Grades, scores or character?

Less than four percent of students are black or Hispanic at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a public magnet school in Virginia.  Forty-six percent of students are Asian-American. TJ’s admissions committee should consider character as well as brains, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

Last year, the school says, 52 Hispanics and 29 blacks reached the semifinal round of admissions, based on their academic records. But only 13 Hispanics and four blacks were enrolled.

The ability to benefit from the school’s imaginative teaching is not the main criterion for the admission people, I suspect. Like the rest of us, they are impressed by test scores.

Many highly selective high schools are predominantly Asian-American, Mathews writes. Asian immigrant parents push their children to excel academically, especially in science and math. When TJ looks for students with a “passion” for science and math — and high test scores and grades –  it finds many Asian-American students.

The school’s administrators, teachers and counselors have formed a Diversity and Engagement Curriculum Team to recruit more blacks and Hispanics.

“Success in America stems more from character than test-taking ability,” Mathews writes. “We can tell which Jefferson applicants show signs of the determination and grace that produce great lives” by talking to their middle-school teachers.

Many of the most promising ones will be black and Hispanic. Give more of them a chance, and Jefferson will not only be a more interesting school to attend, but more reflective of the values we want all of our kids to have.

Do blacks and Hispanic students have more “character” than Asian-American students? They’ve probably dealt with more adversity. But most of those Asian kids are exceptionally determined people; many have overcome language and cultural challenges. I’d bet their middle-school teachers love them.

Diversity arguments for discriminating on the basis of race and ethnicity are incoherent, argues John Rosenberg on Discriminations. “If Mathews’ suggestions for TJ were adopted perhaps its name should be changed to The Thomas Jefferson High School For Interested, Determined, Graceful Students Of Good Character. The school would probably still be good … but it wouldn’t be TJ.”

About Joanne