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?
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."
The semester before WCPSS adopted MVP, Athens Drive Magnet High School Math 1 and Math 3 teacher Scott Maxwell “fell in love” with the curriculum.
“MVP allows students to connect math concepts with real-world application problems,” he says, and offers a recent classroom example.
“My students had to construct and defend when it is best to buy a used car over a new car. They had to use exponential models to defend their thoughts,” explains Maxwell, who has taught math for more than 15 years. “At one point a student said, ‘I can set up the equation, but I’m not sure how to solve it.’ So that’s when I stepped in and discussed ways to solve the equation … “I believe the approach helps the student detect what they need to know and then seek out the answer. This helps them be more invested in the topic.”
John Pritchett, also a Math 1 and Math 3 teacher at Athens Drive Magnet High School, says he has been waiting for a curriculum like this since he began teaching.
“The inquiry-based approach is something I have wanted to have for many years,” says Pritchett, who is in his 31st year of teaching math in North Carolina alone. “In my early teaching career, classroom practice often looked like demonstrating a technique, then asking students to replicate the process. I had been aware that I had students who could get correct answers, but did not necessarily understand the work they were doing. This limited their opportunity to apply the thinking or math concept to other contexts.”
Now, Pritchett says, students are “doing” math: “exploring, trying an approach, making mistakes, analyzing their motives for taking steps and expressing curiosity about the bigger picture,” he says. “In classroom lessons, students are encouraged to discover logical reasoning for their strategies and, by design, student thinking is not only acknowledged, but celebrated.”
Maxwell disputes critics’ claims that MVP is a “new” type of math as well as the idea that students taking it have to “teach themselves.”
“Many critics like to say, ‘I can't help my child because I didn't learn MVP math.’ The math itself has not changed in any way,” he says. “Many people don’t understand that MVP is a style of teaching, a new approach to learning the same math we’ve always been teaching.”
Photo courtesy of Forrestbadger/Shutterstock.com
Pritchett recognizes that implementation of MVP has required students to make a “significant adjustment” to their role in the classroom.
“In traditional instruction, students could be successful being somewhat of a receptacle for the content,” he says. “In an inquiry-based instructional model, students actively construct their own knowledge with facilitation by the instructor. Students who have made this adjustment have been very successful in developing their mathematical reasoning, and their ability to analyze and apply.”
Not all educators agree with Maxwell and Pritchett. Cliff Chafin, who has a doctorate in physics from North Carolina State University, began tutoring Triangle-area students in the late 1990s. He founded Chapel Hill Math Tutor in 2013 because, he says, throughout this region there is a “bumper crop of extraordinarily gifted kids that the schools can’t help at all.”
So he helps them. But curriculum changes in Triangle school systems have impacted why and how students need his help.
“When I was tutoring a kid at Chapel Hill High in the ’90s, they had the best materials I had ever seen. I’ve never seen such good high school math. It was so well written and so clear and so challenging, I was learning things from this math book,” he says. “Now that’s all gone. Now it is this very strange collection of photocopied handouts from Math Visions Project.”
Chafin tutors a number of students enrolled in CHCCS and WCPSS MVP math classes. He describes MVP’s materials as offering no “big picture” as to what students are learning. But he doesn’t blame MVP entirely for the unpopularity of its curriculum.
“It seems like the course is set up so you can take people who are not really math teachers — don’t really know the material — and they can do handouts and they don’t have to actually teach this stuff,” he says.
In fact, Chafin has tutored several teachers who currently teach MVP math and have told him they don’t understand what they’ve been asked to teach.
“I’ve had teachers come to me and pay me, and I’ll sometimes try to give them a discounted rate because they’re paying me to teach them what their materials are and why they’re like this,” he says. “They paid out of their own pockets to do a good job for their students. They should not have to be coughing up their own money to hire a private contractor.”
Chafin believes good math teachers must have a depth of knowledge that gives them the advantage of understanding each student’s challenges and capabilities.
“You need to be way beyond the level of the class,” he says. “You have to be able to do things on the fly and see how people do things differently and be able to relay them back. You need to be pretty fluent in math to be teaching math, and I think a lot of these teachers are really intimidated because they weren’t given that training. … I feel sympathy for them because they don’t even have the opportunity to kind of develop themselves in their subject.”
A teacher in the area who wishes to remain anonymous but who taught math before and after MVP, says she was disappointed with MVP’s teacher training.
