Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dumbing it Down at the No. 1 (Now No. 2) Public High School in the Country: Thomas Jefferson

US News & World Report ranked Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Arlington Alexandria as the second-best public school in the country this year, and the acclaimed, highly selective magnet school in Northern Virginia held the No. 1 rank in each of the five previous years.  But some serious academic concerns have been raised by the school's teachers about this year's freshman class.  An editorial in today's Washington Examiner highlights the situation (the editorial followed a previous Examiner story on Sunday):

"Teachers are complaining about the "profound lack of preparation and readiness" exhibited by current members of the freshmen class. In a letter to admissions director Tanisha Holland and the Fairfax County School Board, faculty members wrote: "Simply put, these students are not succeeding, and many are not succeeding in spite of the tremendous support and remediation being offered to them by their teachers." Holland responded that the school is "looking into the admissions process" to determine whether it could have done a better job of recruiting.

But Holland doesn't have to look beyond her own office to discover the cause of what the faculty describes as an "alarming trend" in admitting unprepared students. They determined that 50 questions on the math portion of the admissions exam reflected standards that should have been mastered in sixth grade. Instead of being at least two grade levels ahead of their peers, some students admitted to TJ were two grade levels behind.

Critics claim that TJ's dumbed-down admissions test was designed to increase enrollment of black and Hispanic students. If that's the case, it's been a failure even there. Only 13 Hispanics out of 222 applicants were admitted to the Class of 2015, and just six blacks out of 224 applicants. Since about 160 out of 480 freshmen need remediation, the vast majority must be white and Asian.

A more likely culprit is the changes made to TJ's admissions policies, starting in 2004, which eliminated raw test scores and GPAs as the main criteria for admission. By 2009, highly subjective "student information sheets," teacher recommendations and student essays made up 65 percent of the total score, whereas the weight given to the math portion of the admissions test and the applicant's seventh- and eighth-grade math and science grades declined to just 35 percent. Students whose lack of talent or motivation in math and science is reflected in their lower grades and test scores are currently being admitted to TJ over their more academically accomplished peers.

These misguided policies seriously undermine the fundamental mission of this governor's school, which was specifically designed to educate Virginia's future scientists and mathematicians. When academic merit is superseded by teachers' subjective judgments, a decline in standards is the all-too-predictable result."

23 Comments:

At 5/22/2012 11:10 PM, Blogger W.E. Heasley said...

If one looks into the North Carolina School of Math and Science aka Governor’s School in Durham, NC one will find roughly 50/50 males/female going back for years and years. Yet males consistently score higher in math and science, something to the tune of 65/35 yet the school is purposely (mission statement based) gender equal at 50/50. Also, the admission for the school is more political [letters, essay, etc.] than test score based.

Given your Virginia critique above, a question comes to mind. When Three Mile Island occurred, where the nuclear engineers excellent at community volunteerism, essay writing, and letter of recommendation gathering yet less able in the area of nuclear engineering?

 
At 5/23/2012 1:26 AM, Blogger msteck said...

Lloyd Cohen of GMU Law School wrote about this problem about in 2003. Here is a link to his article.

http://www.docstoc.com/docs/101002896/A-STUDY-OF-INVIDIOUS-RACIAL-DISCRIMINATION-IN

Do a Google search to find the article in Word format.

 
At 5/23/2012 2:45 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

I think, my prior statement between high school and college is relevant in this top high school article too:

Is it really the quality of education has gone down or the education standards went up?

When I was in grad econ, it was a very tough program and many students failed, some failed miserably.

Most of the professors had Ph.Ds from excellent schools and we went through some new methods, much of it that didn't exist in the past, e.g. in cointegration.

I think, undergrad and grad school have become increasingly harder than high school, which generally teach the basics (although, there are many poor high schools).

 
At 5/23/2012 5:11 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

On an international ranking scale - a significant number of American K-12 students are doing poorly.

Barely 1/3 of students rank as "proficient" on the NAEP assessments which are keyed to the International PISA testing.

