We need more equitable admissions practices in Virginia’s “governor’s schools.” 

Earlier this month, Gov. Ralph Northam appointed me to a task force with about 20 other individuals including Secretary of Education Atif Qarni to examine equity within our governor’s schools system. 

Governor’s Schools were created in 1973 to provide an intense, summer academic experience to high-achieving students and were later expanded to full-year programs, including Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, which also serves Prince William and Arlington counties.

I have often expressed concerns about TJHSST’s admissions practices. Very few children from eastern Fairfax or Prince William are admitted. In the most recent freshman class, there were so few African American students admitted that Fairfax County Public Schools was prohibited from releasing the actual number.

This history means the student population in these schools is very unrepresentative of very diverse Northern Virginia. TJHSST’s current student population has fewer than 2% “economically disadvantaged” students as measured by students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The feeder, non-Fairfax County jurisdictions all are 27.3% economically disadvantaged. TJHSST’s current student population is now 70% Asian, 25% white and less than 2% Black and Hispanic, while its feeder jurisdictions are 18% Asian, 39% white, 11% Black and 27% Hispanic.

Over 25% of each class’s admissions come from two middle schools: Rachel Carson in McLean and Longfellow in Falls Church. Most of the middle schools in eastern Fairfax and Prince William have fewer than five or often zero admitted students.

The problems leading to these results start in elementary school. There is well-documented research indicating that minority children are often not identified or encouraged to participate in elementary gifted and talented programs. There is also a strong correlation between recommendations and the race of the teacher. In other words, low numbers or the absence of minority teachers is associated with fewer minority children recommended for gifted programs.  

Economically disadvantaged families are not aware of such programs and do not advocate for their children to enroll in them. Schools with large economically disadvantaged student populations have fewer gifted programs.

We also heard some surprising testimony. First, gifted and talented programs arose during the 1960s in response to school desegregation efforts and also have their roots in eugenics research. Admissions to gifted programs are also keyed solely to intelligence instead of other variables such as creativity, problem-solving ability or other talents.

TJHSST’s principal pointed out that the school’s success – measured by standardized test performance -- has brought international acclaim and has resulted in “Thomas”-branded prep elementary schools in foreign counties that feed students into specific Fairfax County middle schools for admissions after families obtain visas.  

Also, private test preparation programs pay students to remember and report back certain questions so they can use them to prepare students in $14,000-a-year TJHSST preparation programs that meet regularly with their own homework and curriculum. 

Many have been aware of these facts for more than a decade and little action has been taken, which is why the General Assembly needs to act.

There are multiple admissions approaches that could be used. TJHSST currently uses an admissions test and an essay. According to the research, this type of admissions program is the mostly likely of any to favor family wealth over any other admissions factor, such as a child’s ability.

Let me be clear: We are not considering a racial quota system.  That is unconstitutional. 

We will consider recommending alternate admissions processes that cannot be gamed by wealthy or advantaged families. These might include a lottery system with equitable scoring systems; middle school admissions minimums or caps to ensure admission to top students of each eligible middle school; and allowing competition for remaining spots or other processes. We will also consider eliminating governor’s schools if they are unable to adopt more equitable admissions policies.

The writer is a state senator representing the 36th District, which includes parts of Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties. He can be reached at

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(5) comments


We were just talking about this. No valedictorian no salutatorian cuz doing so either makes.less performing kids feel bad of the less smart cant achieve it

So now you'll dumb down TJ for the sake of.your racist no quota quota system

Meaning that a non black.child with great grades and mental skills will lose out to a child of.color with far fewer skills.

Sell that line of BS elsewhere that this is not a quota system

If minority kids dont do well from the early grades perhaps your schools need an overhaul, your teachers need to be told teach well or get fired, principals must stop phoning in their job, parents be engaged with their kids education. want is to.lunish those that do succeed and then try to manufacture intelligence via non quota quota be followed by easier classes and a more.lenient grading system this gutting the school.

Tou.may as well.close it down or better yet, those interested parents should make it private with no state aid.

Bet ya do t fuss with school.sports, like fat kids must play quarterback or short kids must be the starting center on the basketball team.

Fuss with sports...NEVER...just give it more funding.

No wonder I never.voted for this gas bag or Klansman Northam

Yet another nail in the VA coffin.


"There are multiple admissions approaches that could be used. TJHSST currently uses an admissions test and an essay. According to the research, this type of admissions program is the mostly likely of any to favor family wealth over any other admissions factor, such as a child’s ability:" note he provides no citiation from this, however i found one resource where he obviously pulled this data. it's based on survey data from one magazine. of course wealthy people have the edge, they can afford tutors and other resources to do so. however, there still is one constant..the student themselves. even a rich person with no motivation wont pass the exam. using other factors to determine admission is just another end run around racial quotas. the course load at TJ is rigorous and difficult, it should be attempted only by those who have the requisite level of intelligence and pre-requisites. i.e. if you dont have higher end math you should not be attempting calculus. students that pass the TJ exam are more likely to have those requirements. surovel is not making any sense here. trying to load balance the school on race is bogus and plainly racist.


So in other words..a racial quota system that’s not called “a racial quota system” this entire problem is one you invented.


On another note he cites “research” but doesn’t provide it. He’s attempting to create a problem where none exist. The school is hard get into, it should be. Standards should not be compromised based on race which is really what this guy is getting at. Loosening the standard is a bad idea and honestly this whole editorial is a white guy attempting to be a knight in shining armor to pander for votes.


Jesus Christ! Do you people not have anything better to do than run around creating problems that don't exist?

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