Our View: Education vs. ideology

Our View: Education vs. ideology
More than half of our students are not proficient in math or science according to SOL scores. (Photo/ACPS)

Two stories in the Alexandria Times in the last two weeks highlight the shift of our school district from emphasizing education to pushing ideology – and the dismal results this shift is producing. Any decision that doesn’t ask the question: “Will this decision help students learn better?” is ideologically focused rather than education based.

Last week’s story “School Board ponders grading changes” revealed that a consultant hired by ACPS is proposing, among other things, that penalties be removed for students who don’t complete homework – which would effectively make homework optional. The proposal was tabled after being roundly criticized, including by a student School Board representative, but School Board Chair Meagan Alderton made it clear that she supports ultimate passage.

It’s difficult to know which statements were most troubling from this meeting. Was it Alderton’s assertion that ACPS teachers “are pawns of the institutions that gave us our education”? Yes, we’re all influenced by the environment in which we are raised and educated. But labeling teachers as “pawns” is a step too far, as it implies that educators are not capable of thinking for themselves, or of sifting the wheat from the chaff.

The most shocking revelation was that ACPS teachers were not involved in developing the homework proposal. Our School Board was asked to pass a radical departure from the way ACPS educators currently teach – four days into the school year – without giving them input into the proposal.

That outgoing Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D., at his last School Board meeting voiced support for an ideologically rooted proposal from an outside consultant that teachers had no say in developing speaks volumes about his priorities during his tenure at ACPS.

While all manner of changes are being made in the name of “equity,” it’s amazing what hasn’t been done. From our perspective, equity in education should mean making decisions that are geared toward raising all students up.

Was it equitable that ACPS remained closed to large-scale, in-person learning much longer than other school districts in Virginia, including longer than all of our Northern Virginia counterparts, during the COVID-19 pandemic? Particularly when test results fairly quickly showed that minority students, English-language learners and students with disabilities – in short, the very groups that equity is supposed to help – were faring worst with remote learning? The achievement gap widened during COVID-19. There’s a straight line from this fact to decisions made by Hutchings and the School Board.

This week’s front-page story “Alexandria SOL scores lag behind state” on 2021-2022 school year Standards of Learning data further reveals the extent to which ACPS trails the rest of Virginia in educating our students. It’s simply unacceptable that more than half of our students are not proficient in math or science – and that ACPS lags 17 and 16 percentage points behind the average Virginia school in these categories.

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic hurt learning. But all Virginians were subject to the same pandemic. In fact, vaccination locations and medical care were much more readily available in Northern Virginia than in rural parts of the state.

When an ideological agenda is prioritized over educational attainment – and is done as blatantly as it has been at ACPS these past four years – it’s apt to wonder just who the pawns are and what the chess master is after.