The programs that Balow canceled or are working to cancel were established under Youngkin’s Democratic predecessor, Ralph Northam. They include a framework called “EdEquityVA” that aimed to eliminate racial and socioeconomic disparities in student academic and disciplinary outcomes. They also include a website devoted to “culturally responsive” teaching and a memo that former state superintendent James Lane released in 2019 urging teachers to “facilitate meaningful dialogue about racism and racism.” sectarianism”. Nixed is also a webinar series called “Teaching 9/11”.
Balow wrote in the letter that his cancellations of the programs are just the first step in a complete overhaul of how the state’s Department of Education works.
“Discriminatory and divisive concepts…have permeated the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and school divisions across Virginia,” she wrote. “We will need to proactively review state policies, practices and pedagogies.”
Youngkin said in a statement Friday that while much work remains to be done, he is “encouraged” by Balow’s preliminary actions.
“Our Virginia students should not be taught to discriminate on the basis of gender, skin color or religion and VDOE policies certainly should not recommend such concepts,” he said. declared.
Education became a primary focus for Youngkin in the final weeks of his campaign, reflecting a burgeoning national debate over how and what schools should teach about race, racism and American history. The right has found a politically powerful rallying cry in the push to ban critical race theory, a college-level theory that analyzes how systemic racism shapes American society — but which conservatives use as a catch-all encompassing a wide variety of school programs designed to foster diversity, equity and inclusion.
Balow’s actions on Friday are no surprise: she is directly following Youngkin’s requests as set forth in his Executive Order Number One. In it, he specifically asked her to end or scale back several of the programs she canceled, including the EdEquityVA program and the Virginia Math Pathways Initiative. The latter program proposed to revamp eighth, ninth and tenth grade math lessons and increase students’ exposure to data analysis, but it drew strong criticism from some who claimed that it would eliminate advanced math courses in high school.
The EdEquityVA program was embraced by the Northam administration as a way to close the well-documented racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps among students, as well as increase teachers’ knowledge of students’ different cultures. It included annual conferences, monthly webinars, a monthly newsletter, an African-American Superintendent’s Advisory Council, and an “equity audit tool” meant to help school districts adopt their own equity initiatives.
In her letter to the governor, Balow wrote that “many resources within EdEquityVA use the concept that current discrimination is necessary to address past discrimination” — a reference, she wrote, to proposals according to which teachers handle interactions with students differently based on their skin color and background.
She also criticized the EdEquityVA initiative for posting suggested reading lists that included works by prominent black authors Ibram X. Kendi and Gloria Ladson-Billings, who, according to Balow, “are critical race theorists who have moved”. [critical race theory] in education.
Overall, she wrote, EdEquityVA “moves the school culture from excellence and opportunity to equitable outcomes for all students.”
Balow blasted the Northam administration’s “culturally sensitive website” for similar reasons. The website offered books, videos, webinars and podcasts that educators could browse to learn how to “view cultural differences as strengths” and “validate inequalities that affect students’ lives.”
But Balow wrote that the website pushes ‘dividing concepts’, forces teachers to treat their students differently based on race and erroneously establishes ‘equity of outcome’, rather than ‘equity of opportunity’. , as a preeminent pedagogical objective.
Shortly after Youngkin issued the first executive order, several Virginia parent-teacher associations—including the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia Parent Teacher Association—signed a statement denouncing the order and calling on Youngkin to to cancel.
“Acknowledging the difficult times in our country’s past is not, in and of itself, divisive,” they wrote. “Restricting age-appropriate and factually accurate discussions led by well-trained teachers is divisive.”
On Friday, the national education association called Balow’s decision to cancel the teaching materials a pure political maneuver.
“VEA is frankly outraged and appalled by Governor Youngkin’s actions to take a job rooted in educational excellence and toss it to the wayside for blatantly political motives,” said VEA President James J. Fedderman. .
Fedderman said Balow’s actions undermine the work of already understaffed and burnt-out teachers by implying that they are working to indoctrinate students.
However, other education advocacy groups were celebrating, including Fight For Schools, an activist parent organization in Loudoun County founded by former Trump administration official Ian Prior. Fight For Schools has played a leading role in the conservative battle against critical race theory and is leading a campaign to recall school board members from Loudoun.
Prior said in a statement Friday that Balow’s actions mark “an excellent step in…returning Virginia’s education system to one that increases opportunity for all students, without eliminating meritocracy and competition.”