Curriculum

STEM School’s Entrance Policy Sparks Debate

By Erik W. Robelen — May 30, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A nationally recognized STEM school in suburban Washington is the subject of debate after changes to its entrance policies apparently led to the need to provide far more students with remediation.

An editorial in today’s Washington Post highlights the situation at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and raises the thorny matter of balancing the goals of attracting a diverse range of students and helping top-achieving students thrive and become the next generation of STEM innovators.

The editorial notes that the changes to the elite magnet school’s admissions policy were aimed at increasing student diversity on campus to better reflect the demographics of Fairfax County, which contains a highly diverse population (though also one of the nation’s most affluent).

“Not only did the change not have the desired effect, but something equally troubling may have occurred: The wrong students may be getting accepted at the expense of students better suited to the school’s rigor and mission,” the editorial says. “Fairfax school officials are right to revisit this issue.”

As the editorial notes, a full one-third of entering freshmen at the high school during this academic year required remedial coursework in math and science.

Thomas Jefferson is one in a long line of STEM schools in the country. However, as I noted in a recent story, a new trend is the creation of STEM-themed schools explicitly aimed at attracting students who are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, including low-income students, African-Americans and Hispanics, and females. These schools typically do not have entrance requirements, or if they do, they are not especially high.

The push for this new generation of STEM schools appears to be driven in part by an economic imperative to cast a far wider net to develop talent that might not otherwise be tapped. In fact, a recent report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said the creation of new STEM schools should be a key strategy to reverse the STEM “interest and achievement gap.”

At the same time, many experts say it’s still important to save room for a cadre of highly selective schools that are explicitly intended to nurture the nation’s top talent.

The Washington Post editorial notes that a teacher at Thomas Jefferson recently wrote an op-ed raising concerns about the situation at that school.

“The old Jefferson was never a route to increased STEM achievement in the general school population,” wrote Thomas Jefferson teacher John Dell earlier this month. “Rather, it was created to nurture promising STEM students at just the point where such students come into their real power— where their brains are literally fired up and ready to go. The regional commitment to the old Jefferson, tenuous from the start, has finally been overwhelmed by other agendas. A genuine success has been followed by political failure to embrace and sustain it.”

The Post editorial reports that the Fairfax County school board will take up the issue of TJ’s admissions policy this summer. We shall see how they handle this matter.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He's Fighting to Get His Job Back
Matthew Hawn is an early casualty in this year's fight over how teachers can discuss with students America's struggle with racism.
13 min read
Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn sits on his couch inside his home on August 17, 2021.
Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for lessons and materials he used to teach about racism and white privilege in his Contemporary Issues class at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, Tenn.<br/>
Caitlin Penna for Education Week
Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Curriculum School Halts Use of Fictional Book in Which Officer Kills a Black Child
Fifth graders in at least one Broward County school were assigned to read a book that critics say casts police officers as racist liars.
Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5 min read
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alhadeff told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she does not feel like the book "Ghost Boys" is appropriate for 5th graders.
Lynne Sladky/AP
Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty