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Diversity Disappoints

Yesterday the Washington Post ran a front-page story on Thomas Jefferson High School (known commonly as “TJ”), a Fairfax County high school for select, über–academic achievers (i.e., Virginia’s Bronx Science). The curriculum is rigorous (its college-level courses are not offered at regular high schools), and the workload is grueling. The Post‘s beef is that “diversity is not working”:

[African American students] amount to less than 1 percent of the Class of 2014 at the selective public school in Fairfax County, regarded as among the nation’s best. “It’s disappointing,” said Andrea Smith, the club’s faculty sponsor. “But you work with what you got.”

The count of Hispanic freshmen is not much higher: 13.

Years of efforts to raise black and Hispanic enrollment at the regional school have failed, officials acknowledge. The number of such students admitted has fallen since 2005.

There are two major reasons. Admissions decisions are generally made without regard to race or ethnicity, despite a policy meant to promote diversity. And initiatives to enlarge the pipeline of qualified black and Hispanic students in elementary and middle school have flopped.

To be clear: admissions are made without regard to race, and the school makes every effort to ferret out every qualified minority student in the district. There are plenty of Asian students. But there are only a few African Americans and Hispanics who can meet the school’s standards. That is defined as a failure — by the school. What the Post and the controversial ex-admissions director (whose championing of diversity at the price of maintaining standards of excellence met with a furious backlash) are upset about is that, without quotas, there aren’t “enough” African Americans and Hispanics (that is, enough minority students proportionate to their percentages in the population):

For more than a decade after its founding in 1985, the school actively sought to diversify its enrollment, even if that sometimes meant admitting students with lower test scores than others. In 1997, the school admitted 24 Hispanic students and 25 black students.

That year, several federal courts struck down school affirmative action programs, and attorneys advised Fairfax school officials to end any racial or ethnic preferences. The number of black and Hispanic freshmen plummeted.

It’s not like the professional ethnic bean counters didn’t try. (“Then admissions panels, mostly teachers and administrators from other area schools, consider subjective criteria such as essays and teacher recommendations. At that point, race and ethnicity can come into play. But generally they don’t.”)

Frankly, TJ has done everything right. No one is discriminated against. (Although Asian parents complain that the number of Asian students is artificially depressed to prevent the school from becoming nearly all Asian.) There is no lack of mentoring and assistance programs for minority students. The results are not a sign of failure by the school. They are, to be blunt, a sign that students and their parents in certain ethnic and racial groups are not matching the effort and the output of those from other groups. The results should be a warning signal not to the school but to those parents and children. You want to join the elite of the elite? Work as hard, place a priority on academic achievement, and make use of the ample resources in the public schools to promote success.

The left considers “bad” numbers a sign that our institutions are biased or haven’t done enough. Maybe it’s time to ask the parents and students to do more.



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