NCLB statistics show the problem to be a persistent 10 point gap between white middle class and minorities and white economically disadvantaged.

Kids who have less parental support do not do as well in many schools unless there are specific programs to help them.

Some parents are irresponsible but many others themselves do not have sufficient educations to really help their kids and the parents themselves are struggling economically to just survive.

There is no easy answer for those kids and if they do not get the basics of reading and writing by the 3rd grade, they are usually in trouble from that point on and remediation as currently practiced is not entirely successful.

It's not clear what academic achievement scores TJ is requiring but if they are indeed admitting kids who do not meet those minimum standards, I would agree it is a disservice to everyone including the kids they are trying to help.

You can't be all things to all people.

Magnet schools should not to also have to be in the business of remediation.

The problem of kids failing to meet basic proficiency standards is not one that we can walk away from though.

Either we figure out a better way to at least match what our international competitors accomplish or we are going to have a larger and larger segment of kids growing up to either require entitlements or incarceration (which costs more than entitlements).

10 years after NCLB, we still have people who think we can... walk away and leave kids behind.. if they have "bad" parents.

 
At 5/23/2012 6:57 AM, Blogger Ed R said...

A few years ago the principal at TJHS made a comment in public that there were too many Asians getting in. She thought it was a problem that Asian kids seemed to be better prepared and better motivated.

The board let her retire the next year, but that illustrates how someone (who probably could never get in to TJHS herself) with a little authority wants to impose her own views over objective standards.

 
At 5/23/2012 6:58 AM, Blogger arrete said...

Very slight quibble. TJ is in Alexandria, not Arlington. Actually, it's in Fairfax county with a mailing address in Alexandria.

 
At 5/23/2012 7:07 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

and this:

" Fairfax County Public Schools information indicates that 44 percent of all elementary school students spoke a language other than English at home as of May 2009. These households containing elementary students who speak languages other than English at home form a very diverse group with more than 100 different languages being spoken."

Fairfax County and NoVa is a very diverse area that has many other cultures beyond white, black, Hispanic and Asian.

The lack of readiness in Math is a reflection of the lack of rigor in the K-12 math curricula these days.

You can see this clearly when comparing American schools to European and Asian schools.

Math is taught more as a rote subject in American schools rather than as a real-world problem solving discipline.

TJ has maintained it's standards despite the challenges though.

Check out their overall academic performance:

https://p1pe.doe.virginia.gov/reportcard/report.do?division=29&schoolName=1348

 
At 5/23/2012 7:43 AM, Blogger Tom said...

This is interesting to read, especially since I went to HS in Arlington and knew a lot of extremely bright people who went to TJ for middle and high school...My how times have changed!

 
At 5/23/2012 7:53 AM, Blogger Krishnan said...

The word equality has come to mean "equality of outcomes" without regard to ability - I can imagine how "public" schools will be under pressure to admit a "diverse" class no matter how well the students are prepared ...

The story does point to a far serious problem - beyond the issue of affirmative action for a group of students with historically disadvantaged parents - the numbers of students needing remedial help is quite LARGE - and so this may be telling us that the quality has indeed declined overall.

It does not help that colleges and universities continue this dumbing down process - by admitting those that are not quite ready - they have to remain in business after all - and help prop up the lifestyles of the wanna be rich and powerful (i.e. administrators)

 
At 5/23/2012 9:00 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

" By 2009, highly subjective "student information sheets," teacher recommendations and student essays made up 65 percent of the total score,...."

The logical outcome of this is that TJHS will produce alum who might excell in low tech sales.

 
At 5/23/2012 9:12 AM, Blogger Jon Murphy said...

I wonder...

Hypothetical question for discussion:

If we were to change the way our schooling is done, like a voucher system for example where parents can choose which school to send their children to (or other ideas), would that improve our quality of education?

 
At 5/23/2012 9:32 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

Critics claim that TJ's dumbed-down admissions test was designed to increase enrollment of black and Hispanic students. If that's the case, it's been a failure even there. Only 13 Hispanics out of 222 applicants were admitted to the Class of 2015, and just six blacks out of 224 applicants. Since about 160 out of 480 freshmen need remediation, the vast majority must be white and Asian.