“During training we actually had an author of the curriculum model how to teach this curriculum. We came in and sat in groups, just like our students would do,” she says. “One of the authors started going through an activity with us and, midway through the activity, she realized that she was doing it wrong with us. She even acknowledged that it was kind of hard to understand. Imagine the frustration of 50 math teachers in one room who saw firsthand that all of us, including the instructor, had trouble with the problem because it was so poorly written.”
This teacher says she chalked it up to an isolated incident until she thoroughly examined the curriculum.
“A typo on a procedural fluency problem is one thing, but having lessons/activities that are so wordy and confusing is a huge setback for students who need the material to perform well on tests and EOCs,” she says.
Both Chafin and Maxwell also agree that the curriculum is a bit on the wordy side.
“It’s a lot of words and math shouldn’t have words,” Maxwell says. “Change is never easy and the students who I have taught grew up in a more traditional setting. Many students just want to know the answer and move on. They dread the words, ‘show your thinking,’ which is used often throughout the course.”
Pritchett says MVP training went well for him.
“This training is more thorough than any I have received for any other curriculum resource product in all my experience,” he says. “We have received not only ‘how-to’ instruction for implementing the materials with fidelity, but have been given insight into pedagogical thinking behind the development of the materials. This has helped me to implement the materials confidently and effectively.”
Homework presents another set of challenges for some educators. Chafin says his students only bring home “completion graded” homework — through which they earn points for simply doing the homework — so he is unable to identify specific areas in which they’re struggling.
“From sixth grade through twelfth grade, I can’t find any kid in the public schools with any graded homework,” he says. “Then the test comes around for the module and the teachers move on to some new material, which is often completely disconnected from the previous module, so the students don’t get a lot of reinforcement.”
The aforementioned teacher who wishes to remain anonymous says she was trained to offer homework that contained a portion devoted to “spiraled practice,” which requires students to review what they may have learned several units ago.
“I would take it one step further and hope that in future revisions of MVP, if it must be kept, they step up to interleaved practiced,” she says. “Interleaved practice is shown to increase retention.”
The spiraled practice homework is comprised of three parts, she says: “Ready,” “Set” and “Go.” “Ready” typically consists of review practice problems.
“The ‘Set’ and ‘Go’ are usually applying what was supposed to be learned/discovered in class that day,” she says. “In my experience the 'Set' and 'Go' consistently required knowledge that was not adequately ‘discovered’ in the lesson. This is detrimental because students will struggle with the RSG [Ready/Set/Go] through no fault of their own. The way I got students around this hurdle was to go through the RSG and do at least two problems from every single section.”
— Scott Maxwell, a Math 1 and Math 3 teacher
at Athens Drive Magnet High School
Even strong math students struggled with this discovery-style approach to learning.
“I have had high performing students come to me crying because they are so frustrated with trying to discover a concept with their peers for an hour that could be taught in half the time, and the other half practicing,” she says. “The anecdote I fall back on is, did Michael Jordan become the greatest NBA player by talking about basketball with his friends? Do football players get stronger by spending more time talking about weightlifting concepts and techniques, or from actually lifting heavy weight? Wake has sacrificed essential procedural fluency for discovery.”
Pritchett believes the reason some students struggle with MVP math is because they haven’t figured out how to become an “active learner.”
“I have had to include in my instruction specific tips on note-taking and collaboration strategies to enhance their own chances of learning with depth,” he says. “The materials also have an inherent need for students to engage in the group discussion in class. With a traditional textbook approach, a student could be disconnected from the in-class experience and still be able to catch up later on their own. While a student in this mode could acquire some of the skills in the lesson, often the depth of understanding was lost or deficient.”
Tucker says WCPSS recognizes that some teachers are still adjusting to using MVP.
“It is a shift for many of our traditional high school mathematics teachers to learn a different way to experience and teach mathematics. So recognizing where we are in the implementation process, I think we also recognize the varied opinions that we have in the district,” she ways. “We’re making every effort to make sure that we’re listening to our teachers, we’re gathering their feedback and we’re responding in ways to support them, whether that’s through the creation of additional resources or providing them with additional professional learning opportunities, so that they become more flexible and comfortable with the MVP curriculum.”
Maxwell puts much of the onus on teachers.
“Many of my peers would agree with me when I say that if a teacher is doing their job correctly, a good MVP lesson is exhausting,” he says. “If a teacher is not constantly roaming the room listening for new methods or key points, then they aren’t doing their job. That’s a teacher problem, not an MVP problem.”
