Category Archives: Education (K-12)

“Virginia Students Will Never Get This Year Back”

Kirk Cox. (Photo credit: Roanoke Times.)

by James A. Bacon

I have no inkling whether Former House Speaker Kirk Cox will win the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but I do think he just latched on to a good issue and framed it just the right way. The headline of a press release issued today says, “Virginia Students Will Never Get This Year Back.”

Cox, who was a public school teacher for 30 years, can speak with some authority on the subject of K-12 education. And he taps into a deep reservoir of frustration at the slow pace with which Virginia’s educational establishment is returning school children to in-person education.

“We’ve got three to six months of learning loss in reading and math right now,” Cox said. “You’ve got kids who have missed an entire senior year. … You’ll never get that back. You’ll simply never get it back.” Continue reading

An Achievable Dream Is an Asset to Henrico County

Achievable Dream Academy in Highland Springs. Photo credit: Richmondmag.com.

by Aubrey L. Layne Jr.

My first experience with An Achievable Dream Academy is one that I never will forget. I remember shaking hands with Newport News elementary school children and seeing the excitement in their eyes.

Every encounter since further solidifies my belief in the value of this program for our community, and for the future. Its presence in Henrico County is a sign of the community’s dedication to some of our most vulnerable children.

My wife, Peggy, and I have been supporters of the program for almost 20 years — beginning with my serving on the board of directors for An Achievable Dream’s (AAD) Endowment. My commitment to this program only strengthened when I served as president and CEO of AAD in 2013, just prior to my appointment as secretary of transportation for the commonwealth of Virginia.

While leading AAD, I was fortunate enough to spearhead the expansion of the program to Virginia Beach — in partnership with Virginia Beach City Public Schools. I am so proud of how it has flourished.

Continue reading

Ball of Confusion

by James A. Bacon

Virginians are still suffering from massive confusion about what the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is proposing for its controversial Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative. The befuddlement arises from the use of various words that are seeming synonyms but have precise, different meanings when used by educators.

Two columns appearing in my inbox this morning illustrated the continued inability to get the story straight: one published by the Washington Post, which quotes James F. Lane, state superintendent for public instruction, and one by the Virginia Star, which cites VDOE spokesman Charles Pyle.

Here is the root of the problem. “Tracking” means one thing. “Accelerated pathway” means another. “Advanced courses” means another. Lane and Pyle are choosing their words very carefully. But journalists are missing the nuances. Continue reading

VDOE Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards to Use Schools to Create New Leftists

The Governor approves leftist SEL standards for public schools

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Department of Education has posted — sort of — for citizen comment its draft Social Emotional Learning (SEL) standards. (Please note: the link to the VDOE citizen comment page has been corrected.)

These draft standards represent an overt attempt to turn school children into social justice warriors of the Democratic left. There is no rational defense to counter that observation — the document is awash in evidence.

It takes considerable curiosity and some experience with the system to find the Draft Standards, the comment page and the Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (NOIRA) page for this particular action. It turns out that there is good reason for the hide and seek.

VDOE wants no one outside the school system to read it much less comment on it. Continue reading

VMPI Would Eliminate Tracked Courses

No, despite the uncanny similarity, that is not a senior VDOE official. That’s a weasel, commonly found along the James River.

by James A. Bacon

Yes, Virginia, it looks like the Virginia Mathematics Pathway Initiative (VMPI) does seek to do away with “tracked” courses in which quicker and slower learners attend separate classes geared to their abilities. Gifted students would be given “extension topics” that would allow them to explore concepts that would not otherwise be covered in the one-size-fits-all math curriculum.

While insisting that VMPI still will allow “accelerated courses,” which have a different meaning from “tracked classes,” James Lane and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) officials have studiously avoided telling the public how the initiative would do away with tracked courses. Reporters who regurgitated Lane’s rhetoric during a press conference earlier this week were too dim-witted to ask him what he meant by “accelerated.”

Now comes a document of “School Board Talking Points,” dated April 26, under the masthead of Fairfax County Public Schools. I am told that it was distributed to every math department in the school system. Here is the smoking gun:

The proposed design provides students a path to explore mathematics in a way that meets their needs without having to take a different course than their grade-level peers.

Continue reading

Still Unanswered: Will New Math Pathway Allow “Tracked” Classes?

by James A. Bacon

Three days ago James F. Lane, superintendent of public instruction for Virginia public schools, successfully snuffed out a spreading narrative that the proposed Virginia Mathematics Pathway Initiative (VMPI) would eliminate “accelerated” courses for high-achieving math students.

In a press conference, he stated categorically: “We are not eliminating accelerated courses. We are not reducing the rigor of our courses. … We’re not eliminating any pathways to calculus.”

The media bought the story, defanging an issue that was alarming Northern Virginia parents who feared their children would be short-changed by the new policy and that was giving ammunition to Republican gubernatorial candidates. According to The Washington Post coverage of the event, Lane said he had no idea how people came to believe that the initiative called for eliminating accelerated math courses. “I don’t know where that came from, but what I will say is I’m worried that people are misinterpreting things.”

Well, I’ll tell you how people came to think that the Northam administration planned to extinguish accelerated math programs. First, Team Northam saw in math-curriculum reform an opportunity to advance its commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and it drank deeply of literature decrying tracked courses as racist. Second, its messaging repeatedly expressed the conviction that VMPI would promote “equity.” And third, its explanations of how VMPI would work were jargon-heavy, vague, confusing and incomplete. That’s how.

If the brouhaha arose from a misunderstanding, Team Northam bears much of the responsibility. The burning question now is whether that confusion stemmed from an inability to communicate clearly…. or a deliberate decision not to communicate clearly. Continue reading

Virginia’s Math Path Could Erode Equity

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane

by Andy Rotherham

Years ago Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent Bud Spillane had a plan to collapse early grades K-2 into an ability group approach. He went around the county explaining the approach to parents. They generally liked it because it offered customization and a more individualized experience.

Then, at some point parents starting asking, “but how will I know when my kid is in the first grade?” And pretty soon the idea fell apart. What Tyack and Cuban call the “grammar of schooling” is indeed potent. People like conceptual approaches; they like knowing when their kid is in first grade more.

I suspect the same fate will befall this idea in Virginia to change the sequence and scope of middle and high school math in the name of “equity.” It sort of already is. As soon as the idea made contact with parents and media the state superintendent submarined it and the Department of Education overhauled its website.

The Washington Post wrote a somewhat credulous story about the whole thing largely blaming the confusion on conservative media, that’s the lede. They changed the website! (Democracy updates the html in darkness?) This Virginia Mercury story has more texture. If you have no hobbies, here and here are some video discussions of the issues you can watch. Weirdly, an idea floated to do away with the state’s advanced studies diploma hasn’t set off the same firestorm. Continue reading

Analysis Needed to Back Up VDOE Policy Changes

by James C. Sherlock

Many dramatic changes in school policy are being made and contemplated by the Virginia Department of Education. The references justifying the changes are inevitably academic “studies.”  

I’m sorry, but academics can and do design studies to provide whatever results they are looking for. That is why so many are not replicable – much like push polling. Tailor the inquiry with only the carefully worded questions that will yield favorable results. Delete any that may not support the objectives.

I often wonder if VDOE conducts any original research using Virginia data to support the changes they implement. If they do, I have never seen it.

VDOE has massive decision support databases. I use them regularly. One of the newer data troves is the 2020-2021 Virginia Educator Ethnicity and Race data.

I decided to run an experiment to prove the case for such research. Continue reading

The Honor Code: A Reason to Be Proud of VMI

by Brady Biller

Leadership is made, not born.

I have almost completed my cadetship at The Virginia Military Institute. In 22 days, I will be graduating with a Civil Engineering degree. I’m currently on my last ever guard shift as the Night Officer of the Guard while typing this thought. Its 03:41 on a Saturday morning and my shift ends at 07:00. All my hometown best friends at other universities just got done partying or going out to the local bars. After 4 years of being in barracks we’ve gotten used to “missing out” on a normal college experience.

Yet, every now and then I still have the thought on why I came to VMI, even 22 days until I graduate. I just ponder how badly I want to get out of here. I’m thinking on why the hell I’m walking around Barracks in the middle of the night with a flashlight while everyone is sleeping? I just want my life after VMI to start so I can finally have that freedom I’m craving so badly. With all these negative thoughts about this place and wishing time away, you would think I made a wrong decision signing the matriculation book on August 19, 2017.

Shortly after feeling sorry for myself, a cadet walks into the guard room with a one-hundred-dollar bill and tells me that he found it by a stairwell. Its pitch-black outside with no one around him and he had every chance just to walk away a little bit richer. I couldn’t help but smile, I’m not sure who was listening inside my head, but this was a moment where I was able to look past all the annoying aspects of being a VMI cadet and appreciate the bigger picture of what this Institution upholds. I’m sure that cadet was raised with good intentions, but I know for a 100% fact that any other person at another school in the world would’ve ran off with that hundred-dollar bill.

This is the reason why I became a VMI cadet. Continue reading

Virginia School Superintendent Supports Accelerated Math Pathway

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James F. Lane

Dr. James F. Lane, Supervisor of Public Instruction, has been gracious enough to address with me his thoughts on the the Virginia Department of Education Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI).

The headline for readers of this column is that he will not support any program that eliminates acceleration in mathematics.

