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.

“Catalyzing Change”

I researched the origin of VMPI, the new “Math Path” offered for consideration by VDOE. It is the Catalyzing Change initiative of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). One of the key tenets of Catalyzing Change:

“We must be purposeful in addressing racism and trauma as we-

  • support the use of mathematics as an analytic tool to challenge power, privilege, and oppression;
  • encourage all educators to challenge systems of oppression that privilege some while disadvantaging others; and
  • inspire all educators to create socially and emotionally safe spaces for themselves, their students, and colleagues.”

To achieve those results NCTM proposes the new path and opposes tracking by ability and “high stakes” testing.

I am skeptical, but will be fine with any of those things as long as they also let each student achieve to the limits of his or her capabilities.

The goal offered by NCTM President Trena Wilkerson is fine, it really is, but it does not go far enough.

“Each and every student must be equipped to use math to make sense of our world and to increase their opportunities moving forward.”

It is clear that she stops there because she feels she cannot state a goal, maximizing individual student achievement, the implementation of which would produce unequal outcomes.

My input to vdoe

From the VMPI website:

The VMPI will develop an initial vision for mathematics education in K-12 that will require feedback from many different stakeholders across the Commonwealth.

I decided to jump that particular gun and give them feedback now. I quote my email below.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I note from the Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) website:

“Possible piloting of high school level mathematics courses prior to full implementation is now being considered. This Initiative will establish an innovative direction for mathematics education in Virginia that will benefit all students.”

Some observations and recommendations:

First, This is entirely too big of a change to enter into without healthy skepticism. You have left the well-grounded impression that VDOE intends to implement these changes no matter the cost or benefits.

A statement like, “This Initiative will establish an innovative direction for mathematics education in Virginia that will benefit all students” shows not only a lack of skepticism, but of inquiry. Your minds appear made up. That turns doctrine into dogma, considered to be absolutely true regardless of evidence, or without evidence (“possible piloting”) to support it.

(As a note, running a pilot only in high school is backwards.  The foundation of the statewide math problem is in K-3.  Look at the 4th grade NAEP results from 2019.  If fourth graders can’t multiply, the rest of the problem is set in stone.)

Virginians have no reason based on what you have written to expect VDOE to conduct or assess this program objectively.

To fix that problem internally and its perception externally, pursue with simulations and field pilots answers to the cautionary “questions to consider” that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) offers with every policy paper.

You should consider why NTCM is much more modest about making their recommendations than you are in accepting them.

You offer no reference to such questions.  The answers to each of those and many other questions must be fully illuminated in professional analyses of both best practices and the cost/benefit equations before they are widely implemented.

I recommend you hire a modeling, simulation and systems engineering firm, by which the beltway is lined, to

  • design and structure the data collection;
  • design and run first simulations and then field pilots at all grade levels for a sufficient periods of time to gather meaningful structured data;
  • provide assessments of each stage to prove or disprove each of the tenets of VMPI and to improve implementation if such a path is then decided;
  • release to the public documentation of the results and assessments; and
  • before implementation, take the results to town halls across the state, explain the new system and take comments.

Then and only then, after that public outreach, introduce VMPI statewide if that is what you decide.

As a postscript, if you cannot get a federal grant to fund the effort I describe above you are not trying.

Best Regards

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

  1. vicnicholls Avatar

    Frankly I can see an exodus of Asian students and Asian families either to private schools who don’t do this, or Canada. It will cause a bigger brain drain because kids who go into engineering and the like will get slammed not knowing concepts they need to be introduced to. It will hurt our medical areas because calc, p chem, etc. are how they distinguish themselves in medical school. Lets talk Jeff Lab: good luck on recruiting Americans, they won’t have the knowledge to work there.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I think I just made VDOE an offer they can’t refuse. We’ll see.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Oooh, there’s a horse joke in there somewhere, one end or the other.

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      What concepts will kids who want to go into “engineering and the like” not be introduced to?

      As far as medical school is concerned, it is doubtful if high school math courses will affect that. For example, college majors in humanities and social science have an equivalent or rate of acceptance into medical school than physical science majors and a higher rate than majors in biological sciences. https://louisville.edu/humanities/undergraduate/files/NHAHumanitiesDataSheet.pdf

      1. vicnicholls Avatar

        If you have to wait until Jr year to get ahead, you lose time, in addition to not being introduced to concepts early on. Um, most biology majors are going for medicine, so if you have 100 bio majors going for it and only 3 get accepted, its 3%. If you have 10 poly science majors going for it, 1 gets accepted, that’s 10%. How many can actually get into medicine and finish? More humanities or more science based groups?

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          If DOE were following the NCTM approach as Jim Sherlock is suggesting it is doing, it would not even have calculus in the curriculum. I don’t know what you mean by waiting until the junior year to get ahead. It seems that the VDOE provides significant opportunity for all students to be introduced to basic concepts and to develop a sound base by 10th grade and then opportunity to move ahead for those who want to.