He feels hopeful about the curriculum and is happy with what he is accomplishing in his classroom.
“I am thrilled to see my kids have to think outside the box more,” he says. “Math used to be so prescribed. Warm up, notes, practice, repeat. Now it’s teams coming together to build a poster defending a claim. It’s having three students share how they got solutions. I’ve actually learned more myself over the past three years than I ever thought was possible because I get the kids to see how they are viewing the problem.”
Sydney and Kendall are sophomores enrolled in MVP Math 3 Honors at the same WCPSS high school. Sydney likes the curriculum because she enjoys solving problems in a collaborative setting. She says MVP works for her because she has an “experienced” teacher who is supportive when she asks for help.
Kendall is in a different Math 3 Honors class at the same school, and says her teacher is also very experienced and knowledgeable. Kendall achieves more success with math via teacher-directed lessons, so MVP’s discovery-style group learning isn’t working for her. “I need the teacher to teach me how to solve the problem first, then I feel like I can try it on my own,” she says.
Hajnalka Kieman’s son, an Apex High School sophomore, has maintained A’s throughout MVP math, but his grades aren’t the problem.
“My son had a dream of going to MIT to become an engineer. He loved math, with its logical, straight-forward nature,” Kieman says. “Then came MVP with its discovery-based curriculum and emphasis on group discussion and group tests. This type of learning is agonizing for him as an introvert. After two years of MVP at Apex Middle and Apex High, he hates math and has completely changed his career goals. MVP beat the passion for math right out of him.”
Tucker says while MVP is “definitely the primary curriculum,” WCPSS teachers can and should reach out to students who benefit from a more direct approach to math instruction.
“The first priority for any teacher is the focus on their students and the students understanding. Yes, MVP should be the primary core curriculum that teachers use, but there’s an art and craft to teaching that a curriculum cannot define,” she says.
Tucker emphasizes that it’s important that teachers know when to slow down, to ensure all students are understanding the material.
“There are times when students may be engaged in conversation with groups, but my role as a teacher, then, would be to make sure that those students are grasping the mathematical content that needs to be grasped, so that I can push pause in a classroom to provide some direct instruction, so that I can supplement when the students’ needs are determining that that level of intervention is needed,” she says.
Cook, a former teacher and principal, says the district has encouraged a flexible teaching approach since MVP was implemented.
“From the beginning we have communicated to our teachers that this is the core curriculum, and certainly they can and need to supplement where appropriate, and every teacher individually has to make that determination,” he says. “Based on the feedback and based on the conversation we’re having right now, we have worked hard to reinforce that message.”
Part of that supplementation includes a website that teachers, students and parents can access, as well as additional professional training opportunities.
“They [WCPSS] have also made the student and teacher supports available through Canvas,” Sutorius says. “The homework support videos are free to all MVP students in Wake County.”
Photo courtesy of Monkey Business/Shutterstock.com
Carrie Bley’s son is a freshman at Holly Springs High School who attended Holly Grove Middle School. She believes Holly Grove Middle School began tweaking its math curriculum during her son’s sixth grade year to mimic what would soon be taught within MVP. In 2017-18, during her son's seventh grade year, the school piloted Open Up Resources — a curriculum nonprofit that later announced a partnership with MVP (in March 2019). He took Math 1 in eighth grade, the second year MVP was taught at Holly Grove Middle School, and averaged a 60% grade all year in the class. Bley says her son is repeating Math 1 in ninth grade.
“This was our personal decision to retake the course,” she says. “The teacher’s recommendation was to continue on to Math 2 — or take the NC Math 1 course as an elective.”
Bley says she gave WCPSS the benefit of the doubt, at first.
“Like most parents, understanding the gravity of just how detrimental these math programs were to my child took time. Too much time,” she says. “I was raised by a teacher — I’m wired to believe the educator first, my child’s narrative second. I do not want other parents to make the same lapse in judgment that we did.”
Bley says she and other parents at the school had no idea their children were having so much trouble completing homework and having to retake tests and quizzes “over and over again.”
“We did not realize that our children had absolutely no organized math resource material to learn from — none,” she says. “We did not know teachers were being asked to do the impossible, with such incomplete resources. … We sought help in understanding why our child was doing so poorly in sixth grade math, seventh grade math, eighth grade math, failing exams and quizzes, not passing benchmarks, coming home every week upset over math. Three years later we still have no clear answers from our school system. A child's self-worth and self-confidence should not be affected this much over a math class.”
