Governor’s schools bill is bad policy and bad faith
By Akshay Deverakonda and Carrie Kahwajy
A new invoice seeks to deprive local school boards of the tools needed to achieve diversity in Governor’s schools across the Commonwealth.
This regressive bill, which passed the Virginia House of Delegates and is now in the Senate, must be defeated. The bill defines “proxy discrimination” broadly when it comes to efforts to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and access to education and narrowly when it comes to these are obsolete “traditional factors of academic success”. As alumni of two of these Governor’s Schools, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies, we know that this bill will not eliminate discrimination. Rather, it would only further entrench the discrimination that has plagued our alma maters and other elite public schools for generations.
The bill misrepresents what the current governor’s school admissions processes actually do. To the two TJs and Maggie Walker, for example, admissions officers review applicants based on their applications, not demographic information. Despite this, the bill seeks to prohibit the collection of any demographic information in admissions to make it impossible to identify underrepresentation in total applications, application rates and admission rates. This bill would codify bad policy and hamper the ability of local school boards, schools and community members to prioritize outreach efforts where they are most needed. This prevents them from achieving diversity and preventing racial isolation – compelling state interests asserted by the United States Supreme Court in 2007.
Virginia House Passes Legislation Reversing Admissions Changes to Governor’s Elite Schools
Last year, TJ notably removed the “traditional academic achievement factor” from a standardized test, a method the bill defines as “presumed” non-discriminatory. However, some academic research demonstrates than standardized tests correlate more closely with income and race than with intellectual ability or potential. In recognition of this fact, about two-thirds of universities, including some of the top-ranked schools in the country, no longer requires examinations.
When Maggie Walker removed the passing portion of her own admissions test, school management publicly acknowledged that she had added no value to the admissions process. After waiving the test in 2021 due to the pandemic, Maggie Walker increased the average GPA of the admitted class while tripling the percentage of black students. In other words, there is no reason to require governor schools to rely solely on “traditional academic success factors.” Presuming that such outdated methods are right and measuring merit is bad science unsupported by evidence.
It is no coincidence that the language of the bill so closely mirrors the arguments made by contentious opponents of any admissions reform aimed at expanding opportunities. The Washington Post reported than Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, admitted speaking with members of the Coalition for TJ — an activist group that has historically opposed meaningful admissions reform and sued Fairfax County Public Schools for Changes for Diversity – about the bill before he introduced it. The most significant change from TJ’s recent admissions reform has been the drastic increase in the number of accepted economically disadvantaged students from less than 1% to 25%, much closer to the general student population.
Diversity advocates often try to leverage the Asian American population as a talking point, but pro-equity admissions reforms also benefit low-income Asians, English learners and young people. other underrepresented Asian students. Many Asian Americans, including one of us, support common sense reforms with proven results, including the recent changes to TJ admissions. The argument that such a profoundly positive change is discriminatory and that the previous system was fairer is not only absurd, but clearly in bad faith.
We urge all Representatives who care about access to education to oppose the Governor’s Schools Bill. Virginians must come together to expand opportunities for all of our students, not just the most affluent. By applying good science, good policy, and good faith, we believe we can ensure that Governor’s Schools – like all public schools – benefit all members of the community.
Akshay Deverakonda is a member of the TJ Alumni Action Group (TJAAG) who graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in 2011. Carrie Kahwajy is chair of the Chesterfield NAACP Education Committee and a member of the Anti-Racist Alumni of MLWGS. ; she graduated from the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies in 1995.
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