- Virginia is lucky to be home to tens of thousands of talented students who are ready to do advanced-level work. Why not give all of them that opportunity? Tweet This
- The key to achieving diversity in Virginia’s most demanding high schools is to prime the pipeline of students well-prepared to succeed, rather than rigging the selection system. Tweet This
Editor's Note: Next up in our week-long symposium of family-friendly public policy ideas for Virginia's new administration, Michael J. Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute argues that Virginia should expand access to gifted education programs.
After his rousing, come-from-behind election, spurred on by disgruntled parents, Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin can choose among myriad education issues as his primary focus in his four years in office. Expanding access to gifted and talented education programs should be at the top of his list.
The topic is one Youngkin already knows well. That’s thanks to its salience in the Northern Virginia suburbs, where a recent admissions overhaul for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology exemplifies all that’s wrong with the education system’s obsession with an Orwellian version of “equity.” Social justice advocates decreed that the legendary school had too many Asian-American students, and not enough from other racial and ethnic groups, and therefore the old, meritocratic selection processes needed to make way for a version of affirmative action.
As he promised on the campaign trail, Youngkin should start pushing back against this nonsense by requiring Thomas Jefferson and other exam schools to return to a colorblind admissions system. But he shouldn’t stop there. The fundamental problem is scarcity. Why not build five more such schools in Northern Virginia, and another 10 around the state? Virginia is lucky to be home to tens of thousands of talented students who are ready to do advanced-level work. Why not give all of them that opportunity?
The key to achieving diversity in Virginia’s most demanding high schools is to prime the pipeline of students well-prepared to succeed, rather than rigging the selection system. That means starting as early as possible to identify students with high academic potential—students of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds—and giving them appropriate challenges to help them be successful.
In wonky terms, he should require all school divisions in Virginia to implement “universal screening” for gifted and talented programs—using either their own diagnostic tests in grades one or two, or the state’s own third grade test at the latest. Then make sure all elementary and middle schools provide opportunities for accelerated learning for their top students; the state could help support such programs in its most at-risk communities. The end result should be a larger, more diverse group of kids ready for Thomas Jefferson-caliber work in high school, on their way to prestigious universities in the Commonwealth and beyond.
Michael J. Petrilli is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
*The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.