Holly Springs parent Carrie Bley attends at a WCPSS board meeting to speak out against implementation of MVP.
SCREEN SHOT COURTESY OF THE WCPSS YOUTUBE LIVE FEED
Not all parents are seeing these kinds of struggles with MVP. Maria Johnson, parent of a current Apex High School sophomore, says MVP can work if teachers are experienced, and if students plan ahead and put out the effort to collaborate in the group-work style MVP encourages.
She says the materials WCPSS provided needed to be printed at home and were “limited in scope,” but her daughter’s “seasoned teachers had supporting materials to supplement the learning.” Johnson says her daughter also observed that many students neglected to print materials ahead of class time, and were therefore not able to complete guided notes or collaborate effectively.
“From our perspective, strong students finished strong. Self-motivated, prepared students also finished strong,” she says. “Students used to being able to coast through with minimal effort were not successful in MVP, more so because if they came to class not prepared with materials for the day, they struggled to keep up. And if they couldn’t keep up with the teacher-led learning, then they could not bring anything to the table in the group.”
“I was raised by a teacher — I’m wired to believe the educator first, my child’s narrative second. I do not want other parents to make the same lapse in judgment that we did.”
— Carrie Bley, Holly Springs parent
Blain Dillard, who has bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science from North Carolina State University and Georgia Tech, respectively, is a parent of a Green Hope High School student taking MVP math. He created the Wake MVP Parent Facebook page (which, as of Nov. 3, 2019 had 2,034 members), as well as a supplementary blog and website, and says a good curriculum should be able to work for a variety of learning styles.
“I believe the style of teaching and learning in an MVP class may work well for some students and teachers, but not others,” he says, adding that, like Bley, he had his son retake an MVP math class — Math 2 — after scoring a low D in the class.
“As noted by Ms. Johnson, strong students with seasoned teachers who supplement can do well with MVP and, I would argue, most any type of math curriculum. But based on the hundreds of anecdotes I’ve read and heard from parents, that is the exception — not the rule. Not all students are strong and not all teachers are seasoned. And to make matters worse, ostensibly due to the variety of implementation training delivered to teachers, and a varying degree of enforcement of MVP rigor by WCPSS central office, not all teachers felt they could supplement. So where does that leave the average student with the average teacher who believes — rightly or wrongly — that he or she can’t supplement, or must meet some sort of complex criteria before supplementing? I think that explains the wide variety of experiences students and parents are reporting.”
Photo of the Dillard family Courtesy of photography by stephanie kay
In January 2019, Dillard created the Wake MVP Parent Facebook group to offer a platform through which parents, teachers and other citizens can share their MVP experiences. Dillard also created a blog and website. Several hundred parents in the Facebook group have written about their children’s problems with MVP, citing decreased learning, failing grades, frustration with the lack of teaching and tutoring costs for parents who can afford it. (Chafin, for example, charges $85/hour.) Overall, the sentiment expressed by parents in this Facebook group is that MVP might offer some useful tasks for students, but it should not be used as the primary or stand-alone math curriculum resource for Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3.
Since March 2019, critics unhappy with MVP have responded by filing formal complaints about the curriculum, writing emails to school system leaders, organizing student walkouts, protesting outside WCPSS headquarters, making speeches at board meetings, researching performance data produced by other school districts that implemented MVP, and posting statements on social media opposing the program and the school district’s response to their formal complaints.
Cary parent Blain Dillard addresses the WCPSS Board of Education regarding his concerns about MVP math.
screen shot courtesy of the WCPSS Youtube Live feed
These formal complaints, which alleged 10 policy violations and asked for removal of the controversial curriculum, were filed by 16 parents — eight at Green Hope High School, two at Athens Drive Magnet High School and one each at Apex Friendship High School, Middle Creek High School, Sanderson High School, Wake Forest High School, Holly Grove Middle School and West Lake Middle School.
In response to the formal complaints, the WCPSS Board of Education reviewed MVP between May 7 and June 7, 2019, and found there had been no violation of policy and that the school system would therefore not drop MVP, but would make changes to it based on parent feedback.
Changes the board agreed to make included:
- Bringing in a third party to independently evaluate the implementation of MVP in the district.
- Creating a “robust” webpage on each school’s website to support students with homework.
- Delaying district-wide implementation of MVP in Math 3 so it would be optional for schools during the 2019-20 school year.
- Developing more curriculum resources, such as video support featuring examples and models of lessons.
- Examining and, as needed, editing MVP materials for any alignment, typographical and grammatical errors.
