Youngkin appeals to critical opponents of race theory to lead public education in Virginia
Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin named two women with backgrounds of opposition to “critical race theory” — a once-obscure college field that has become a conservative catch-all term for racial equity and diversity initiatives in public schools – to the highest positions in the Virginia Department of Education.
Jillian Balow, formerly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction for Wyoming, will fill the same position in Virginia, Youngkin announced in a press release Thursday.
Before stepping down to join Youngkin’s administration, Balow supported a Wyoming bill that would require K-12 schools to publish instructional materials lists, among other provisions. According to Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Balow endorsed the bill alongside his patrons, one of whom describes the legislation in an effort to prevent “the indoctrination found in the critical race theory curriculum that has been pushed by the far left and has found its way into some classrooms”.
The law project would alter the state’s civic education, requiring that the history of slavery and racial discrimination also include the end of slavery and “efforts to end discrimination in accordance with the founding principles of the United States”. Schools would also be required to teach that “it is wrong to be unfair to anyone or to treat anyone differently because of their race or ethnicity,” according to the wording of the bill.
balow has also publicly opposed a program proposed by President Joe Biden’s administration that would offer grants to teachers who include “diverse racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic perspectives” in history and civics. The administration included The 1619 Project from the New York Times’ – a long collection of stories and essays that focus on the long-term impacts of slavery on American society – as an example of diverse material that could be taught in schools.
“This is an alarming move toward federal overreach in the district curriculum and should be reprimanded by all parties,” Balow said. written in a statement. “The proposed rule is an attempt to normalize the teaching of controversial and politically fashionable theories about America’s history.”
Many conservative politicians and writers, among others, have adamantly opposed the 1619 Project since its publication, describing it as “agitprop” and “garbage story” according to a column in the Washington Post. The collection also has lively discussion among some historians, who have disputed parts of the draft’s accuracy.
Balow will be joined by Elizabeth Schultz, a former member of the Fairfax School Board whom Youngkin named Virginia’s deputy superintendent of public instruction. According to the release, Schultz served as principal investigator for Parents defending education, a national organization created to “reclaim our schools from activists who promote harmful agendas.” Several members of its leadership team were founding members of the Coalition for TJ, a group fight admission changes at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Prior to these changes, which included removal of standardized test requirements, about three percent of freshmen at the prestigious Northern Virginia Governor’s School were Hispanic, and less than 10 of those students were black. About 73% of incoming freshmen were of Asian descent, according to the Washington Post.
“Jillian and Elizabeth are going to be crucial in helping Education Secretary Aimee Guidera restore excellence in education,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Under my leadership, they will get to work to ensure our schools remain safely open, ban critical race theory and political agendas from our classrooms, and rebuild our crumbling schools.”
While the success of Youngkin’s campaign was heavily boosted by his promise to “ban” critical race theory in Virginia classrooms, according to some accounts, it is still unclear exactly how he is going to achieve this goal. The state superintendent is heavily involved in communicating with local school administrators, but much of state education policy is decided by the Virginia Board of Education, whose members serve four-year terms. . While the Superintendent of Public Instruction serves as secretary to the council, the superintendent is not a voting member, according to state code.
Youngkin’s first chance to replace the board will not come until June 2022, when the terms of two members expire. Three more terms will end a year later, giving him his first chance to pick a majority.
While current members have supported a range of equity efforts largely focused on educator training, Youngkin’s team cited little evidence that professional development and other informational materials have informed what Virginia students are learning. One of the “clear examples of critical race theory in Virginia” cited by the new administration included a reading list, sent by former state superintendent James Lane, who recommended the book “White Fragility” from the author Robin DiAngelo. Another was an email from a Chesterfield County principal discussing the school’s next steps to “promote a culture of inclusion.”