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Thomas Jefferson Falls Short on Scholarships

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dear Extra Credit:

My son is a Loudoun County resident and a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, along with about 100 other Loudoun students. As you know, it is a public school, and their education is paid for by our Loudoun taxpayers' dollars.

I have been struggling since November to gain access, for my son and other Loudoun T.J. students, to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute scholarship for Loudoun students. HHMI has been given enormous tax breaks by the county to set up shop, and it is supposed to benefit Loudoun students, including, I contend, those students who go to a magnet school that serves this county as well as others in Northern Virginia.

The school administration has, frankly, given me a bureaucratic runaround. The policy for this brand-new scholarship ($7,000) has been set so as to give two scholarships to each LCPS high school, and T.J. was simply left out of the equation. And now the LCPS administrators don't want to change it.

HHMI made clear to me that the county sets the policy, not the institute. The LCPS administrators have thrown up one false argument after another to justify their policy but have never given an actual reason for it. The latest argument is that T.J. students have unique scholarship opportunities that are not available to other Loudoun students. This is simply untrue, as my letters and that of Laurie Kobick, T.J.'s College and Career Center director, make clear.

Susan Welsh

Leesburg

I have heard many praises of and complaints about Thomas Jefferson before, but this is a new one. Thank you for bringing it to everyone's attention.

The correspondence you sent me does indicate that Loudoun officials were wrong about there being many unique college scholarship opportunities at Jefferson, and they certainly didn't say much about why they cut T.J. kids off from the Howard Hughes scholarships. But it is pretty easy to guess what is going on.

Most people assume that once you have gotten into Jefferson, you have it made. That is not true. T.J. students still have to work for what they get, but attending the most selective public high school in the United States does have some advantages.

Those don't include getting these Loudoun scholarships. I think districts that send students to Jefferson might consider putting together a guide to the advantages and disadvantages of going to that great school, and include such matters as losing out on some local programs. I would love to hear from readers on what else those prospective Jefferson students should know.

Dear Extra Credit:

Leslie Sinn of Hamilton wrote you a thoughtful and perceptive letter ["Inclusion Doesn't Inhibit the Best Students," Extras, Dec. 20] about the dumbing down of AP courses in her daughter's school in Loudoun. You maintain this just isn't so, and argue, "If inclusion [of less-than-gifted students in AP classes] hurts the best AP students, why do we have far more top AP test scores than we did before inclusion?"

Hello? We have "far more top AP scores" precisely because AP courses have been dumbed down to allow average students to enroll in them and survive. This was precisely Ms. Sinn's point.

She is absolutely correct in suggesting that the gifted students who belong in AP classes are being, once again, shunted aside while the honor of "advanced" placement is handed around to every kid who can spell most two-syllable words and multiply two-digit numbers.

"Advanced" is supposed to mean "beyond the norm." If every kid is in "advanced" placement classes, those classes have become the norm, and they no longer meet the needs of the gifted or just ahead-of-their-peers student. But then, the politically correct school administrators (and Washington Post education writers) don't really care; developing the scientists, engineers, mathematicians, gifted writers and linguists of tomorrow is somebody else's problem. The schools are too busy educating for mediocrity.

Lynda Meyers

Arlington

There is much evidence against you on this issue, including the College Board's regular and careful comparison of AP tests to actual college exams, the exam questions themselves, which you can see online or at bookstores, and the testimony of hundreds of top AP teachers who have, unlike people who say the courses are dumbed down, actually been inside these classes for years and compared old exams to new ones. But more data on either side are welcome. Please write me if you have solid evidence of AP classes and tests being less challenging than they used to be in our suburbs.

Dear Extra Credit:

As coordinator of gifted programs for Fairfax County public schools, I would like to invite you to find out about our programs and services and what we are doing for a broad range of students to include children from low-income backgrounds. More than 12 percent of our students in grades three through eight receive Level IV services through the GT [Gifted and Talented] centers and through flexible instructional groupings at local schools. In addition, we have GT resource teachers in every elementary school who collaborate and plan with classroom teachers to increase access to gifted services for all children through Levels I-III.

Our middle school honors classes now offer additional academic challenge to students with specific academic strengths in the four core subject areas at all middle schools.

Carol V. Horn

Coordinator,

Gifted and Talented Programs,

Fairfax County public schools

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