Is TJ Dumbing Down Admissions?

Is Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ) dumbing down admissions to ensure greater diversity in the student population at the school?

That’s the question implied in Jay Matthews’ article Is America’s Best High School Soft on Math?, published on the Washington Post on Sunday February 27, 2011.

Jay based his article on comments from Vern Williams, largely considered one of the best math teachers in the United States. Changes in the main characteristics teachers writing recommendations to TJ were supposed to consider had Williams concerned. “This is just one example of why I have lost all faith in the TJ admissions process,” Williams said. “In fact, I’m pretty embarrassed that the process seems no more effective than flipping coins.”

The new focus noted on the recommendation letter was on ethnic, sociological, and racial diversity as opposed to interest in or fluency with mathematics. TJ is based in Fairfax County, though, as a Governor’s school, it accepts qualified applicants from districts in the region. The Fairfax County School Board had recently expressed concerns with TJ’s student population, as less than 4% of students admitted to the school are black or Hispanic.

Williams said that to ensure a diverse population of qualified students districts need to “get rid of all warm and fuzzy math programs at the elementary school level and teach real academic content to all students.”

Interesting thought there, that more rigorous instruction leads to better qualified candidates, irregardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic background.

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