At least seven high schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, and three high schools in neighboring Loudoun County have admitted to withholding National Merit awards from students this academic year, prompting Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares to launch a civil rights investigation.
In a phone call with an affected parent, Brandon Kosatka, director of student services at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, admitted they did not issue the awards to avoid hurting the feelings of those not awarded. Asian American students are highly represented among the recipients, and some believe withholding the awards to be an act of racially motivated biases against Asian students.
With Fairfax County’s elimination of early advanced math, the use of “equity grading,” where all students start with 50 percent on their assignments, and the removal of assignment deadlines, it seems that “equal outcome” and “equity” goals have eclipsed merit. The failed distribution of the National Merit awards, at the cost of scholarships and college admissions for these students, is just one symptom of the clear disregard for the importance of academic excellence. The withholding of awards from children is a shock to many across the nation, but it is par for the course in the war against merit to ensure “equal outcomes.”
In Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), flagrant spending follows suit with the FCPS board’s equity agenda. Last month, an Independent Women’s Network investigation into the war on merit found that FCPS issued a $455,000 sole-source contract to Performance Fact Inc., a company that the new Fairfax County superintendent, Michelle Reid, previously hired as superintendent in Washington state. The contractor is tasked with helping the district draft its strategic plan.
Both Reid and Performance Fact are committed to providing “equal outcomes” at the great expense of equal opportunity. In fact, a presentation at a Strategic Planning Committee meeting on Dec. 3, 2022, featured a slide promoting this mantra: “Equal outcomes for every student, without exception.” Withholding National Merit awards is simply the tip of the iceberg of a wider national campaign to promote equal outcomes and mute merit. That’s why the Independent Women’s Network has helped launch a new initiative and website: Save Merit.
Paying ‘Anti-Racist’ Kendi Extreme Fees
FCPS and other government entities pay activists quite well to advocate for quotas, “equitable” hiring and admissions processes, and the injection of controversial racial identity issues into public school curricula. In fact, the Fairfax Public Library in Fairfax County paid $22,500 to Ibram X. Kendi, the director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, for a one-hour virtual meeting on Dec. 7, 2022.
Kendi is no stranger to accepting large sums of money from public institutions. The University of Virginia gave him $32,500 for an hour-long speech in February 2022, and the Fairfax County School Board paid him $20,000 for a one-hour virtual meeting in 2020. During the December 2022 meeting, Kendi pontificated, as he often does, that “inequity is the problem.” To him, anything that does not yield the right quotas is a racist policy. He believes that equality of opportunity is problematic, and he espouses a dangerous argument: The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The “anti-racist” initiatives that Kendi supports frequently discriminate against Asian students to increase black enrollment in colleges and magnet high schools.
In February 2022, a federal judge ruled that new admissions practices, including the removal of the merit-based admissions test, at Thomas Jefferson high school, one of our nation’s top-rated public schools, were unconstitutional. Rightly so. While students of Asian descent continued to compose the majority of eighth graders in Fairfax County Public Schools with a 3.9 GPA or above in advanced math (geometry), the admission of Asian students to Thomas Jefferson decreased by 19 percentage points from 2020 to 2021.
With these new “equitable” admissions practices in 2021, Thomas Jefferson was forced to redirect resources for remedial math for the less prepared incoming freshmen. Undeterred by the court’s decision or academic performance issues, the county’s school board used other metrics, such as targeted admissions essays not focused on science, technology, engineering, and math, as a proxy for racial discrimination against Asian American student applicants.
Not only are these practices unjust, but they worry me at a personal level as a mother to sons of Asian descent. Anti-Asian sentiment is undoubtedly institutionalized and continues to be tolerated socially as well. I was reminded of this again in early December, when the chancellor of Purdue University Northwest, Thomas Keon, publicly mocked Asian languages during the winter graduation ceremony. These biases against people of Asian heritage have clearly been institutionalized in school admissions, ironically for the sake of fighting racism.
Sadly, we cannot undo the atrocities committed against various racial minorities in our past. But we can work to ensure that every child has a fair shot at the American Dream in the future. This means keeping the emphasis on merit — not skin color or race — when it comes to opportunities in education and beyond.