by Dave Huber
What the heck is going on with the Virginia Department of Education?
A little over a week ago reports surfaced that the state would be doing away with advanced math classes for all grades except 11 and 12.
But then reports came out noting the state’s education chief disputed those reports, saying “absolutely acceleration is not going away in mathematics courses.”
However, it was unclear whether this “acceleration” would be done via specialized courses, or whether teachers would have cater to students’ individual needs via “differentiated instruction” in mixed-ability level (heterogeneous) classes.
The Fix was told by the Virginia DOE communications director that indeed advanced courses would be available to students prior to 11th grade.
The DOE updated its website after the controversy, assuaging the misgivings of Loudoun County board member Ian Serotkin, who had first pointed out concerns about the state’s new math “pathways.” Serotkin pointed to the previous version of the DOE site which contained materials and resources which had raised red flags.
Now, a new Fox News report from Thursday appears to muddle the DOE’s message again. Department Spokesman Charles Pyle told Fox the state “would push for differentiated instruction” — but more significantly did not deny that it would do away with pre-11th grade advanced courses.
“The Virginia Mathematics Pathway Initiative shifts to a focus on and value for deeper learning through differentiated instruction on grade level that will promote student development of critical thinking, authentic application and problem solving skills,” Pyle said.
Further, the DOE website section titled “How Can I Learn More or Provide Feedback?” still has a link to a webinar featuring Ian Shenk, identified as a member of the “essential concepts committee.” In the video, Shenk says “Let me be totally clear, we are talking about taking Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 […] and removing them from our high school mathematics program, replacing them with essential concepts for grade eight, nine and 10.”
Note that this section of the DOE site does not include the (new) disclaimer that the “Additional Resources” section now has: “Please note that the following articles reflect broader national scholarship on mathematics education. These articles are not reflective of the views of the Virginia Department of Education.” This resources section includes links to sites which specifically call for the elimination of tracking, or grouping students by ability level.
Doing away with tracking literally means eliminating advanced (math) courses. And again, keep in mind that disclaimer was added after Serotkin expressed his misgivings about the curriculum changes.
Confused yet? If you’re a parent with children in Virginia’s public schools, keep your eyes peeled as to what your district is doing with its math courses. Find out what your school board representative thinks, and let them know what you think. Stand up against any “we know better” nonsense from district and state officials.
Remember: Your children’s teachers, administrators and DOE officials all work for you.
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Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 18 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.