“Division superintendents disagree with your assumption that discriminatory and divisive concepts have become widespread in Virginia school divisions,” states the letter from Howard B. Kiser, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.
It faults Balow for condemning and discontinuing a slate of racial equity programs “without having involved educators in formulating that position or without having provided evidence to support that position.”
In a written statement, Balow responded that the letter “fails to reflect the good faith efforts” that she and Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera engaged in with the superintendents. “The specific requests listed in the letter are actions that the Secretary and I offered to the superintendents as a way to keep open productive channels of communication that could lead to partnership and ensure we are serving all students in Virginia.”
The superintendents were reacting to an interim report that Balow issued last month aimed at fulfilling promises Youngkin made during last year’s political campaign to end the teaching of “critical race theory,” an academic framework for studying systemic racism. The concept has never been on Virginia’s K-12 curriculum, but Youngkin tapped into grievances from conservative parents focused on the issue.
The first executive order Youngkin issued within hours of being inaugurated Jan. 15 was aimed at banning critical race theory. He later announced the establishment of a tip line for parents to tell the state about teachers or principals exposing students to materials deemed objectionable.
The Balow report, issued Feb. 23, said it found evidence of critical race theory in training and other resources in Virginia’s education system, and it suspended those programs. It also took aim at the concept of “equity,” asserting that the term means all students deserve the same outcome when they should, instead, be offered the same opportunity.
The superintendents pushed back strongly against that concept. “Your use of ‘equitable opportunities’ in lieu of ‘equitable outcomes,’ without considering those factors that impact student achievement in underserved communities, can set public education back many years,” they wrote. “Quality education in Virginia has to be more than providing opportunities and hoping for the best.”
The letter also faulted the Youngkin administration for repeatedly claiming that it is “restoring excellence” to the state’s public education system, saying it is based on an “inaccurate assessment” that schools are subpar.
“Again, by most measures, Virginia ranks near the top and surpasses most states throughout the country,” the letter says.
The superintendents call on the administration to conduct regular meetings with school division leaders and keep them in the loop on future studies and reports. And the tip line, they say, “impedes positive relationships; therefore, the tip line needs to be terminated. ”