Before the Supreme Court renders its decision on Harvard’s and the University of North Carolina’s use of race preferences in admissions, the justices might take a glance across the Potomac. Northern Virginia today offers a snapshot of how affirmative action, intended as a benevolent effort to prevent discrimination, has hardened into an ugly war on achievement.
The latest fuss was kicked off before Christmas when Asra Nomani, an India-born mom and reporter, wrote a piece for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal detailing how her son’s Virginia high school never informed him he’d been recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Other students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology—known as “TJ” and regularly ranked America’s No. 1 high school—said they had the same experience. So Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares launched a civil-rights investigation on Jan. 4. Days later, principals at two more Fairfax County high schools, Westfield and Langley, admitted they too had failed to inform student award winners.
Mr. Miyares then expanded his investigation to all Fairfax County. No sooner had he done so than neighboring Loudoun County reported that three of its high schools had delayed notifying its students—though officials insisted it wasn’t intentional. On Friday, four more Fairfax high schools fessed up, followed by another on Monday.
The National Merit Scholarship Program is a competition of 1.5 million students, based on their scores on the Preliminary Standard Achievement Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. “Commended Students” rank in the top 3%, while “Semifinalists” test in the top 1%.
It’s an achievement that can make a difference on a college or scholarship application. But the kids who weren’t told they were National Merit winners, or were told too late, couldn’t include it on their applications.
Given that the program leaves notifications up to the individual schools, it’s possible that all these failures were bureaucratic snafus. But the context offers a less generous reading. Public education in Fairfax County has become the front line for an equity agenda that has hardened into a war on achievers, who are disproportionately Asian-American.
As a federal judge pointed out in 2022 in a case contesting TJ’s new admissions policy, the Fairfax County School Board eliminated the merit-based entrance exam to make room for African-American and Hispanic students by reducing the number of Asian-Americans. In that sense it “worked.”
The class admitted before the change was 73.05% Asian-American, 3.29% Hispanic and 1.23% African-American. After the change, these figures went to 54.36%, 11.27% and 7.09%, respectively. The share of white students grew from 17.70% to 22.36%.
Meantime, in October district officials signed a $455,000 contract for strategic planning with consultant Mutiu Fagbayi of Performance Fact Inc. A PowerPoint presentation he’d already delivered at a September 2022 Fairfax County School Board retreat defines equity as “equal outcomes for every student, without exception.”
Or consider Shawnna Yashar, another TJ mom, whose son wasn’t told he was a commended student until after the deadline for his early admissions application. Ms. Yashar says that when she complained to TJ’s director of student services, Brandon Kosatka, he told her that the school wants “to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” and that it delayed informing winners to spare the feelings of those who didn’t qualify.
It’s hard not to notice that those who paid the price for this approach were overwhelmingly Asian-American, judging by the names on the National Merit Semifinalists’ list published by Fairfax County. Asian-Americans at TJ accounted for 101 of the 132 winners, or 77%. At Langley it was 10 of 15 (66%), and for Westfield it was four of five (80%).
Asian-Americans make up only 18.97% of the student population of the Fairfax County public schools.
What makes Asian-American achievement so resented by our equity warriors is that it exposes as false the narrative about an irredeemably racist America where minorities can’t succeed. This progressive disdain for Asian-Americans is amplified by a resentment of moms and dads who believe they should have a say in their kids’ educations.
In Virginia, parents watched teachers unions agitate to keep classrooms closed during Covid. They learned the National School Boards Association asked the Biden administration to regard angry parents who showed up to public meetings demanding accountability as domestic terrorists. And they heard a schools superintendent in Loudoun County lying to them about a brutal sexual assault of a 15-year-girl in a school bathroom.
Now these same officials want parents, especially Asian-American parents, to believe that not informing their children that they won a prestigious academic competition was an innocent oversight. We’ll see what the attorney general finds. But nothing these school officials have done has earned them a presumption of trust.
Read the full piece from the Wall Street Journal here.