Selective Magnet School in Virginia moving towards a lottery system

There is a magnet school in the northern virginia suburbs that has frequently ranked top in the nations called thomas jefferson high school of science and technology or tjhsst for short. It is less selective than stuyvesant in nyc (as measured by admission rates and the portion of the public school population that attend), however they achieve very good academic results by concentrating some of the best students in one school. In fact tjhsst (where about 3% of the students are on free or reduced lunch) frequently achieve better results than stuyvesant (where about 40% of the students are on free or reduced lunch), and I suspect that student incomes have something to do with that.

The racial break down of the much more affluent students at tjhsst are eerily similar to the racial breakdown of the relatively poorer students at stuyvesant, overwhelmingly asian (even more overwhelmingly immigrant or the children of immigrants).

This racial disparity has led to “reforms” in the past that were quietly set aside as they failed to achieve their objective. A prior “reform” featured more holistic admissions and more subjective criteria but absent explicit racial preferences, the entering class became richer (as wealthier students had better extracurricular activities), dumber (as the focus shifted away from academics towards non-academic criteria) and whiter (generally wealthier and more acclimated to holistic admission applications.

A new proposal is gaining steam in richmond (the capital of virginia) to change the admissions standards to eliminate everything but gpa and a lottery. Every student with a gpa above 3.5 (the original proposal had set the gpa requirement at 3.0) would be entered in a lottery and admitted on the basis of the lottery.

I don’t particularly object to this proposal as a matter of equity if we no longer care about the underlying mission behind schools like tjhsst. And indeed, the proponents of the plan seem to be in favor of getting rid of these specialized schools altogether.

Other proponents see the degradation of standards as a feature not a flaw. Noone who gets in can feel much of a sense of achievement by virtue of being one of 400 kids to be picked by lottery out of thousands in the lottery pool and noone who is rejected can feel bad by virtue of not being selected in a lottery.

White students are anticipated to be the largest beneficiaries of this proposal.

The proposed plan is projected to:
Increase black admissions by 25 students from 1.72% to 7% black (from 8 students to 33 students);
Increase hispanic admissions by 26 students from 2.6% to 8% (from 12 students to 38 students);
Increase white admissions by 33 students from 18% to 25% (from 85 students to 118 students):
Reduce asian admissions by 89 students from 73% to 54% (from 343 students to 254 students).

All of the schools in the area are good enough that tjhsst does not represent an oasis in a sea of horrible schools like nyc. However the state legislators are pushing this without much community feedback from people that oppose their plans, the ones most likely to be harmed by this proposal.

ISTM that at best this indicates an indifference to discrimination against asians.

One man’s merit is another man’s favoritism.

The problem with GPA (as opposed to standardized testing) is that some schools are notorious for GPA inflation, where they grade students on a slack and easy curve, while some other tough schools give out tougher grades. Thus, perversely, you would end up with mediocre students at easy schools getting 3.5s or 4.0s while some great students at tough schools have GPAs lower than 3.5.

The fact that they charge an application fee means that they’re already leveraging socioeconomic factors to influence admissions by discouraging poor kids from applying in the first place. I looked at their site and didn’t see what it is, but even a nominal fee is a barrier.

I’ve heard it said that Harvard (or Yale or Stanford) could just chose its freshman class by random selection from all of the applicants and still end up with the same results (in terms of performance of the graduates) as they do now. Partly that’s because the applicant pool is self-selecting for highly qualified individuals and partly it’s that the students benefit from being at Harvard. I’ll bet that this magnet school will see little difference with a lottery.

Where do you see favoritism?

The original plan called for a 3.0 GPA. Your issue is easily resolved by giving everyone a 3.5 GPA.

I think it’s something on the order of $100.
They use a fairly complicated method whereby you qualify for consideration by scoring well enough on the exam to get into the pool of qualified applicants, then you were subjected to a holistic admissions process that required recommendations, extra-curricular activities, GPA, etc. (this was one of the benefits of the stuyvesant test only admissions method, anyone and everyone could take the test and the application was a postcard on which you ranked schools in order of preference).

