Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative Draws Concern Over Lowering Academic Standards


A proposed Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) has Republicans concerned after Loudoun County School Board member Ian Serotkin warned about the plan on Facebook, first reported by Fox News. Serotkin wrote that there are some good things in the initiative, like enabling students to take calculus in high school. But Serotkin also warned that the VMPI would end math acceleration before 11th grade.

He added, “All 6th graders will take Foundational Concepts 6. All 7th graders will take Foundational Concepts 7. All 10th graders will take Essential Concepts 10. Only in 11th and 12th grade is there any opportunity for choice in higher math courses.

A Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) fact sheet states, “VMPI is a proposal to modernize and update Virginia’s mathematics curriculum in grades K-12 to align instruction with the essential knowledge and skills students need to succeed in the 21st century economy.”

Loudoun County schools activist Ian Prior told Fox News that the VMPI is a way to “stifle advancement for gifted students and set them back as they prepare for advanced mathematics in college. This is critical race theory in action and parents should be outraged.”

Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative Overview

According to the VMPI website, VMPI is in the beginning stages of development, with multiple public presentations scheduled, including one Tuesday, April 27 on “Essential Concepts in Grades 8-11” that will be livestreamed at 6:30 p.m.

“VMPI is in the development stage, and the changes being proposed are under discussion with a wide variety of stakeholders, including the Board of Education. No final decisions have been made at this time,” states a VDOE fact sheet. “The changes being considered as a part of VMPI will ultimately be decided upon and put into effect with the regularly scheduled 2023 update to the Virginia Mathematics Standards of Learning.”

The VDOE website states, “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.”

According the VMPI, Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 content “will be blended into a seamless progression of connected learning.”

Under the current plan, K-7 will focus on foundational concepts like numbers, estimation, measurement, probability, and statistics. Grades 8-10 will cover data analysis, mathematic modeling, functions and algebra, spatial reasoning, and probability.

Grades 11-12 allows students to mix and math modules to total two credits of advanced concepts. Data modules include data science, probability and statistics. Design modules include geometry and design and trigonometric applications. Other modules focus on advanced algebra, pre-calculus, financial modeling, and discrete mathematics for computing.

A graphic of the “math path” shows the concepts flowing into each other, culminating in careers, college, trade school, and the military.

When students engage with mathematics relevant to their programs of study – for example, a statistics course for a social science major or a quantitative reasoning course with real-world mathematics in finance or citizenship for an English major – they are more motivated and more likely to succeed,” states The Case for Mathematics Pathways, cited by the VDOE.

All mathematics content is not created equal, and with focus and relevancy in the forefront, high school students can more broadly experience the beauty of high school mathematics,” Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics President Joanie Funderburk said in a National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) press release.

“VMPI has its origin in a groundbreaking 2018 study from the [NCTM]: Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics – Initiating Critical Conversations/ Catalyzing Change spurs key stakeholders to examine the challenges in high school mathematics to ensure that all students have the mathematical experiences necessary for personal and professional success,” the VDOE site states.

Underpinnings of Math Pathways

Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Jonathan Butcher is concerned by some buzzwords in the resources cited by the VDOE.

He told The Virginia Star, “I was looking through what they cited, and they use words that I think you commonly hear these days when it comes to critical theory like ‘equitable’ and things like that, and that’s stuff that I think you need to kind of read closely to see exactly what they mean.”

Butcher explained that “critical theory” is an academic practice that describes history in terms of “oppressor” and “oppressed.” Critical Race Theory is a specific application of critial theory.

He highlighted one article that mentions privilege. “So, this is a guide for teachers to teach elementary school students, and they’re basically saying, ‘You need to recognize that you have some sort of privilege.'”

“The Virginia Math Pathways Initiative [VMPI] appears to be saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to figure out more applied ways of teaching math,’ and then it lists things like statistics and things like that, courses that students can take,” Butcher said. “However, I would just urge parents to make sure they know from school officials that’s what their equitable goal is.”

