Eliminating accelerated math classes in high school is just the first step on the road to an education disaster

It is really a struggle to imagine what the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has in mind by discussing the elimination of accelerated math classes in schools until 11th grade in the name of equity.   The story broke in April 2021and shortly thereafter, the VDOE leadership was backpedaling due to parent backlash.  “Absolutely, acceleration is NOT going away in mathematics courses in Virginia, if a student needs an accelerated pathway they will absolutely get it,” said Superintendent Dr. James Lane. 

So, exactly what is meant by an “accelerated pathway”?  It’s obviously not an advanced or accelerated course or classroom.   This sounds confusingly similar to the malarkey being proffered by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) recommending students find their ways on common pathways to learn Essential Concepts. 

The NCTM and VDOE initiatives lack discussion on structure, sequence, topics, courses, classrooms, and advancement and, most importantly, how the cornerstones of high school math -- algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus – will survive the restructuring. 

What is really happening is a rare reveal of liberal orthodoxy exposed in the sausage-making process.  I doubt the ideas are going away, they just won’t resurface until better disguised.  

Eliminating accelerated math courses for middle and high school students is simply a bad idea with serious consequences.  For starters, Virginia will have far fewer students accepted into engineering programs of study at U.S. colleges.  Thereafter, Virginia’s engineering universities will be faced with watering down admission requirements for its own state students.  Ultimately, Virginia students who are accepted into in-state and out-of-state engineering programs will not be able to compete with students from other states. 

Math classes are the backbone of a high school student’s body of work for those pursuing engineering.  The normal sequence of classes offered toward high school graduation is Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2/Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus. Accelerated math students can handle Algebra 1 in 8th grade, which puts them on a trajectory to take full calculus (even AP Calculus) before graduating high school.  According to PrepScholar’s article “How to Get Into College as an Engineer: 5 Key Factors”:

As an engineering applicant, the math classes you take in high school will be the most important classes on your transcript, so you want them to be strong. Take the most advanced classes at the most advanced level (honors, AP, etc.) that you can while still getting a B or (ideally) an A in the class. You'll likely take algebra I and II, geometry, and pre-calculus in high school. If possible, try to take calculus as well (especially AP Calculus) because that'll really help your application stand out.

Students applying to demanding programs such as engineering need to demonstrate throughout their high school years an aggressive and successful track record in high-level mathematics, beginning in 9th grade versus 11th grade.  Virginia’s workshopping material not only tables advanced math until 11th grade, but proposes replacing algebra and geometry-centric courses with generic, heterogeneous grade content courses labeled Essential Concepts 8, 9, and 10 followed by Advanced Concepts 11 and 12.  Proponents state that revisions are driven by the need to add more data analytics and relevant experiences into math classes.  At what cost?  If something is moving in, something is moving out.  It is very likely this is a move by the liberal education community to make room for social justice and critical race theory mathematics.

When a course is titled Algebra 1, there is a clear understanding in the mathematics community of the breadth, depth, and sequence of course topics taught.  Whereas topics covered in a course labeled Essential Concepts 9 are open to interpretation and manipulation.  Common Core curriculum changes were ushered in under the same vague umbrella of academia-speak; state education leadership emphasized that they were only developing the standards, while schools would remain in charge of course and curriculum revisions.  VDOE leadership seems to be making similar claims.  But standards create requirements from which all else follows, focuses, and is funded.  Ultimately this leads to mandates for revised textbooks, teacher certification criteria, and college entrance exams.

Parents of Virginia students should also be wary of claims stating acceleration needs will be addressed in terms of differentiation. On an idealistic level, this means one teacher can differentiate all lesson plans according to each student’s ability, needs, and learning style, thus providing an individually tailored learning experience for all.  But it doesn’t work; ask any teacher.  The Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) emphasizes that the changes will increase “pathways” for “all students to advance through the curriculum based on their learning needs.”  Sounds like differentiation.  Watchdogs of this initiative need to press for clarity. Traditional, full-scope, accelerated (and regular) algebra, geometry, and calculus courses should not be subsumed under broad, generic math class titles that are too easily watered down for nefarious purposes. 

Parents are waking up to the scam in education called critical race theory.  The dismantling of high school math courses demands the same attention.

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