BREAKING: Superintendent Issues 'Revised' Crusade Against Gifted Students

Openly violates state law that requires merit admissions test.

By Asra Q. Nomani

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Last weekend, Jing, an eighth grader in Fairfax County Public Schools looked forlornly at her daily planner. Long ago, she had handwritten a milestone in her life for Saturday, November 7, writing simply: “TJ Test Day.”

With a passion in science and math, Jing has dreamt of seeing her hard work pay off by earning admissions to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a regional Governor’s School mandated by state law to serve advanced academic learners, called “gifted students,” many of them Mensa-level students with exceptionally high IQs. From the University of Virginia to George Mason University, Johns Hopkins University and Duke University, educators have long recognized these students are at-risk, special needs students. Their academic and socio-emotional needs often go unmet at neighborhood base high schools where students often face bullying for their intellectual passions. They sit at the other end of the spectrum as developmentally disabled special needs children but are also similarly misunderstood and stigmatized. One expert speaks about the “unique inner lives of gifted children.”

Unfortunately for the bright teen, Fairfax County School Superintendent Scott Brabrand had other plans in mind.

After eliminating the merit-based admissions test last month and proposing a flawed “merit lottery” to replace the test, he has been working on a “Hybrid Merit Lottery” and a “Holistic Review” plan that he released today with a rebranded version of the same race-based admissions plans he had proposed in September and October. The “holistic review” amounts to the same arbritrary, random and subjective evaluation as his “revised merit lottery.”

In a new 22-page slide show, “TJ Admissions Process,” posted this weekend, Brabrand subtitled the plan, “Expanding Our Talent Search,” another disparaging hit on the quality of current TJ students, as if the No. 1 high school in the nation doesn’t have enough “talent.” Don’t read it trying to easily make sense of the vision. It’s thrown together hastily and makes little sense.

It’s another embarrassment for Fairfax County, Virginia.

‘Affirmative Action Plan for White Kids’

Indeed, in a great irony, even one proponent of the plan calls the effort an “affirmative action plan for white kids,” who are predicted to see the greatest increases in representation at the school, which currently has 70 percent Asian students, 10 percent Hispanic, Black and multiracial students and 20 percent white students. The numbers of white students is expected to increase to 50 percent with Black and Hispanic students barely seeing increases in numbers.

The thinly-veiled attack on TJ’s mostly Asian students and their mostly immigrant families is par for the course in the controversy that has embroiled the superintendent and his school district for months. Brabrand, school officials, school board members, alumni activists, the school principal and the state Education Secretary, Atif Qarni, have waged a targeted war on the school’s students and families, in an echo chamber of verbal abuse, racism, caricatures, stereotypes and demagoguery, from calling them “toxic” and “racist” to “ravenous,” “disgusting,” “segregationists” and “privileged,” even though the families are like ordinary families everywhere, working to make ends meet, fleeing Communism, inequities and troubled economies to pursue the American Dream through grit and determination.

In the new plan, Brabrand offers two abysmal options and a boost of student enrollment to 550 students from about 500 now:

  • “Proposal 1” is a“Hybrid Merit Lottery” plan that barely revises failed September and October “merit lottery” and “revised merit lottery” plans. It includes a “two-tier” admissions process that would identify the 100 “highest-evaluated” students from a pool of students who have a 3.5 GPA, are enrolled in Algebra 1 and fill out a vague “Student Portrait Sheet.” It selects the “remaining” 450 students using a “merit lottery” in a “rolling admissions” plan. Now, he adds that students must show “strong preparation for TJHSST coursework by being enrolled in both math and science honors courses” and show “overall academic rigor by being enrolled in one additional honors course (English or Social Studies) or being identified as a Young Scholar,” a race-based program targeted to help Black and Hispanic students but underfunded and sparse in the school system.

  • “Proposal 2” is a “Holistic Review” that will offer admission to the 550 “highest-evaluated students.” It includes an evaluation of a student’s GPA, “Student Portrait Sheet,” “Problem solving essay” and “Experience Factors,” including “Economically Disadvantaged,” “English Language Learner,” “Special Education” and “Underrepresented Schools.”

It’s all still gobbledygook social engineering.

For both plans, Brabrand includes a biased regional “pathway” that amounts to geographical quotas, discriminating against students based on zip code and dramatically increasing the number of students from one county — Prince William County — where the Virginia Education Secretary Qarni and and president of TJ Alumni Action Group, Renee Little, have roots — and younger children.

As a parent to a TJ senior with no younger students, I could walk away from this debacle, but I support area families and students, like Jing, in the pursuit of merit-based education, because it’s the American Dream that allowed my family to advance as immigrants from India in the 1960s. Three days before Jing was supposed to take the TJ test, a community group we formed, Coalition for TJ, stood beside parents who filed a lawsuit on behalf of 17 students against Brabrand and the Fairfax County School Board for failing to follow state laws and regulations, including one law, 8VAC20-40-40, that require a merit-based test in the TJ admissions process.

The lawsuit is here.

Students participated in recent protests to oppose eliminating merit-based admissions to TJ.

Virginia Department of Education regulations mandate regional Governor’s Schools, must “serve gifted high school students,” and local education and technology leaders established TJ in 1985 as a Governor’s School with an eye to helping America become a world leader in science, engineering, technology and mathematics, or STEM. State education regulation requires that the school system use a national merit-based test to evaluate admissions.

After studying the new plan, parents in the Coalition for TJ released a statement, stating: “Fairfax County Superintendent's ‘revised’ TJ admissions policy gets an ‘F’ grade. He tries to pull the wool over the eyes of the public and his rubber-stamp school board.” They added:

Brabrand included slide No. 4 in the his roadshow, omitting any mention of “gifted" in TJ admission. The work is so sloppy, in fact, that Brabrand dates slides No. 4, 14 and 16 with the dates from his previous October 6 presentation, not the new November 17 presentation.

Like Brabrand’s return-to-school plan and virtual learning rollout, it’s a sloppy mess.

Brabrand will present the new slide show on Tuesday, November 17, from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., at a “work session” of the school board, which is expected to put up little resistance, having earned a reputation as a largely compliant school board to the superintendent’s flawed plans. The school board is scheduled to vote on the plan at a December meeting. Watch the mess of our Fairfax County County School Board meetings live online at this link.

That evening, the school board will hear from a stacked deck of alumni activists and their friends — all masking their agendas and identities as “individuals” and omitting organizational affiliation. They will be the same litany of faces that have been engaging in so much vitriol against TJ that it’s earned a name: “TJ bashing.”

After they have long signed off, we still have an eighth grader, looking at her daily planner, trying to figure out how adults got it so wrong. And hoping someone will rise to the occasion and say no to this miscarriage of education policy.

Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter. She can be reached at @asranomani.

Parents, students, alumni and community members oppose eliminating merit-based entrance to TJ, noting that the school is required by state law to educate gifted students.