Merit Lottery for Admission to Thomas Jefferson High School

As long as we use metrics that place privileged families at an advantage, admission to any advanced academic program will remain inequitable. The reason is simple. Any system can be gamed by families who have more resources. Only a lottery can provide a genuine opportunity for underrepresented groups at Virginia's premier school, Thomas Jefferson High School. There is evidence to back this up. As noted by a professor from Georgia, Charles Pibel, Gwinett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (GSMST) accomplishes this. Considered as one of the top high schools in the country, GSMST has about a third of its students coming from underrepresented groups.

The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Above copied from USNews

One can compare the above demographics with that of Thomas Jefferson High School:

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Above copied from USNews

The difference is so glaring. Only 2% of students at Thomas Jefferson come from low-income families, compared to 32% at Gwinnett. 32% at Gwinnett are either Black or Hispanic while at Thomas Jefferson, these groups comprise only 4% of the student enrollment. We need not invent esoteric ways of deciding who gets admitted to a school that caters to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). All that matters is that a student is interested and willing to go through a rigorous STEM curriculum in high school. And if there are more students than spaces available, a random lottery is the only proven method as illustraed by the success at GSMST.

The School Board of Fairfax county need not reinvent the wheel. I only hope that they look at the evidence and listen to this plea: (If you are a resident of Fairfax county. kindly join us in this petition.

Dear Karen Corbett-Sanders,

We are a group of TJ parents, students, and alumni, and concerned Fairfax County residents* who are advocating for increased equity, inclusion, and representative diversity at TJHSST. For decades, students from underrepresented minority groups and districts, including Mt. Vernon, have been denied the opportunity to attend TJ due to restrictive admissions policies that fail to identify all students who would thrive in a challenging STEM environment. 

Today, the School Board is considering implementing a "holistic" admissions process in order to improve diversity in the TJ student body. We wholeheartedly reject this proposal, as it minimally differs from past admissions processes that have left us with a "too small to report'' admittance rate for Black students this year and severe underrepresentation of Latine, economically disadvantaged, and twice exceptional students. Furthermore, the holistic proposal will not deliver equity to the Mt. Vernon district.

The TJ admissions process needs a drastic overhaul to correct the mistakes and failures from the past 35 years and overcome the resultant mistrust of TJ now present among underrepresented groups. That is why we support a full, 550-seat merit lottery for TJ Admissions, as proposed originally in September 2020. Instead of relying on subjective and inherently biased factors to fill the next class at TJ, TJ Admissions should rely on a process that gives every qualified student an equal chance to thrive.

*Includes the TJ Alumni Action Group, Fairfax NAACP chapter, FCPS Minority Student Achievement & Oversight Committee (FCPS MSAOC), FCPS Title 1 Parent Advisory Committee and the Ethiopian and Eritrean Alliance for Education