          My point about medical school was just that it does not take math whizzes to get into and succeed in medical school. As you point out, a lot of biology majors, who are not necessarily whizzes at p. chem, go to medical school.

          1. vicnicholls Avatar

            It would mean that folks like me, who took an extra year of math my freshman to sophomore summer high school year, would not get that opportunity. It means that when I took a second course the same way, I couldn’t do it. So I couldn’t get ahead. Math is not equitable. If these kids don’t have basic reading concepts down, they can’t do geometry. If they can’t get basic 5th grade and lower math down, they won’t get algebra. People who want to get ahead won’t be allowed to do that, that is my whole point and some need to move beyond basics, some can, which this system doesn’t allow for. Look at the description: if all they were doing is changing the name, it makes no sense to change the name. What they are infusing in there is “equity” which is not equitable for those who want to and have the capacity to move on.

      2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Dick, the thrust of my message to the VDOE is be careful what you do. I am sure you agree with that. Why not just say so. It is not your job to defend what I know you think to be a reckless approach.

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          My comment was directed at VNicholls’ assertion.

          I agree that VDOE should not be reckless. I am not convinced that it is being reckless. As Jim pointed out in his original post on this topic, the new approach is being piloted in Martinsville. By the way, I disagree with your assertion that the VDOE model is the Catalyzing Change model, which is not really a model, but a general statement of principles. The model curriculum recommended by that group is laid out in a separate document and is less aggressive than the VDOE model.

          1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            I went with what the VMPI website claims: “VMPI has its origin in a groundbreaking 2018 study from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM): Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics – Initiating Critical Conversations.”

      3. DJRippert Avatar

        Physics is included in the “Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems” section of the MCAT.

        As I recall, math was part and parcel of physics.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Captain there is a education group I heard about on WMAL that is challenging this. I can’t remember the name of them though. They seem to be mounting a serious counter offensive.

    1. vicnicholls Avatar

      stoplcpscrt – Loudoun County group. No left turn in education (Va group). Some of us run a section for the group in their area.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        No it is not Loudoun group it seemed to have a more national outreach. Edudefense or something like that. The lady who runs it and was interviewed came across very well.

        1. vicnicholls Avatar

          I named 2 groups, are you referring to No Left Turn? There was also Vicky Manning from the VB School Board. 2 different folks. One purpose.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    1970 — If farmer John can grow 8 bushels of wheat on one acre…

    2020 — If Bill’s best programmer can write and debug 25 lines of code in a hour…

  4. tmtfairfax Avatar

    I heard that Senator Chap Petersen has written the DoE (or should it be DoI – Department of Idiots) and asked a number of probing questions, which probably cannot be answered completely or truthfully.

    What’s the next most outrageous, next to the harm done to students, is the fact that all of this stems from the fact that our filthy racist Governor won’t man up, admit he posed in blackface as an almost MD, and make personal amends, instead of manipulating his authority as Governor to appear woke. Northam is so bad he makes Trump seem decent.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Once upon a time I was a Virginia public high school student who decided to take calculus. Nobody made me take calculus. I just wanted to take calculus so I did. I could have graduated without taking calculus. Lots of kids graduated without taking calculus.

    Why is the option of taking calculus a problem?

    Contrary to the almost frightening rhetoric in some of these comments calculus is very useful in the real world.

    Like the hubbub around Thomas Jefferson this is not about the “average kid”. It’s about the top couple of percent of kids intellectually speaking. You certainly don’t need to go to TJ to get a job in STEM. However, leaders like Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google) tend to accomplish a lot. Shouldn’t there be a place in the public education system for truly exceptional intellects? Shouldn’t we want to develop the best and brightest?

    Dumbing down America’s public schools is about as bad an idea as imaginable.

    1. vicnicholls Avatar

      Gets rid of Asian Americans that way.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        It needs to be pointed out that the “Asians” in TJ and Loudoun are not low-income. Only 2% of low-income Asians get into TJ.

        When we talk about the “best and brightest” – does that mean that kids in low-income families are shit out of luck – no matter their color or ethnicity?

        So the “best and brightest” of the high income?

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      TJ and other similar magnet schools ARE – not about average kids – but the US average kids are relatively ignorant about even basic math – the kind of math many good jobs require – while kids in 25 other countries know that math and do better economically because of it.

      It’s NOT “dumbing down” math to make changes that will improve math education to MOST kids and that narrative is disreputable and wrong.

      Why does helping one group have to be a narrative about taking away from another group when it’s really not?

      The high-income, above-average kids are not disadvantaged – they will get the things they want and making changes to improve math education for other kids is not a threat to them – except in the minds of those who want to make it a partisan thing – and you KNOW it is when they are demonizing individuals in VDOE by call them out bv name, by claiming motives that you really have no idea about, and , in general conspiracy theories about the Governor and all of VDOE aligned as “leftists”.

      You want to talk about drivel? yep.

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