Home 2021 Elections Audio: VA Sec. Education Atif Qarni, Marques Jones Push Back *Hard* on...

Audio: VA Sec. Education Atif Qarni, Marques Jones Push Back *Hard* on Lt. Gov. Nominee Winsome Sears’ Wildly False Claims About Virginia Schools

Among other things, Sears falsely claims that "84% of Black kids are failing." Qarni: "She just made up some numbers...she doesn't know what she's talking about"


In an interview posted yesterday, far-right Republican Winsome Sears, the party’s nominee for Lt. Governor, had some…er, “interesting” things to say, but fortunately was challenged hard by Marques Jones, previously a Democratic candidate for Henrico County Supervisor and for State Senate in the 12th district. I also had a chance to chat with Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, regarding Sears’ claims having to do with public schools, and to put it mildly he didn’t agree with what she had to say.  See below for Sears’ key comments, followed by the (excellent!) responses from Jones and Qarni.

  • Sears claimed that “84% of Black kids are failing 70% of Latino kids are failing.” Secretary Qarni pointed me to Virginia Department of Education statistics which finds 91.4% of Black students and 82.0% of Hispanic students graduating in the Class of 2020.  So obviously, that’s diametrically different from what Sears is claiming. Secretary Qarni added that Virginia has “one of the highest graduation rates…in the country,” and that “I don’t know what data points she’s talking about…what is she using…she just made up some numbers…she doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” and that it simply makes no sense.
  • Sears argued that because “our children are in trouble,” we need “school choice now.” Secretary Qarni called this a “very outdated argument” made by people who are hostile to public education, that it’s “gloom-and-doom” and false.
  • Sears claimed that, despite Black and Latino kids (supposedly) “failing,” we “have time to teach critical race theory.” Jones responded, “I don’t know any districts at least locally here in Henrico or central Virginia where we’ve been teaching critical race theory. I mean, is that is that going on here in Virginia?
  • Secretary Qarni explained what critical race theory is, said “there is nothing wrong with this framework,” which gets into the reasons why, historically, systemic barriers have adversely impacted African Americans in this country and put them at a disadvantage.
  • Sears’ response was “you better believe it,” but she provided no evidence, adding that “it’s not necessarily called that.” Sears added that, supposedly, in Frederick County, supposedly “they were teaching pretty much that there is white guilt and, uh, white privilege, that…white folks are racist the minute you see them.” No evidence provided, of course [and Secretary Qarni said he’d never heard of any of this, that it appear to be “completely false,” that Sears needs to cite specifically where in any school curriculum this is actually being taught, because it doesn’t exist]. To which Jones responded: “I gotta say…my marriage is an interracial marriage, my wife is white [and] I’m Black. My kids go to public school… and I have honestly never heard of any of that being discussed in class. I know that that’s a talking point that people have been talking in other places, but I’ve never seen…things like that taught here and I’ve never even heard of people teaching that in Virginia. So is that a problem, you know…is that something that needs to be solved here in Virginia? Is that actually the most important thing that we need to focus on right now here in Virginia?”  Bingo! And superb job by Jones, and a lesson to journalists in how to respond to misinformation, lies, right-wing talking points, etc.
  • Sears didn’t really respond on point to Jones, but instead went on to claim that, supposedly, “as of July 1st the only way you are going to have your new teacher licensed and your teacher license renewed is if you have that critical race theory endorsement…it’s coming to a school near you…the Democrats have ensured it must be taught and especially if you’re a history teacher, you are going to have to learn additional information”
  • Sears then asserted, without any evidence whatsoever: “We don’t have time to teach reading writing and racism we need reading writing and arithmetic our kids are failing let’s focus on that.” Jones’ response nailed it, yet again: “The reason we learn history is so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, so if we don’t learn about this country’s original sin and why some of our fellow citizens are in the predicament that they are in today…If we don’t teach the the history of what what’s happened to us…how we can we…we can put a fancy name like critical race theory on it, but I don’t know how we can get around the fact that there have been significant structural hurdles put up for Black and Brown people throughout the history of this country, and unless we teach our kids about that then how do we avoid repeating it.” Bingo!