He said that as he scratched the surface, he found the articles listed as sources for the plan. “So, when I went to look at where it was coming from, that’s where I landed on this stuff about finding your own privilege and stuff like that. That is the kind of thing that is attracting the headlines about what the ‘woke’ culture is doing to K-12 curriculum.”

“If they’re making math more applicable, I guess for after school, I mean, okay. I think there’s certainly good reason to do that, right, you want to give students skills no matter whether they pursue college or the workforce,” Butcher said. “But all of this stuff about privilege and acknowledging your advantage, that is not math.”

Politicians React

After the Fox News story published, a wave of politicians publicly reacted to the VMPI.

“Virginians have had enough of the insatiable agenda to eliminate opportunities for students to excel in the quest to achieve mediocrity for all. Equity appears more and more to mean that everyone needs to be equally ill-prepared, rather than have the equality of opportunity for which we should all strive as a society. Lowering standards and expectations is never the right choice when it comes to our children’s future,” House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said.

Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Atif Qarni.

“I have reviewed a version of the program on the DOE website but am not sure I understand the purpose or what it actually does (e.g., will advanced students no longer be able to take Algebra I and II or Geometry, prior to eleventh grade?)” Petersen added, “I would appreciate a plain explanation of the program without using socio-political jargon but rather just simply stating what subjects will be taught and when.”

Virginia’s Democratic leaders are failing our kids once again. FIRST, they won’t reopen our schools, and NOW they want to place limits on what our students can achieve in the classroom,” Senator Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) said.

Kiggans is running for Virginia’s Second Congressional District seat. In her statement, she added, “Lowering standards and expectations does not set our children up for success! I have been overwhelmed with messages from Democrat and Republican friends and constituents who have had enough of the radical changes being pushed by our Virginia Department of Education under the guise of ‘equity.'”

Pete Snyder tweeted, “And @TerryMcAuliffe wants to give these lunatics EVEN MORE of your tax dollars and even more power.”

Retired teacher Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) reacted to a Fox News article about VDOE officials considering consolidation of standard and advanced studies diplomas. He tweeted, “We should be encouraging VA students to pursue their academic dreams. Instead we’re limiting them in the name of equity. We need to stand up to the radicalization of our kids’ education – their futures are on the line.

Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) responded to the same article. “Lowering the bar is not equity. Equal opportunity not equal outcomes,” she said.

On Sunday, Glenn Youngkin issued a press release calling for Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane and Deputy Superintendent Donald Fairheart to resign.

“These ridiculous proposals by the Northam Administration are not about helping students succeed, they’re about forcing a liberal political agenda on Virginia that lowers expectations and holds children back,” Youngkin said. “If Dr. Lane and his deputy have not resigned by the time I have taken office, I will fire them on the spot.”

Next Steps

The initiative is still in the development stage, and parents have the opportunity to participate in meetings and submit feedback to the Virginia Department of Education. Parents can visit the VMPI website, attend informational sessions on YouTube, including one scheduled April 27 and another for May 25, submit questions for the sessions, and email feedback on the initiative to [email protected].

The VMPI site states, “Additional opportunities for information and stakeholder feedback will be forthcoming. STAY TUNED!”

Butcher said, “It makes sense to prepare kids for whatever they’re going to face after school, right, if they go to college, or if they’re in the workplace.”

But he said it’s important to scratch the surface and examine what’s motivating the change. He said, “I think what parents should be ready to do is ask questions of their principals, their child’s teacher, school board members, about what their intentions are.”

“I would ask your child’s teacher, ask your school board, are we dumbing down math,” Butcher said. “How does this not make it less rigorous for my child?”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].

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2 Thoughts to “Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative Draws Concern Over Lowering Academic Standards”

  1. Debra arnold

    How does an A show that the student who achieved more and went beyond the class into higher levels given differentiated instruction get revealed. When applying to high school specialty centers or Governor’s school how does that A get shown as differentiated and acceleration beyond the level of the class.

  2. Fred Quinter

    I’m going to have breakfast with Glenn Youngkin today and will grill him on this issue. A little thing for delegates to the convention.