Merit on the Ropes

Merit on the Ropes
(AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Last year, students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, one of the nation’s most prestigious public schools, marked a map hanging in a hallway with their families’ far-flung places of origin: from Seoul to Beijing to Hyderabad. Twenty years ago, 70 percent of TJ students were white; today, 79 percent are minority, most from Asian immigrant families.

TJ is a testament to American meritocracy’s melting pot—but last week, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced a plan to reduce the number of Asian students at this selective high school. In a four-hour online “work session” alongside the district’s all-Democratic school board, Brabrand laid out an initiative to eliminate TJ’s race-blind, merit-based admissions test and replace it with a “merit lottery” open to all eighth-graders with a minimum GPA of 3.5 in order to increase “equity of opportunity.”

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