To the editor:
Alexandria’s flagship public school, T.C. Williams High School, has been in the local news because of issues having to do with race and fairness. These issues are important. How they are resolved, including the controversial name of the school and its relationship with the Alexandria Police Department, is worth serious community discussion.
But taking into account the purpose of a school system – which is to educate the young and prepare them for life as informed, functioning and responsible adults – T.C. Williams offers a grotesque comparison between aspirational and actual priorities.
In their 2020 rankings of U.S. high schools, U.S. News and World Report rated T.C. Williams number 12,549 out of 17,792 nationally and number 267 of 320 high schools in Virginia. That’s the bottom 30% in the U.S. and the bottom 17% in Virginia.
The ratings were skewed by Williams students’ poor performance in “Math and Reading Proficiency,” “Math and Reading Performance” and “Graduation Rate.” Somewhat ironically, the same report designated the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, also in Alexandria – though the Fairfax County portion – as America’s number one high school.
What this seems to say is that the students of T.C. Williams – 78% of whom are minorities and 42% of whom are economically disadvantaged and therefore less likely to enjoy access to school choice – are being fed a diet of platitudes.
As a practical matter, the priorities of the school in areas that count would not be much more misplaced if the school was still run by T.C. Williams and the Harry Byrd political machine and its program of “massive resistance” to integration. Yes, the doors of the school are open to all. But what’s offered inside appears questionable.
I’m sure there are programs at T.C. Williams for gifted learners, as well as means for exceptional students to find their paths to success. And I’m sure many do, especially those who have excellent teachers and enjoy strong support and encouragement at home.
But their success doesn’t excuse an appalling official misdirection, largely political in nature, in which having a positive ethnic identity becomes not just a healthy part of growing up but a substitute for rigorous and meaningful learning.
-Jack Lichtenstein, Alexandria