Amidst Controversy, WCPSS Bets STEM Futures on MVP Math
Is Wake County Public School System’s new discovery-style curriculum friend or foe to students?
Photo courtesy of Caftor/Shutterstock.com
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The answer to two plus two will always equal four, but that doesn’t mean math must always be taught the same way.
Wake County Public School System subscribes to this point of view. Following what it called a “comprehensive curriculum review process” during the 2016-17 school year, the state’s largest and — nation’s 15th largest — school system introduced changes to how Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3 would be taught by rolling out a new curriculum during the 2017-18 school year known as MVP, an acronym for what the curriculum’s creators refer to as the Mathematics Vision Project.
Based on Common Core standards and created in 2011 by administrators and teachers representing public middle and high schools in Utah, as well as a Brigham Young University associate professor, MVP made its way into WCPSS Math 1 classrooms during the 2017-18 school year. It was implemented for Math 2 and about half of the district’s Math 3 classes during the 2018-19 school year, with the original goal of phasing MVP into remaining Math 3 classes during the 2019-20 school year. (That implementation goal has since changed. More on that later.)
Adoption of MVP in WCPSS occurred three years after neighboring Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools began using it for Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3, but acceptance of the curriculum has been nothing short of contentious for many students, parents and educators in both school districts.
Carolina Parent conducted a thorough investigation of WCPSS’s adoption of MVP and, because this is an ongoing issue for Triangle families, we plan to publish a series of articles on this subject. In our first installment, we present the following sections:
Back in 2008, the economic recession impacting the U.S. resulted in what WCPSS Assistant Superintendent for Academics Drew Cook describes as “significant cuts” across school systems throughout the country. Locally, Cook says WCPSS experienced reductions in and, in some cases, elimination of funding for resources such as textbooks.*
Fast-forward to 2016. WCPSS recognized, “that we were long overdue for and needed additional resources,” Cook says. “So to verify that we actually conducted an external curriculum audit for K-12 across content areas, including mathematics.”
The audit revealed what WCPSS already knew, according to Cook: “The vast majority of the curriculum materials and resources that our classroom teachers were using were not aligned to the North Carolina state standards,” he says. “At the time of the adoption of MVP, it had been nearly a decade, if not more, since the last time there was a district-wide adoption of high school math curriculum.”
There was also wide variation across — even within — WCPSS schools regarding the resources students had access to.
“It was not because teachers weren’t making an effort. Primarily, because of the lack of district- and state-provided resources for so many years, teachers were having to create, develop and implement their own curriculum,” he says. “It’s not as if there was no curriculum. I think the fair statement is, there were lots of curriculums. ... The district was doing the best it could during those times when resources were fiscally and otherwise not available to provide resources that teachers in schools could draw from.”
Michelle Tucker, director of K-12 mathematics for WCPSS, says MVP math provides these resources while also offering consistency and accessibility to students across the district.
“I think the important thing for us in looking at how large our school system is, and looking at the consistency with which we want to provide students a quality math education, was ensuring that all students have access to a rigorous curriculum, and that that weight did not fall on the shoulders of a teacher. We ensured that students were going to have a viable curriculum that aligned to the North Carolina state standards, which, over the course of this time, were also changing and adapting,” she says.
Janet Sutorius, co-founder of MVP, says WCPSS reached out to MVP creators as part of the procurement process after hearing that the curriculum reflected current research regarding the teaching and learning of mathematics, and that it had been successfully implemented in other districts located throughout the U.S. Michael Yarbrough, senior administrator for communications at WCPSS, says this communication occurred in 2017.
“They felt that our curriculum was well suited for the county’s high academic standards,” Sutorius says.
She and her colleagues were aware of WCPSS teachers using a variety of what she describes as “disconnected” resources to teach math. “Prior to the adoption of MVP math, Wake County schools had no cohesive high school mathematics curriculum,” she says.
*Carolina Parent has obtained public record documents showing that there was funding from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction allotted for textbooks for WCPSS in 2008-09 and every school year since then, although the amounts budgeted for this vary from year to year. We will follow up with NCDPI and WCPSS for more information about this for inclusion in part 2 of this series.
MVP markets its curriculum as “nontraditional” because, founders say, instead of offering lectures and requiring students to memorize math facts and practice math procedures, teachers act as facilitators while students do group work.
Sutorius describes the curriculum as “a cohesive and rigorous program that incorporates the eight guiding principles that are necessary for effective mathematics teaching and learning, as defined by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.”
Each MVP curriculum includes an “intentional lesson design” that “gives students ownership of their learning, and connects math to real-world contexts,” Sutorius says. “But it is the teachers’ responsibility to move students collectively toward, and hold them accountable for, the development of the significant mathematics in each lesson.”
Sutorious says MVP works as a “single, cohesive curriculum aligned with high academic standards” that “allows for better differentiation of instruction for students” and gives teachers “time to focus on instruction and coordinate more effectively with the other mathematics teachers in their school.”
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau, there were 14,000 school districts in the U.S. in 2010. Sutorius reports that the number of districts using MVP across the country is “at least 50” and that “this number is growing.”
“Districts are finding that MVP math is rigorous and aligned with high standards,” she says. ”It also reflects the effective math teaching practices described by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.”
Photo courtesy of Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock.com
In a digital flyer, WCPSS defines MVP math as “an open-source high school mathematics curriculum written by and for teachers,” and states that it was “created to address the future needs of students competing in a global community.”
WCPSS offers the following description for how MVP lessons are taught:
“In the MVP classroom, the teacher launches a deep mathematical task and then allows students time to work with a partner or small group on solving a task. The teacher circulates among students and encourages them to explore, question, consider, discuss their ideas and listen to the ideas of their classmates. Then the teacher brings the whole class back together to discuss different solution pathways and the mathematics involved.”
Tucker says because MVP aligns with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics guiding principles, WCPSS is seeing expected teaching practices and student interactions with the curriculum across the district.
“It’s exciting to see this passion that exists now with both teachers and students as they engage with these mathematics and we see these practices come to life,” Tucker says. “All of that is evidence within that MVP curriculum.”
MVP publishes materials free of cost under a Creative Commons license. However, ancillary curriculum support and professional development products created by MVP are available for purchase. As of Sept. 20, 2019, WCPSS had spent approximately $1.7 million on purchases from MVP, according to Yarbrough. This figure does not include the $125,000 approved by the WCPSS Board of Education to cover a third-party independent evaluation by MGT Consulting Group, which is headquartered in Tampa, Florida, as stated in the board’s Aug. 6, 2019, minutes. (Look for more information about this third-party evaluation later in this feature.)
Expenses related to MVP purchases range from printing single-use workbooks to correcting typographical errors and content gaps in the curriculum materials, to professional development costs for teachers to teach the way MVP recommends.
Sutorius confirms WCPSS’s interest in purchasing professional development training. “Wake County has made every effort to provide each math teacher who is assigned an MVP course with professional development,” she says. “The teachers I visited with were very interested in the curriculum, but were also clear about their need for professional development during implementation. The administrators who were attending the sessions promised the teachers that they would receive professional development.”
It’s important to note that MVP can benefit financially from this scenario. In a YouTube video published on May 31, 2013, Travis Lemon, another MVP founder, says: "We kind of planned that, OK, if we create these materials and we help people see the value of how this can play out in classrooms, we might actually make money on the professional development."