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Discrimination in High School Admissions

Feb 25, 2022

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, one of the most prestigious public high schools in the country, was recently sued for its new admissions policy. The school was accused of aiming to “racially balance the student body at the expense of Asian American students,” as stated in this New York Times article, written by Stephanie Saul. The lawsuit was brought by the Coalition for TJ and supported by a conservative group called the Pacific Legal Foundation.

In parallel to colleges moving away from standardized testing, TJHSST also eliminated standardized testing as a guiding criterion for admission. Aiming to diversify their student population by income and race, the admissions office also gave more weight to students from low-income families and those learning the English language, Saul writes. Accordingly, the class of 2025 at Thomas Jefferson high school had more Black, Hispanic, and white students compared to the previous years’ classes. However, Asian Americans were the only group to see a decrease in numbers, from 73 to 54 percent.

The Coalition for TJ is arguing for this new admission process to be eliminated, as the senior attorney from the Pacific Legal Foundation Wen Fa states that the new criteria are ”merely proxies for race.”

In response, the spokeswoman for the school system Julie Moult argues that the admissions process was “merit based and race blind,” as the “race and ethnicity of the applicants… are unknown to the review panel” for evaluations. Although similar to the recent affirmative action cases brought against Harvard and UNC, this elite high school in Virginia, in fact, does not mention “race” as a criteria.

Thomas Jefferson High School is not alone in its endeavor to diversify its student population, as competitive high schools face a problem of underrepresentation across the country. However, it’s hard to enforce a homogeneous standard for all high schools, as each local community is subject to different cultures, income levels, and diversity. Factors considered for admissions should vary depending on a high school’s pedagogy and specialization. Within a merit-based admissions system, an institution should prioritize assessment factors that best cater to its curriculum; and for a STEM-based school such as the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, standardized testing is a necessity.

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