Some Wake high school students walk out of class to protest new math curriculum

Some Green Hope High School students walked out of class Wednesday to protest a new math curriculum that’s been praised by Wake County school leaders but has drawn complaints from families.

At 11:18 a.m., Green Hope students walked outside to the football stadium to protest the MVP Math curriculum that’s changed the way high school math courses are taught. Organizers estimated 200 students participated but that was impossible to verify because Wake school officials barred the news media from being on the campus “to prevent further disruption of the learning environment.”

Wake allowed media on campus in February 2018 when more than 2,000 Green Hope students walked out of class after the Parkland school shooting. School officials said the difference was that only a minority of students were expected for Wednesday’s protest with most remaining in their classrooms.

Students said they needed to take a public stand on a curriculum that they say is failing them.

“My message to the Wake County Public School system is this: You have made a mistake and it’s one that has hurt your students immensely,” Caroline DeMaayer, freshmen class president at Green Hope, told the students at the protest. “However, this does not mean that you cannot fix it.

“Listen to the almost 200 students in front of me and take back the curriculum so that your students can finally succeed in the way we have for years.”

When Wake began to look in 2017 for new high school math materials, it picked the Mathematics Vision Project instead of a large textbook publisher. The Mathematics Vision Project is a nonprofit education group formed in Utah to develop materials to teach Common Core math standards.

MVP provides open educational resources, meaning the material is in the public domain or can be freely used and edited. Wake pays for student workbooks and for teachers to be trained in the new materials. Critics of MVP say Wake has spent $1.4 million on the new program.

MVP was used for the first time in Wake in the 2017-18 school year in Math 1. This school year it has expanded to Math 2. Select middle schools and high schools are piloting the Math 3 resources.

From the start, Wake said MVP would require a change in how math courses are taught. Instead of hearing a lecture and memorizing formulas, the focus has shifted to students working in groups to solve problems.

MVP referred questions about the curriculum’s use to Wake, which says it’s looking at how to help students who are having issues.

“The Mathematics Vision Project materials known as MVP math have received top marks in unbiased curriculum reviews, have been selected by numerous school districts and schools for classroom use, and have been deployed with great success in the United States and internationally,” MVP said in a statement Wednesday. “Teachers and schools create their own classroom climate and make their own decisions with respect to instruction, assessment, and grading.

“The MVP team is not in a position to directly observe the use of the curriculum, thus the situation in your area is more appropriately addressed by Wake County Public School System teachers and leadership. We support their efforts to provide high-quality learning experiences for all students.”

Speakers talked Wednesday about how students are leaving the classroom without knowing the math. They said they’re turning to each other and to paid private tutors for help.

“Students are constantly failing quizzes and tests after pulling all-nighters and feeling like they accomplished nothing,” student Brendan Gipp, who organized the walkout, told the crowd. “After this has occurred in the past two years, students have developed a defeatist attitude.”

Critics of MVP Math have mounted an aggressive campaign over the past few months to get the district to stop using the curriculum. They’ve spoken at school board meetings and frequently contacted school officials and the media through emails and social-media posts.

In conjunction with Wednesday’s walkout, MVP Parents of Wake County announced that it had created a process for parents to submit a “material objection” complaint about MVP to the school district. More information can be found at www.wakemvp.com.

“Wake County, you guys need to wake up,” Gipp said. “You’re hearing directly from the people most affected, and we’ve gotten no good answers. Stop playing politics and get something done Wake County.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.