- Providing additional training for teachers to help them support students and implement MVP lessons.
Dillard believes these changes — specifically the website and additional curriculum resources — are consequences of the school system’s need to “fill gaps not met in the classroom during school time.” Based on public record emails to members of the Wake MVP Parent Facebook group, the need to pay for teacher training and remediation has been among the largest expenses related to implementation of MVP.
Green Hope High School parent Karen Carter appealed the WCPSS Board of Education’s curriculum review decision on July 8, 2019, citing the makeup of the review committee, which consisted of committee members who had previously backed the curriculum. During its meeting on Aug. 6, 2019, the board voted to uphold the curriculum for the 2019-20 school year, and found that there were no violations of laws, rules or policies.
The board responded to Carter’s appeal in a letter dated Aug. 7. 2019, in which WCPSS denied Carter’s appeal of the MVP review. WCPSS Board of Education Chair Jim Martin stated the following in his letter to Carter regarding the board’s unanimous approval of this decision:
“With respect to the complaint pertaining to the makeup of the review committee, the Board finds that these concerns do not violate any law, rule or policy. The review of this instructional complaint was appropriately assigned to the Chief Academic Office. The process used by the Superintendent to review the Chief Academic Officer’s decision was discretionary. While any number of methods could have been applied to form the committee, the Board finds that staff reasonably constructed a review committee to evaluate the breadth of concerns raised in the original complaint.”
In response to parent complaints, WCPSS has been approved to spend up to $125,000 to hire the aforementioned third party vendor, MGT Consulting Group, to initiate a comprehensive evaluation of MVP and its implementation across the school district. Tucker says WCPSS is in “active communication” with MGT Consulting and that WCPSS hopes to be able to provide the results and outcomes of this evaluation to the WCPSS Board of Education sometime in December 2019.
Dillard says that while he “hates to see the county spend the money,” he is hopeful the independent review will not be a “repeat of the rose-colored glasses review” done by WCPSS in response to parent complaints.
“I and other parents would be happy to cooperate with MGT by providing them any of the research, data or thousands of comments collected from parents this year in order to help give them a balanced perspective for their review,” he says. “If they choose to dismiss our point of view out of hand, then the review will be met with more skepticism, and the money spent will have been wasted.”
According to parentrights.net, a website created by friends and supporters of Dillard, and confirmed by Dillard and his attorney, Jeffrey Hunt, of the firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, Mathematics Vision Project filed a lawsuit against Dillard on July 25, 2019, accusing him of false and defamatory statements that may have damaged the company’s business with Guilford County. Filed in the Utah Fourth Judicial District Court as Case number 190401221, the lawsuit cites comments Dillard made in his Wake MVP Parent Facebook group, on his blog at wakemvp.blogspot.com, on his website at wakemvp.com and at Wake County School Board meetings.
“The lawsuit is an attempt to bully and intimidate me and other parents to stop advocating for our children in the public education forum, which is protected by the First Amendment,” Dillard says, adding that he can “refute each and every allegation made in the lawsuit” and he “invites the public to review the information for themselves.”
In a statement, Hunt said: “It is alarming that a parent would be sued for defamation for expressing opinions and making truthful statements about his son’s high school math curriculum. The lawsuit appears to be an attempt to silence Mr. Dillard and other critics of MVP, and to chill their First Amendment rights to speak about MVP’s services. We believe the lawsuit has no legal merit and we intend to vigorously defend the right of Mr. Dillard, as well as other parents, to have a voice in the education of their children.”
On Sept. 9, 2019, Dillard filed a countersuit stating that MVP’s defamation lawsuit over his opposition to WCPSS’s use of MVP is an attempt to seek retribution and “chill” his free speech rights.
Parentrights.net contains information about the lawsuit, including documents publicly available from the court in Utah in both original and website-friendly formats, with links to Dillard’s comments referenced in the lawsuit. A GoFundMe account has also been created to raise money for Dillard’s defense. The lawsuit has garnered international attention with Education Week covering the story as recently as Sept. 10, 2019, and education bloggers in Australia and Canada picking up the story and writing dedicated articles about the case.
Mathematics Vision Project declined to provide any information to Carolina Parent about “pending litigation” related to the lawsuit, but shortly after our interview with them, the company provided this statement offering clarifications about the lawsuit.
