes the opportunity for parents to give their children everything they need to succeed academically. There are ample resources in our society and especially in this county of ours that is full of public programs that are free. It is apathy mainly I'm afraid that is resulting in the low numbers of minorities at TJ. Apathy, not by the schools, but in the family life. Every opportunity is out there for every student who enters the school system. The ones who rise to the top have A) raw ability, and B) parents who care about their learning.

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    1. Do you not live in Annandale? Regardless if you are white or a minority, if you live in Annandale your kids would probably not make the cut for TJ. Only 2 from Poe and 0 from Holmes. Come on people.

      You probably disagree with me, but I do not think people who live in Falls Church, Vienna, Chantilly and Herndon are smarter than me and my kids.

      So, why does this all happen? Socio-economics. Should the system change to accommodate all people? I don't know nor do I care. The arts is what matters most to me for my kids, along with some good old strength.

      About 2 years ago, Annandale HS had the most students in Virginia make the ALL-State Chorus. Pretty good, eh.

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  9. How about everyone grow up. TJ exists because it is for exceptional students, that should be the metric: not color, race or creed. Back in the 70s the NYC University system initated open enrollment. This tanked one of the best higher education systems in the US. They have now reverted to using metrics that are based on achievement and performance standards that are much higher and have taken the university from being mediocre to one of the best universities in the Country again.

    There are many other options for good students in NOVA. Every student should strive for the best and be their best, that does not guarantee one the right to go to TJ, however if one is exceptional and cuts the mustard then those who do should attend. Let's not destroy a good school to mollify the sour grapes of a few.

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    1. TJ exists because a bunch of local business leaders decided in the 1980s that Fairfax County could be marketed more effectively to high-tech businesses if it had a magnet STEM school. It was not to serve the needs of students, but of course it has since turned into the "golden ring" for ambitious parents and students. The real estate developers who foisted TJ onto us (Jefferson parents did not want to lose their neighborhood school, which at the time was only about 20 years old) lacked the vision to anticipate either the traffic congestion their plans would create or the controversy that TJ admissions would engender. Sandy Evans is right - we've ended up with the worst of all possible worlds at TJ - a school that admits few residents from much of the county yet now has to provide large numbers of students remedial help.

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  10. My son was accepted to AAP (at the end of 5th grade, but was guested into a in-school level 4 AAP class). He goes to Poe MS, is in Honors classes, has yet to get a grade other than an A in middle school, is a boy scout on a path to get Eagle by the time he is 14, on a swim team, on a flag football team, in the Jazz band, has been in the all-county chorus, is a member of the National Junior Honor Society, is an assistant coach for his elementary school's Young Men in Motion running club, is a PAL, and is a Poe Ambassador. With all this, we realize that his chances of getting into TJ are slim. I don't know that the fact that he is an under-represented race (white) has anything to do with it. There are a limited number of spaces and a lot of people in FFX (and other counties) and just a lot of high caliber students.

    My two cents would be to let TJ continue as is and expand the in-school AAP programs to all the elementary schools. In our elementary school, we have a level 4 AAP class that we fill with center-eligible kids who want to stay at their home school as well as 'guests' - those students that are not center-eligible but have the capability to do the work. There are A LOT more kids that could and should be in AAP classes. My son is a perfect example of the that - he would not be where he is without being guested into the AAP class in elementary school.

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  11. Poe Middle School is hosting a test prep class for the TJ entrance exam. The cost is $200. Kids from families who can afford that will definitely have an edge over those of us struggling to make ends meet.

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    1. The "test prep" mentality is part of the problem. Getting into TJ is a challenge, but does passing the test mean you can keep your head above water for the next four years?

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  12. This is such a stupid article. TJ admission process doesn't discriminate against African Americans or Latinos. You have to work really hard to get into TJ. Asian kids work really hard and do lot of extra STEM activities rather than playing sports all the time. That is the reason there are lot of Asians. It is just plain simple. If others groups work harder then they will also get into it.

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