Saturday, January 14, 2017

Eastern Fairfax County Largely Missing from TJ

Since it opened when I was a freshman at West Potomac H.S., Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology has achieved much academic acclaim by skimming off students from around Northern Virginia.  The success has also attracted corporate grants and additional funding that other schools - especially schools in Eastern Fairfax County - can only dream about obtaining. 

The new admission statistics for Thomas Jefferson High School's Class of 2020 are out and it appears to be more of the same.  The full stats are below, but here are the highlights:

  • Carl Sandburg MS, Walt Whitman MS, and Hayfield SS collectively admitted around 6 kids after 102 applied - an admittance rate of around 6% compared to over 25% for several FCPS Schools.
  • The schools with the Top 5 number of students admitted averaged a free & reduced meal percentage of 11% while the Bottom 5 Public Schools averaged 35%. 
  • Three schools with zero admitted averaged 46.8%.
  • Overall Thomas Jefferson H.S. has a 2% free and reduced meal population
  • Thomas Jefferson's population looks nothing like Fairfax County.  It has a Black student population of 1.5% and Hispanic's represent 2.23% of the school's population compared to 10% Black and 24% Hispanic in FCPS as a whole.  Full data for TJ is here:

Admission to TJ is determined by GPA minimums, an entry test, and then essays and teacher recommendations.  You can read about their admissions process here:

I continue to be very disturbed by these trends and I'm open to ideas as to what to do about it because little seems to be changing after five years of complaints. 

Post up ideas in the comments. 


  1. Hi! First off, thank you so much for your leadership and service. I attended Groveton, Carl Sandburg, and then went on TJ and graduated in 2008. I gather from TJHSST alumni chatter that much has changed since I was there, but if it is anything like it was from 2004-2008, it is such a special place and I hope that you and others will continue to protect its existence.

    I think the most productive comments will come from parents of children who are current students in the relevant pyramids, which I am not. However, I will say as a former student that those who genuinely thrive the most at TJ are those who love/live/eat/sleep/breathe math, biological sciences, engineering, and CS. Current and former students know that when one's passion does not align with the stated mission of TJ, these students are so unhappy and underserved. It is for this reason that TJ's admissions process seeks out students who at the ripe old age of 13 have shown an aptitude for these subjects. We all know this is imperfect, since most of us will discover such an interest during high school or beyond, and those who find this passion will still go on to do great things. Is it that what is missing in the eastern part of the county are the enrichment opportunities for students discover their interests in the sciences? Or are the enrichment opportunities available, but students don't choose to pursue them?

    The answers don't always lie within the schools, parents who are in research, engineering, IT, defense, etc. careers are a valuable resource and should be engaged as partners in creating extracurricular enrichment opportunities.

    I know that this is an off-topic comment, but there is one thing I think is very important to consider with respect to TJ: it is not intended to be a general interest magnet school, and the talents of students who are gifted writers, artists, and performers might not be developed as well as they could be at another school. I know that personally, I would have loved to have been able sing under Ernest Johnson at West Potomac or played in Steve Rice's Wind Ensemble, and that my musical education likely suffered by missing out on these opportunities. Lastly, TJ is an incredibly intense STEM academic experience, and can be a tortuous four years for students who do not genuinely love the STEM fields. I just want to warn against prizing TJ admissions statistics above creating intellectually curious, happy, minds, who are encouraged to pursue their interests and talents, whatever they may be.

  2. This sentence sums it up:

    Carl Sandburg MS, Walt Whitman MS, and Hayfield SS collectively admitted around 6 kids after 102 applied - an admittance 'race' of around 6% compared to over 25% for several FCPS Schools.

    I'm sure you meant 'rate' but clearly you were thinking race.

    As a voter, who witness the last presidential election, I think it safe to say most people are tired of 'identity politics' of the past. They are looking for solutions. This article was not conceived to increase the number of lunches at TJHS... it was to claim that it's entrance criteria is 'racist.'
    If there is really a problem with TJHS entrance criteria, propose a solution which would make it fairer and stop race baiting allusions.

  3. Thanks for catching the typo [I'll fix it]. I'm not sure why you'd say that. TJ's admissions are actually over 50% Asian.

    TJ looks nothing like the County on any measure. It has become a school for the wealthy and by pulling the best kids out of each public school, it lowers the bar for the kids back in their community school.

    TJ also sucks off a massive and disproportionate amount of corporate support that should be spread out to all of our community schools.

    I'm a strong believer in community schools - they are the anchors of our neighborhoods.

  4. Scott, as an educator I do understand your advocacy for public schools. I taught for years and support any effort to maintain their viability. However, I must disagree with you and advocate for the above average/gifted students in STEM and Computer Science. In a neighborhood public school they are often the students who are overlooked because they will always "get it." Teachers have such a range of students to educate that attention is often given to the middle and lower achiever - especially in this age of the push to improve test scores. They know that the higher achieving student will score just fine. Schools like TJ provide exciting and challenging curricula to students who, as shown by research, often zone out or even drop out from boredom. These students have also a higher rate of suicide among the general population of students.

    This is not to say that TJ should not examine the distribution of students, by school or race or gender. However, the focus should be primarily on enhancing the curriculum and opportunities in middle schools with higher percent of minority students. Oftentimes these schools do not have the technology or other support for their students needed to prepare them for TJs rigorous admission criteria.

    In short, neighborhood schools are doing a good job meeting the needs of most students, not all. Equality does not equal equity.