Virginia Dems' 'Social Justice' Math Curriculum Reinvigorates GOP Gov Hopefuls

Dem-controlled Board of Education moves to eliminate most accelerated math offerings

Virginia Department of Education math goals / YouTube screenshot
April 27, 2021

A Democratic plan to eliminate most advanced math courses in search of "equity" has reinvigorated Virginia Republicans, who are focusing on education as they work to retake the governor's mansion in November.

Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Glenn Youngkin, Kirk Cox, and Pete Snyder all condemned the proposal—which would do away with accelerated math offerings before 11th grade—in recent days. Youngkin and Cox pledged to fire the entire state Board of Education over the move, which Cox labeled a "left-wing takeover of public education" in a Monday statement. Snyder, meanwhile, accused "extremist" Democrats of peddling a "stupid, woke policy" that would "dumb down Virginia schools."

Democratic frontrunner Terry McAuliffe has echoed the call for equity in his education plan, which promises "equitable" schooling "for every child." The former governor touts an endorsement from Democratic governor Ralph Northam, who appointed the top Board of Education officials behind the proposal. McAuliffe did not return a request for comment and has yet to directly address the Board of Education plan. He did, however, accuse Cox of "crying 'cancel culture'" after the Republican criticized the board on Monday.

The curriculum change puts McAuliffe in a difficult position, George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government dean Mark Rozell told the Washington Free Beacon. Voters could hold the Democratic frontrunner responsible for his partymates' more controversial education policies.

"This creates a dilemma for the Democrats, because they don't want to be seen as opposing a policy that has an 'equity' focus to it. They may fear offending some of their core constituencies by coming out against it," Rozell said. "So the Republicans have a chance to really box the Democrats in on this issue, because it's hard to argue against academic excellence, especially at a time when the United States has lacked way behind in the world on STEM subjects."

The policy has already sparked protest from some school officials. Loudoun County school board member Ian Serotkin first raised concern over the "sweeping" curriculum revamp in a Tuesday Facebook post. Serotkin called the initiative to "eliminate ALL math acceleration prior to 11th grade … absolutely bananas" and claimed that school districts "have to adopt" the change in course offerings.

The Virginia Department of Education has pushed back on criticism of the plan, which would see traditional middle and high school math classes replaced with "essential concepts" courses that all students must take. Spokesman Charles Pyle told Fox News that the curriculum would still allow for variation through "differentiated instruction," suggesting that students in the same class could learn material at a different pace.

A Department of Education website touting the curriculum change encourages parents to review a statement linking math to "social justice" in an attempt to "see mathematics as a more dynamic humanistic and just endeavor."

"Mathematics teachers and leaders must also be reflective practitioners that critically examine their agency in perpetuating and dismantling institutional structures … that promote systemic inequities in mathematics education," the statement reads. "This development of political knowledge must be cultivated as part of social justice in mathematics education."

In the primary race's opening weeks, Youngkin, Cox, and Snyder campaigned heavily on reopening schools as they look to woo suburban voters in northern Virginia. But with schools across the state now offering some form of classroom instruction—and five days of in-person learning set to kick off in major school districts in the fall—Rozell argued that reopenings alone may not emerge as a "winning issue" for Republicans. Still, McAuliffe has included provisions related to virtual learning in campaign materials, even though he would not take office until 2022.

"Before the pandemic, we were concerned that our students without internet at home wouldn't be able to do their homework," a McAuliffe campaign flyer reviewed by the Free Beacon states. "Now, if students don't have broadband, they may not even be able to attend school. That's unacceptable, and it's why Terry's plan will get every student in Virginia online."