As complicated policy matters arise, our Sosne Kondé Policy Solutions leader, Pam Kondé, will be blogging about them. For a data-driven discussion and attached resources, please follow us here.
As we update this page, topics will include:
- How to increase racial diversity in Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
- How to increase racial diversity in gifted programs
- Opening schools safely during Covid-19
- How to hold efficient and productive School Board meetings
- How to harness the community to achieve sustainable, long-term educational reform
INCREASING DIVERSITY IN THOMAS JEFFERSON HIGH SCHOOL FOR SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
The Fairfax Circuit Court rules on February 2, 2021 against Plaintiffs regarding their request for an injunction against FCPS. The court allowed FCPS to move ahead with 2020-21 admissions for TJHHST without a nationally-normed test. However, the TJHSST Court Decision is an interesting read, and we highly recommend it for anyone interested. FCPS won the injunction stage, but the full lawsuit still continues.
1. GIFTED SCHOOL: TJ is a Governors School for gifted students. See page 5+. It is a “service” to students that need such a service. Regardless of one’s opinion about that service, VA and FCPS guidance define it accordingly, and admissions criteria must reflect that. This is what we mentioned earlier (see blog post in Dec 2020) regarding the School Board’s consideration of holistic admission versus using a lottery. Inferring from the court’s comments, it may not have held that the lottery was a sufficient selection criteria. Starting on page 13, the court distinguishes the removal of the nationally-normed test from the removal of other selection criteria, “It is a different matter if the School Board decides to remove all standards of admission and converts TJ into a high school for any student to apply and attend via RANDOM selection.”
2. TESTING: Even though it didn’t rise to the level for an injunction, the court also questioned FCPS’s decision to eliminate the test: ” To suddenly cancel a November test in October suggests a rush to judgement and not a deliberate process. The testimony describing the devastation of students upon learning of the K. C.,…, cancellation was both credible and impactful during the hearing. Even accepting the rationale that standardized tests unfairly eliminated qualified candidates who had a “bad testing day,” why eliminate the tests altogether? Why not just give test results less weight than what had been previously granted absolute finality? Why not allow students to take the test without making test scores either a precondition for the application process or a deciding factor for admission?”
3. QUOTAS: Finally, the court has some strong words about FCPS’s last-minute decision to add a 1.5% quote from each middle school’s eligible students. The court does go into some length about the 1.5% as an arbitrary cap that did not have enough discussion and transparency, “The recent proposal of offering a spot at TJ to the top 1.5% of students at every middle school suffers the same arbitrary and capricious flaw as any other quota system. That system creates more questions than answers.”
NEXT STEPS TO REOPEN SCHOOLS SAFELY
The Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) School Board held a meeting on July 5, 2021. The night before, at about 9:40 pm, the Superintendent posted his presentation on Board Docs, the program used for School Board agenda and documents. It was another lengthy presentation that would attempt to move the school system forward in the midst of increasing Covd-19 case numbers and hospitalizations. Despite mitigation strategies, everyone knew that it would be a heavy lift. I drafted a brief framework of potential issues to consider.
Please find attached the short memo. If you cite to my analysis, please make sure to reference the entire document, give due credit, and provide a link to this page. Do not take anything out of context.
INCREASING DIVERSITY IN THOMAS JEFFERSON HIGH SCHOOL FOR SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
Virginia created the Governor’s School program to serve gifted students who needed more than their regular schools could provide. Located in Fairfax County, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) was created in 1985 — during the technology boom. It is a full-time Governor’s School program to serve gifted students in STEM. However, it has always had a problem attracting a diverse student population, especially historically unrepresented minority students (i.e., Black and Hispanic students). In 2020, after the brutal killing of George Floyd and the national protests in support of Black Lives Matters, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) wanted to do more on this complicated issue. After six months of controversy, the School Board will vote on December 17th to change the TJHSST application process, applying either a holistic review or merit lottery approach for the Class of 2025.
[UPDATE — On Dec 17, 2020, FCPS School Board voted to implement a holistic review, with some caveats.]
Please find attached the short memo with the legal text, charts from the FCPS White Paper, and analysis. If you cite to my analysis, please make sure to reference the entire document, give due credit, and provide a link to this page. Do not take anything out of context.
Admissions: In a letter to the School Board and senior leadership, I urged the FCPS School Board to support the Holistic approach at the December 17th meeting, especially if FCPS also includes “historically unrepresented racial minority” as a potential experience factor.
By contrast, if the Board chooses to use a Merit Lottery approach, it does NOT satisfy state law or FCPS Policy regarding TJ’s purpose (updated in 2014), and it may not even diversify the student population as intended. It would also signal to our students and their families that FCPS didn’t think that Black and Hispanic students could be competitive, which is a false myth.
I also recommended that FCPS does not apply the “Region” model. It should instead conduct the admissions process using a Countywide lens. If representation from the five different geographic regions of Fairfax County is a priority, FCPS should use minimums/region, not maximum caps (as the School Board discussed in their December 2020 work session).
Long-Term Efforts: More importantly, FCPS should work immediately on outreach, recruitment, support, and enrichment. Implementing the Young Scholars program is an important start, but there is so much more that FCPS could do, if only it really made substantive, meaningful, and fully-funded attempts. In another blog post, I’ll include the concrete ideas I’ve developed.
As we literally await vaccines created by the collaboration of the brightest scientific minds worldwide, the FCPS School Board has a historic choice to make:
- LOTTERY: FCPS can choose to dismantle FCPS’s #1 ranked school, which was intended to bring together exceptional gifted students in science, technology, and math – which is needed more than ever before; or
- HOLISTIC APPROACH & LONG-TERM CHANGE: FCPS can show our community how FCPS can truly make sustainable change, maintain TJ’s purpose, and increase its diversity. Concurrently, FCPS leadership can tell our historically unrepresented students that FCPS is going to support, enrich, and mentor them because they too are capable of extraordinary things – then fund it accordingly.
LAWSUIT AGAINST FCPS
In the FCPS School Board Work Session on October 6, 2020, without prior notice or a public hearing, the School Board agreed to remove the test for the Class of 2025 admissions process. On November 4, 2020, a number of FCPS families filed a lawsuit against the FCPS School Board and Superintendent, that they should “vacate, nullify, and reverse their actions,” and “obtain preliminary and permanent injunction requiring FCSB and Superintendent to reinstate such testing as part of the admissions process.”
Our firm has no relationship or communication with the plaintiffs, however, we were able to find a copy of the complaint. It lays out the legal requirements for a nationally-normed test as part of an admissions process for a VA Governors School intended to serve gifted students.
On page 19 of the complaint, it alleges, “The purpose of the No-Testing Decision — and its implementation by the Superintendent – are to alter fundamentally the character of the Thomas Jefferson Governor’s School by eliminating its role and purpose as a high school for gifted students.”
If the FCPS School Board were to vote on December 17th to apply a Lottery admissions process — again wholly ignoring the state legal requirements about serving gifted students, it would, in fact, be “eliminating TJ’s role and purpose as a high school for gifted students.” That decision would be made WITHOUT ANY PUBLIC HEARING, in virtual meetings during a worldwide pandemic, when we are awaiting a Covid-19 vaccine created in record time by gifted scientists working collaboratively worldwide — the exact same purpose of TJ’s creation. Moreover, that same Lottery approach cannot even guarantee that it would lead to the very diversity that FCPS intended to achieve.