I sent him my column this morning that addressed VMPI and recommended a program of statistical analysis of 40 elementary schools in Fairfax County followed, if justified by that analysis, by a pilot of VMPI in those same schools in Fairfax County

His response:

“I’ve asked my team to provide a longer response with more detail, but please know that I do not support any movement to eliminate acceleration in mathematics and will work over the coming days to clarify my position on this should that not be clear.  Regardless of any discussions the team may or may not been having in the community, no recommendation of this kind will come from me.”

Continue reading

Will VMPI Eliminate Accelerated Math Courses or Not?

by James A. Bacon

Over the weekend, the Virginia Department of Education overhauled its web page devoted to the proposed Virginia Mathematics Pathway Initiative (VMPI), which has caused an uproar among parents who fear that the new curriculum would eliminate accelerated mathematics classes for high-achieving students.

The old page can be found on the Wayback Machine here. The updated page can be found here.

The new page contains the following statement not found in the original:

The implementation of VMPI would still allow for student acceleration in mathematics content according to ability and achievement. It does not dictate how and when students take specific courses. Those decisions remain with students and school divisions based on individualized learning needs.

Yet the Northam administration has repeatedly justified the curriculum overhaul on the grounds of “equity,” or the reduction of educational-achievement disparities between different racial/ethnic groups. The new website still points to “additional resources” such as, “Mathematics Education through the Lens of Social Justice,” and “Closing the Opportunity Gap: A Call for Detracking Mathematics.”

If a foundational premise of the new math curriculum is to do away with tracking, but Team Northam says it will maintain “student acceleration … according to ability and achievement,” how is that going to work? Continue reading

Research the Huge Differences in SOL Math Scores Among Black Children

Virginia’s VMPI model

by James C. Sherlock

The problem Virginia Department of Education Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) and associated equity changes are designed to solve is low math proficiency among black students.  

That math performance issue must be addressed beginning in kindergarten and before. At the end of the 3rd grade, even under Virginia’s new standards, every child is supposed to know how to multiply and to read. Both in math and reading, a child’s proficiency at the end of the third grade has proven in study after study to provide a key indicator of his or her academic performance going forward.  

The top 20 Fairfax County elementary schools ranked (by me using state data) by black student 2028-19 math SOL pass rate achieved a pass rate within that demographic of 96.5. In the bottom 20 schools in that same county, the mean black student pass rate was 52.5. See link to spreadsheet.

Those schools offer an excellent opportunity to examine whether VMPI and other equity changes proposed or adopted by VDOE will address those enormous differences in black student math education outcomes. Continue reading

No Child Left Ahead

by Pamela Fox

The Virginia Department of Education is planning a radical change to mathematics education in grades K-12, deceptively packaged as just a means of offering additional math classes to high schoolers. Dubbed the Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI), the plan is actually a stealthy attempt to lower standards and eliminate all advanced math tracking prior to 11th grade, thereby putting Virginia’s brightest students at a competitive disadvantage for college admissions and postsecondary STEM majors.

Reference materials on the VMPI webpage reveal the initiative’s true motivations, stating “the current mathematics education system is unjust and grounded in a legacy of institutional discrimination based on race, ethnicity, class, and gender,” and demanding acknowledgment of “the roles power, privilege, and oppression play in the current unjust system of mathematics education.”

These positions are echoed in VMPI’s online forums, where spokespeople explain their plans to eliminate Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 classes, and to end accelerated math classes “to address inequities.”

How did we get here and can anything be done to stop this train wreck before it happens? Continue reading

Calculus and Jury Duty

by Joe Fitzgerald

Calculus is like jury duty. Everyone agrees that it’s essential, and any sensible human being will try to get out of it if they can. But panicked right-wingers are currently cluttering the internet with claims that a change in high school calculus teaching is the latest threat to Western Civilization.

I write from experience. I’ve been called for jury duty twice and taken three calculus courses, plus numerical analysis and differential equation classes with a calculus prerequisite. I don’t remember a lot of the calculus, and I was rejected both times for jury duty. Maybe because I would have been sending reporters to cover whatever trial I was chosen for. Regardless, they paid me $40.25 both times: $40 for a 20-minute “day” of jury duty, and two bits for a mile or less of travel expenses, another way of saying I walked to the courthouse.

Calculus may make less sense than that, particularly for those who don’t necessarily care whether the derivative of a function of a single variable at a chosen input value, when it exists, is the slope of the tangent line to the graph of the function at that point.

Of course it is. Continue reading

VDOE and the New “Math Path” — Healthy Skepticism and Professionalism Would Be Appreciated

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) describes the proposed Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) as follows:

“The Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) is a joint initiative among the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) and the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).  The Initiative supports the Profile of a Virginia Graduate by redefining mathematics pathways for students in the Commonwealth to address the knowledge, skills, experiences, and attributes that students must attain to be successful in college and/or the workforce and to be “life ready.””

Everyone wishes such things to be true. The new proposal to overhaul the teaching of math to them, however, requires more both more caution and more professionalism than is indicated by the VDOE. Continue reading