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Editorial: Readers Respond on TJ Admissions

"Stop making smart 8th graders feel inferior because they are not admitted."

Readers responded to last week's editorial, which cited a civil rights complaint about the apparent lack of access to gifted and talented programs and admission to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

The larger impact of the disparities is evident in the demographics of the students who qualify for gifted and talented services at a certain level in elementary school, which affects more than 12,000 students. By comparison, the incoming class at Thomas Jefferson is 480 students.

From the complaint:

"Being 'identified' as eligible for Level 4 services is no easy task for Black or Latino students in Fairfax County. Data specifically broken down for elementary and middle school was not readily available. However, overall K-8 data is striking. Among the 12,044 elementary and middle school students identified last year as eligible for Level IV GT services by FCPS last year, substantial racial and ethnic disparities are evident."

Hispanic students make up 6.2 percent of those identified as gifted but 22 percent of students overall. Black students make up just 3.8 percent of those identified but nearly 10 percent of students overall.

The complaint was filed by Martina Hone, former school board member and founder of the Coalition of the Silence, and Charisse Espy Glassman, education chair of the Fairfax NAACP.

HERE ARE some excerpts from reader comments:

"The [editorial] was incomplete … as it failed to address the relatively much larger issue of white students admission to Thomas Jefferson, which your article states as 26 percent of the class of 2016, which is versus a Fairfax County school system white student population of about 45 percent."

— Brad Brewster, Fairfax Station

"[Poor students are] not innately less talented, however they don't reach their full potential ... This should come as no surprise considering their home environment includes overworked parents that have 'no time' to micromanage a student, and no resources to hire a tutor. The stereotypical Asian 'Tiger Mom' is not just a stereotype, in my experience ... The persistent encouragement for success from such a parent is likely behind the large Asian representation at TJ. Having tutored a disadvantaged Hispanic student for the first time last year I noted he had access to cable TV and both the latest Xbox and Playstation gaming systems (all the distractions of a wealthier student) but lacked the encouragement from his mother (a single parent household) to reach academic excellence. This was an unfortunate combination."

— Daniel Bronson, Arlington

"This is a culture contest pure and simple. One culture puts study and commitment to educational goals at the top of life's responsibilities and diversions. The others, not nearly so much. Change the cultures if you can."

— William Smith, Fairfax

"There are sufficient talented African Americans in the jurisdiction to make up at least 10 percent of TJ, their percentage of the overall population. And this is true for Latinos and underrepresented Asians (families from Vietnam and the Philippines). But long ago, TJ decided that racial and ethnic diversity could not be pursued ... Many want TJ, not because they are interested in science and math, but because TJ is a safest way to be admitted to UVA. Make every school in Fairfax County as incredible as TJ is. Clearly many, such as those in our area, McLean and Langley, are already there. Provide access to advanced courses at George Mason for those who need special acceleration. And stop making smart 8th graders feel inferior because they are not admitted."

— Eddie Eitches, McLean

DEMOGRAPHICS:

Whites make up 62.7 percent of Fairfax County population, 44 percent of students in Fairfax County Public Schools, 51.3 percent of elementary and middle school students who qualify for specific gifted services in FCPS and 26.2 percent of the incoming class at Thomas Jefferson.

Asians make up about 18 percent of the overall Fairfax County population, 20 percent of students in Fairfax County Public Schools, 34 percent of elementary and middle school students who qualify for higher level gifted services in FCPS and 64 percent of the incoming class at Thomas Jefferson.

Hispanics make up about 16 percent of the overall Fairfax County population, 22 percent of students in Fairfax County Public Schools, 6 percent of elementary and middle school students who qualify for specific gifted services in FCPS and 3.8 percent of the incoming class at Thomas Jefferson.

Blacks make up 9.2 percent of the Fairfax County population overall, 10 percent of the students in Fairfax County Public Schools, 3.8 percent of the students who qualify for specific gifted services in FCPS and 1.4 percent of the incoming class at Thomas Jefferson.