Has the TJ Experiment Been a Success?

We are more than three years into the TJ experiment, but the Fairfax County School Board hasn’t yet addressed its successes and failures.  Whether an objective analysis will ever be conducted is questionable, for the program was adopted primarily for ideological reasons, and the Board may be reluctant to subject its ideological assumptions to scrutiny.  Clues have emerged, however, that the downsides of the experiment may have significantly exceeded its hoped-for benefits.

In 2020 the Board changed the admissions standards for the then-elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (“TJ”).  Rigorous entrance exams and other measures of readiness for a demanding curriculum were eliminated.  The prior criteria had allegedly discriminated against some minorities.  The premise was that if the “discriminatory” standards were scrapped, the disadvantaged students could be successful in TJ’s challenging environment.

Has the experiment succeeded?

If the sole criteria for “success” is whether Asian Americans were disadvantaged in order to increase the admission of others, the answer is “yes.”  In the first year of the new program, the percentage of Asian Americans in the 9th grade class plummeted from 73% to 54% while the percentage of Hispanics went from 3% to 11%, Blacks went from statistically zero to 7%, and Whites went from 17% to 22%.  But has the experiment succeeded in other respects?  This question has been ignored, at least publicly.

We do know that TJ slipped from the #1 high school in the country in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of elite U.S. high schools in 2020, 2021 and 2022 to #5 in 2023, but we don’t yet know whether this decline was a one-year anomaly or an indication of something more lasting.  In any event, the magazine’s ranking is just one small indicator of quality.

According to press reports, the elimination of entrance exams and other academic criteria forced TJ to introduce remedial math courses for academically unprepared students.  How many students needed to be enrolled in these programs?  And did the programs succeed in rapidly bringing students up to speed so they would thereafter thrive at TJ?  We don’t know, but there are disturbing clues.

Information has emerged that the drop-out rate at TJ has spiked, particularly among some minority groups.  If this is true, it suggests that the softened admissions standards may have hurt the very students who were intended as beneficiaries.  Students who might have thrived at one of the county’s 30 other quality high schools may have been placed in an environment where they have struggled to keep up.  If so, what is the benefit?  Questions like these should be carefully, objectively analyzed by a school system that truly cares about the academic achievements of all its students.

In order to obtain some answers, a Freedom of Information Act request for relevant data is being submitted to FCPS.  A copy of the request can be seen HERE.

Will the school system fight tooth-and-nail against transparency, or will it cooperate in allowing the public to see the consequences of its 2020 decision?  Will the school system be prompted to undertake an objective analysis of its own, or not?

Fairfax Schools Monitor will keep readers informed about how FCPS responds.

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  1. Richard Saunders on March 9, 2024 at 6:08 pm

    I have taught and tutored GT students. GT in one field does not mean GT in all. Being a lovable, well behaved kid does not mean STEM excellence. I have often recommended the removal of students who although great in some areas and great as a person just didn’t belong in that class.

    What Fairfax should have done and failed to do was to take a hard look at their elementary schools, teachers, curriculum, and standards. If you want excellence in the later years, start that excellence early. I have tutored Fairfax high school students in things they should have mastered in ES. I have had to correct ES teachers and show parents that what their kids were taught was wrong. If we want our kids to do better, whether at TJ or any of the FCPS high schools, we need to start at the beginning. Stop coddling students. Stop excusing their bad behavior. Hire teachers who know the subjects they are supposed to teach.

    • Mark Spooner on March 9, 2024 at 9:21 pm

      Richard: Thanks for your comment.

  2. Nickel on March 9, 2024 at 7:35 pm

    At this point, TJ has become a complete waste of taxpayer money. Every single high school in FCPS has AP courses. We are now providing a “private” school experience for grossly unqualified students. Stop wasting our money. Close TJ NOW.

    • Mark Spooner on March 9, 2024 at 9:20 pm

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. gino marchetti on March 10, 2024 at 8:28 pm

    Amazing how the Left never measures much of anything they are responsible for putting in place. Check some of our country’s earmarks and funding coming out of their side.

  4. Bruce Petersen on March 11, 2024 at 8:24 am

    Good follow-up Mark, and you are asking all the right questions. But Mr. Marchetti is right. The Left seldom looks at the consequences of their policies and always seems surprised that the Law of Unintended Consequences so often applies to their policies.

  5. Justin on March 13, 2024 at 7:10 pm

    Thanks, as always, for your updates and analysis Mark!