I agree that the $100 application fee is a deterrent.

Problem is, if Harvard actually did that, the moment the public hears that Harvard is no longer using selective admissions, but rather, drawing by lottery, the behavior will drastically change. You’ll suddenly see a flood of students applying to Harvard who never would have bothered to in the first place. In the past, perhaps only students with SAT scores in the 90th percentile or higher would even bother applying to Harvard, but now if they know that someone in the 20th percentile now stands just as high a chance of winning the admission lottery as someone in the 90th, the bottom-ranking students now suddenly fancy their chances.

The OP says the lottery is going to be among those with a GPA of 3.5 or higher, so the lottery isn’t entirely wide open. So if Harvard’s admissions lottery was only among those with SAT scores in the ninetieth percentile (and perhaps top class rank), it would still work.

OK, gotcha. That makes sense.

Who the hell ever said that?
The 42%of harvard applicants get an academic rating of 2 or better. A 2 represents an ACT of 33 or higher. Over 75% of their admits get an academic rating of 2 or higher. About half the people who apply to harvard have no realistic hope of getting in. The quality of the pool of admits would be severely diluted with a lottery.

At tjhsst we don’t have to guess about the effects of lower standards, they tried it before and their test scores and their reputation suffered. The student body degrades and the schools reputation suffers in ways that a place like harvard would be able to withstand.

That’s not exactly the entire pool of applicants is it? And frankly 90th percentile SAT scores is very low. The average harvard admit is closer to the 99th percentile in sat scores.

This is in my area and the proposed lottery is much better than the status quo, without degrading the mission of the school. They’ll still get great students, and likely great results, and the school will cease to be a virtually black-and-brown free school.

You look at grades and test scores and assessments but the students went to different schools and have different circumstances. Every measurement of merit has that potential bias. Doesn’t matter if it’s real or not, to someone it will seem unfair. If it’s the selection process is random it may not please everyone but claims of bias will be hollow.

How is this an easy resolution? What Velocity was discussing was the fact that a 3.5 at one school isn’t necessarily equivalent to a 3.5 at a different school. Some schools (and some teachers and some courses) are “easy As”; others aren’t. Is your proposal to give EVERY student the same grade, regardless of whether they show up regularly, do their homework, even bother to take the test (much less score well on it), and so forth? If so, then what’s the point of giving grades? If not, how do you make sure that you are comparing like to like?

Is this a genuinely good school or not? If it is, then they’ll continue to be a good school with this new admissions method. And if that’s the case, then the real, ultimate solution is to make more good schools like it, so that all of the students who want to go to a good school can.

If, on the other hand, their good results are just due to selective admission, then they’re not actually a good school after all, and this will soon become apparent.

It’s self reinforcing. It attracts the best kids because it attracts the best teachers because it gets the most funding because it attracts the best kids because…

No one is suggesting anything other than it is a good school because they only let in kids with the absolute best test scores and other holistic criteria. Parents literally start planning in elementary school the best path to get their kids into TJ.

I am sure the teaching is good too, but a super selective admission will outperform good teaching and good funding any day of the week.

I disagree. It is significantly worse than the status quo. Right now everyone considers the black and hispanic kids at the school to have more or less earned their place. Tjhsst will no longer be considered a nationally competitive high school, it will drop off the charts and just be another enriched local school, perhaps as competitive as a good charter school. The student quality will be very inconsistent and their reputation will suffer. The entire purpose of the school will be subverted.

The school has a significant brown population (unless you consider south asians to be white for some reason) but they are likely not the kind of kids you care about. The group that will benefit the most from this proposal are projected to be white kids, followed by hispanic kids and black kids. All at the expense of asian kids. So no matter that we will be taking seats away from deserving asian kids to give to less deserving white kids as long as we get more black and hispanic kids?


There is a 3.5 GPA cutoff. Can’t bias creep in there?

You can’t. So you might as well give up and give everyone a 3.5 and just make it a pure lottery of interested students. The 3.5 GPA cutoff is far more restrictive at some schools than others.