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Letter: Short-sighted TJ changes cause school's ranking to fall

'We risk undermining the very qualities that made Thomas Jefferson a world-class institution.'

To the editor: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology in Fairfax County – the gold standard for education in the nation for highly motivated and gifted children – has plummeted to 14th in the nation after the Fairfax County Public Schools’ School Board gutted the merit-based admissions process, according to U.S. News & World Report.

TJ, as it is known, was once regarded as the pinnacle of excellence in education. But that changed dramatically after the previous School Board altered the admissions criteria toward feel-good, equity-driven requirements instead of good old-fashioned merit.

While the intention behind these changes may be noble – aiming to foster diversity and inclusion within the student body – the ramifications are alarming and devastating to the gifted children TJ is supposed to be nurturing and educating.

Thomas Jefferson has long been a beacon of academic achievement, attracting students from across the region who excel in STEM fields. By diluting the rigor of admissions in favor of superficial markers of diversity, the essence of what made Thomas Jefferson exceptional had been compromised.

Equality in education is undoubtedly crucial, and every student deserves equal access to opportunities. However, the forced so-called “equity” protocols installed by the School Board should not come at the expense of academic excellence.

Thomas Jefferson’s prestige was built upon a foundation of meritocracy, where admission was granted based on academic prowess and potential, irrespective of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. By deviating from this principle, we risk undermining the very qualities that made Thomas Jefferson a world-class institution.

Furthermore, the arbitrary nature of these equity-driven changes raises questions about their efficacy in addressing the root causes of educational disparities. Rather than implementing short-sighted measures that sacrifice academic standards, we should focus on addressing inequalities in primary and secondary education that hinder access to advanced coursework and enrichment opportunities for underrepresented students.

As a community, we must strive to strike a balance between the “do-gooders” on the School Board and measured excellence. Instead of lowering the bar for admission, let us work toward providing all students with the resources and support they need to excel academically. This means investing in early intervention programs, expanding access to advanced coursework in underserved communities and providing targeted support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I urge members of the Fairfax County School Board to admit their mistake and fix this massive failure and immediately reconsider their approach to promoting equity in admissions via actual ability and true talent. Let us not sacrifice excellence on the altar of diversity, but rather uphold the values of meritocracy while simultaneously working toward an inclusive educational system for all, focused on equality.

Jo-Anne P. Sears, Falls Church