Why can't the legislature just pass a law that makes minority students who don't study smarter?

 
At 5/23/2012 10:12 AM, Blogger Seth said...

What seems to be overlooked here is that the quality of a school has little to do with the school itself, but rather the quality of its students.

 
At 5/23/2012 10:37 AM, Blogger bart said...

Why can't the legislature just pass a law that makes minority students who don't study smarter?



And "There are no bad teachers,
only defective children." -g-

 
At 5/23/2012 10:54 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

"Is it really the quality of education has gone down or the education standards went up?"

well, the grading has certainly gone up. when my dad went to brown, their induction speech involved the president saying "look to your right, look to your left. one of the 3 of you will not graduate." and that was true.

when i went, grad rates were probably 90-95% and the average gps was over 3.0. i had a 4.0 in 3 majors, and that was hardly rare.

2/3 of harvard grads get "honors".

the game is now all about being a feeder. you pick a HS based on what colleges the kids get into. the HS tries to improve that by inflating grades and having lots of BS honors, prizes, and extra curriculars.

colleges do the same for grad schools. my ex girlfriend taught at stanford as an assistant prof and writer in residence in the year after her rhodes. the professor she was under told her flat out that he wanted a written explanation from her for any paper she graded at less than a-.

if a- is the new c, it is really any wonder students are working less hard?

standards matter.

 
At 5/23/2012 11:05 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

"What seems to be overlooked here is that the quality of a school has little to do with the school itself, but rather the quality of its students."

totally untrue. the school matters a great deal. when finland redid it's schools, they added no money, and had the same students but the change in management strucutre and curriculum took them from the worst schools in europe to some of the best.

the same happened with the harlem children's project. less money, same kids, vastly better scores.

the schools DO matter.

you could not be more wrong about that.

 
At 5/23/2012 11:48 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

" the school matters a great deal. when finland redid it's schools, they added no money, and had the same students but the change in management strucutre and curriculum took them from the worst schools in europe to some of the best."

and it's true of most European schools in general compared to US schools and most all of them spend less, not more.

and it's not just some of their kids doing well.. it's many more of them in part because they have a dual track system for college and technical but both tracks require more rigorous reading, math and science.

 
At 5/23/2012 2:44 PM, Blogger Ken said...

If only someone had done research on this, Thomas Jefferson High School would have done a better job finding capable and prepared students.

 
At 5/23/2012 2:51 PM, Blogger Ken said...

Jon,

If we were to change the way our schooling is done, like a voucher system for example where parents can choose which school to send their children to (or other ideas), would that improve our quality of education?

This isn't really hypothetical anymore. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the quality of education, on average, will remain about the same. Student ability is the primary driver to levels of education, not the ability of teachers.

However, there is plenty of evidence that the schools will be of higher quality. For example, the awfulness of inner city schools would pretty much disappear if schools were privatized and able to control who did and didn't come on to their property, rather than be forced to let scum on their property making the school incredibly unsafe.

 
At 5/23/2012 3:00 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

If non-public schools have no testing standards... then how would we know that they'd actually do any better?

If non-public schools had to take all comers with vouchers - including the kids who are "at-risk", how would you know that the charter schools would perform any better with these kids?

Right now, we have a ton of "virtual schools" that are cleaning up selling courses to returning servicemen and little in the way of standards to assure that the servicemen are receiving an valuable education for the money.

 
At 5/25/2012 4:58 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

If non-public schools have no testing standards... then how would we know that they'd actually do any better?

We know from the university performance. Home schooled kids and private school kids do better. But this does not matter because performance is an issue for the parents not for you or me to argue about.

 
At 5/25/2012 5:50 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

" We know from the university performance. Home schooled kids and private school kids do better. But this does not matter because performance is an issue for the parents not for you or me to argue about. "

even if we are using tax dollars?

 
At 5/25/2012 6:09 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

even if we are using tax dollars?

Well, that is the point. You should not be using tax dollars for education.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home