  • Qarni: “I would encourage anyone running for public office to go and read the new Standards of Accreditation that Virginia implemented, and that was a bipartisan effort in 2018…even before Democrats took over…efforts that I worked on…with Republican leadership...focused on making sure our children are focused on the “Five Cs” – that “they are able to think critically… display their creativity…are able to communicate [effectively]… collaborate and work in teams…are good community-minded citizens.” It’s also “a transition from high-stakes testing culture… to a culture of deeper learning, project-based learning…relevant to a 21st century workforce.” Qarni added, “there was broad consensus” between Republicans and Democrats on all this.
  • Sears’ response to that was to ask, rhetorically, “Are you saying that we have never heard about slavery are you saying that we have never been taught about redlining…about Jim Crow…about the Black codes?” Secretary Qarni said that yes, these are things that kids might have heard about, but that our curriculum is incomplete, such as leaving out a lot of the positive contributions made by African Americans (and others), and also being overly focused on World War II and the Civil War, but not really getting into all the details/intricacies about what caused these conflicts. Qarni added that the way history has been taught generally has been more “linear” (e.g., this happened, then that happened) than “thematic” and more focused on the “depth” and “giving students a full perspective.” In Qarni’s view, the latter ways of teaching (thematic/depth/perspectives/providing the “fuller and rich context”) are preferable to the former (linear, glossing over things, “watered down”). “What we’re trying to do is teach the contributions of all different Americans who played a role in making America what it is…giving a fuller and richer context.” (For instance, civil rights hero Barbara Johns is barely mentioned in Virginia’s curriculum…)
  • Secretary Qarni noted that Winsome Sears is an immigrant herself, with an interesting story, and asked, “doesn’t she want kids to learn about her  [and people like her] contributions to Virginia…her story?”
  • Sears then segued into another false right-wing talking point, claiming that “we’re dumbing down the curriculum, we’re not going to be teaching accelerated math until way into what the 10th and 11th grades.” Her conclusion, again, was that we need “school choice now…let me decide what my child should be learning, where they should be going,” adding “the way that all of this is being implemented is in a reverse racism type of way, it’s not doing anybody any good,” again falsely claiming that “84 percent of Black kids are failing, 70 percent of Latino kids are failing.”
  • On Sears’ point about math, Secretary Qarni explained that we are talking about “modernizing our math curriculum” to include things like data analytics, which is much more relevant for the workforce (but is nonexistent right now in the curriculum), not eliminating calculus or delaying any accelerated math, just giving students more pathways and more choices/options. “We’re actually adding more accelerated math.” “It’s just completely false” for Sears et al to claim that Virginia is weakening math curriculum in any way. “How can you expect somebody to lead a state that doesn’t value how education works?…Education is supposed to be about facts…and true analysis, not about making up stuff.”
  • The bottom line, in Qarni’s view, is that if you’re going to “make all these outrageous claims” as Sears does, she needs to cite *evidence* backing up her untrue, inaccurate, non-factual, inflammatory claims. And she hasn’t done so.

P.S. On a related note, Secretary Qarni explained that Republicans’ claims about Virginia public schools not being fully open are false. According to Secretary Qarni, “They have nothing else to run on,” but the fact is that “schools are opening really fast,” that things are “looking really really good,” and that “every single school division in Virginia for several weeks now has been offering in-person [education],” so “if a family wants to come back, they can do that, they could have done that a couple months ago.” Also, “learning never stopped, so this ‘Open Schools Now’ thing…they really need to stop attacking our teachers and local school board members, superintendents, and so many other staff who have worked around the clock to support or kids and families.” Qarni added that some parents are still at home working and either can’t or don’t want to send their kids back to school right now. “The ‘Open Schools’ people are trying to exploit a pandemic to win elections because they have nothing else to run on. Instead of tearing down our education system, how about we work in a positive way to support our teachers, counselors, etc?”


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