There was some potentially good news out of Fairfax County, Virginia this week, though it remains to be seen if it will hold up. The school board in Fairfax County was one of many in liberal bastions around the country to revamp the admissions process for the highly successful Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in 2020. Parents compete intensively to get their children accepted to the magnet school because it is consistently ranked among the best high schools in the nation with a nearly 100% success rate in college acceptance by graduates. But the school board decided to scrap the standardized test that had previously served as a significant factor in accepting applicants and instead reserved a fixed number of seats that had to be filled from each middle school in the county. A group of parents challenged the new admissions process and this week a judge ruled that the changes resulted in racial discrimination against Asian students. (NBC Washington)
A federal judge ruled Friday that a Virginia school system illegally discriminated against Asian Americans when it overhauled the admissions policies at an elite public school.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton found that impermissible “racial balancing” was at the core of the plan to overhaul admissions to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, known as “TJ.” The school routinely ranks as the best or one of the best public schools in the country, and slots at the school are highly competitive.
In 2020, the Fairfax County School Board significantly revamped the admissions process at the school. A standardized test that had been a linchpin of the admissions process was scrapped in favor of a system that set aside equal numbers of TJ slots at each of the county’s middle schools, among other changes.
This is a pattern we’ve seen in many blue school districts around the country. The standardized test that was previously used to determine admissions was challenging, with only the more advanced students being able to make the cut. This resulted in 73% of the class being from Asian-American families. After the test was scrapped, that percentage dropped to 53%. Meanwhile, the percentage of Black and Latino students rose by six and eight percent respectively.
And that was obviously the entire intent of the change to the admissions process from the beginning, which Judge Hilton noted in his decision. The board determined that there weren’t enough Black and Hispanic students being admitted so the process must have been “racist” in nature. And as we’ve seen in previous moves such as this in other districts, rather than improving the elementary and middle schools in primarily minority neighborhoods so they could be more competitive, they lowered the standards by doing away with the standardized test.
This dispute highlights one of the glaring bits of hypocrisy that shows up in progressive circles that is rarely mentioned in the media. They claim to be fighting racism and supporting minority communities, but they don’t consider Asian-Americans to really be “minorities” in the same way as Black and Hispanic people. Therefore, if a new policy has a distinctly negative impact on Asian-American families, it doesn’t matter to them so long as there is a net benefit to the minorities they actually care about.
This disappointing aspect of Judge Hilton’s decision is the way that the ruling still relied on some aspects of racism rather than endorsing a truly “colorblind” approach to the process. The previous system was truly colorblind because all students were given the same test and the same chance to score well enough to be admitted to the elite school. Asian students were dominating the admission race, not because the test was somehow slanted in favor of them, but because their families were clearly working harder to ensure their children excelled scholastically above other groups, including white students. But the judge determined that the new system was still “racist,” except that it was just a different type of racism.
For their part, the Fairfax County School Board is appealing and saying that the admissions process at TJ isn’t racially biased at all. As proof, they point to the fact that the admissions officers are not even made aware of the race of the students who apply. That may be true, but if you set aside a certain number of seats for students from a middle school where the average grades and graduation rates are much lower than the others, the results are obviously going to be shifted. If we truly lived in a society where everyone is judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, a merit-based admission process would not only be uncontroversial but the obvious choice to make.