Democratic Virginia Senator Speaks Out against Equity Push to Eliminate Advanced Math Classes

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Democratic Virginia state Senator J. Chapman Petersen is one of many parents voicing concerns about a new racial equity push that would eliminate certain advanced placement classes in the state’s mathematics curriculum.

The Virginia Mathematics Pathway Initiative (VMPI) would replace the traditional mathematics progression of Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 courses with courses that teach so-called “essential” topics. Under the plan, all students would take the same courses through the tenth grade but would then be allowed to enroll in classes that correspond with their post-graduation career plans.

A major goal of the VMPI is to combat disparities in educational outcomes between racial and ethnic minorities. However, many Northern Virginia parents are mobilizing to reject the program, claiming that the new “pathway” will inhibit higher-achieving students and discourage academic exploration and performance among all kids, including the racial minorities the program is designed to help.

In a letter sent to the Virginia secretary of education, Petersen argued that the mathematics pilot program will lower education standards generally.

“Based on my own experiences — as a parent, not student – in taking advanced level mathematics from seventh grade onwards, I have some immediate concerns about the dilution of learning,” Petersen wrote in the letter, obtained by National Review.

“I would appreciate a plain explanation of the program without using socio-political jargon but rather just simply stating what subject will be taught and when,” he continued.

Michael Chamberlain, whose child attends the Fairfax County School District, told National Review that the initiative is going to limit students’ ability to access more advanced classes and will hurt their chances of being accepted into highly-ranked colleges.

Chamberlain, who originally moved his family to the area for the strong schooling, mentioned that Fairfax County has long carried a competitive advantage for college admissions because of its robust curriculum and resulting reputation. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va. was ranked the number one public high school in the nation in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2020 list.

“That could go away with all this,” Chamberlain said.

Kim Putens, parent to a high schooler in Fairfax County and a University of Virginia undergraduate, also fears that the new policy will make it harder for students to distinguish themselves as applicants to elite colleges within the Commonwealth, such as UVA and the College of William and Mary, which select for a rigorous mathematic course load.

Putens expressed that Virginia high schools currently allow self selection, by which students can choose to take advanced classes. She worries that the new policy will eliminate this option for students coming up through the ranks in math.

“Every kid in HS should have an opportunity to self-select and push themselves higher. The best thing Fairfax County did was self-select at the high school level,” she said.

With regards to the education equity mission, Putens believes the program will not solve the problem.

“This equity conversation is a farce. The most inequitable thing you can do is keep kids out of school and opportunities for advancement,” Putens said.

In the interview, Putens urged Virginia to examine school choice as a way to increase equity in the education system.

“They want to be more equitable? School choice needs to be on the table now. The District of Columbia has it. It learned from the error of its 1980s and 1990s policies that left kids in under-resourced areas disenfranchised.”

Chamberlain similarly expressed the opinion that it was wrong to achieve equity by bringing people from the top down rather than raising the bottom up.

“This whole year has been surreal. We’ve had to fight for a year to get our kids inside a school building. It all used to be about STEM and opening our kids to science and math. Now we want to dumb down math. None of it makes any sense,” Putens said.

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