This excerpt from MVP’s statement is important to note: “Sixteen parents in Wake County – a district of 160,000 students – have shared concerns about our program with the district, as far as we understand. Only Mr. Dillard has become party to a lawsuit, because his actions crossed a line from sharing facts/opinions to fabricating and sharing falsehoods.”
As stated earlier in this story, the 16 parents MVP refers to in this statement filed “formal complaints” about MVP with WCPSS. Carolina Parent also takes into account the concerns of parents who have joined the Wake MVP Parent Facebook group. Statistics from the past 60 days prior to Sept. 23, 2019, for Wake MVP Parent Facebook group shows that it consists of 1,582 Wake County-based members from the following cities (listed in order of cities having the highest number of members): Cary, Raleigh, Apex, Wake Forest, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, Morrisville, Durham, Rolesville and Willow Springs. There have been 312 posts to the group in those 60 days, which have garnered 4,321 comments.
UPDATE: Dillard and his attorney, Jeffrey Hunt of Parr, Brown Gee and Loveless, issued the following statement Oct. 28, 2019:
Mathematics Vision Project (“MVP”) and Blain Dillard today announced dismissal of the litigation between them. The parties have agreed that MVP will dismiss its Complaint against Mr. Dillard and Mr. Dillard will dismiss his Counterclaim against MVP. The lawsuit was pending in the Fourth Judicial District Court in Utah. Resolution of the parties’ dispute involves no restriction or limitation on the ability of either MVP or Mr. Dillard to speak and comment publicly about math curricula and other issues of public concern to the educational community.
Above photo courtesy of Blain Dillard
Cook says WCPSS has no plans to discontinue use of MVP. He expects schools that have already implemented Math 3 to continue using it, but if a school’s administration expresses a desire to withdraw from using it, WCPSS “would approach that on an individual school basis and just work with the school to take a look at what the needs are and make a determination accordingly.”
According to WCPSS’s appeal response to the formal complaints filed by the aforementioned 16 parents, all schools within the district that optionally adopted MVP for Math 3 last year must stick with it, except for Green Hope High School, which was granted an exception by WCPSS that has allowed them to discontinue implementation of Math 3 for the 2019-20 school year.
“The exception for Green Hope is that they made the decision, in part because of the scrutiny and the focus that was placed on their school and their teachers, to pull back a little bit for the ’19-20 school year, to really focus on Math 1 and Math 2, to build teacher capacity,” Cook says. “There’s also a transition in leadership at Green Hope, so we felt like that was important to listen, essentially, to what their needs were as a staff in moving forward, and so we felt like it was appropriate to allow Green Hope the discretion, given the circumstances that were pretty unique there, to make that determination on their own.”
For the 2019-20 school year, Cook says implementation of MVP for Math 3 will remain optional for WCPSS schools, but his long-range view is that it will eventually become the primary curriculum, just as it has for Math 1 and Math 2.
Like WCPSS, CHCCS will stick with MVP for now as well. CHCCS Executive Director of Community Relations Jeff Nash says he has “not heard any discussions that we are going to discontinue using MVP for our math curriculum.”
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction reports the grade eight end-of-grade (EOG) score as a blend of eighth-grade EOG and eighth-grade Math 1 end-of-course (EOC) test takers. Additionally, NCDPI reports Math 1 EOC scores of all high school students who took Math 1, but excludes middle schoolers, who took it, while WCPSS calculates a blended Math 1 number that includes the middle school Math 1 test takers and the 9-12th grade Math 1 test takers. Since these different reporting approaches result in two different sets of data for Math 1, Carolina Parent will take a more in-depth look at scores and report later in this series.
Carolina Parent welcomes your comments and feedback. If you have information you’d like to share about MVP for this series, please email Editor Beth Shugg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beth Shugg is the editor of Carolina Parent. She is married to a computer engineer and has three children: a 22-year-old son who obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics from North Carolina State University and now works as a data scientist, a 20-year-old son who is majoring in computer science at Virginia Tech, and an 18-year-old daughter who is a senior at Apex High School and plans to major in computational modeling and data analysis. All three of her children attend/attended WCPSS schools; none of them were impacted by MVP math.
Here are additional resources for information about MVP and issues relating to its implementation in WCPSS.
Visit wakemvp.com for:
- Tutor info
- News coverage
- Public records
- School board information and speeches
- Links to resources
- Access to the Wake MVP Facebook group
- Email contacts
- Research for and against MVP
- Wake MVP Parent GoFundMe
- Data and analysis
Parentrights.net (for information about the MVP lawsuit)
This article was updated Nov. 3, 2019.