As some teachers defend controversial math curriculum, critics say it’s causing anxiety, PTSD

Some Wake County teachers are defending the district’s disputed new high school math curriculum. But critics charge that the teachers don’t represent the many educators who they say are opposed to the program.

Critics of the MVP Math Curriculum have held student walkouts, protested outside the district’s headquarters, spoken at school board meetings and flooded social media. But they were joined at this week’s Wake County school board meeting by two high school math teachers who begged district leaders to not abandon MVP Math.

“If we throw out MVP, there isn’t anything to replace it,” said Anthony Moreno, a math teacher at East Wake High School in Wendell. “We can’t go back to what we used to have because the standards have changed and there isn’t a textbook that will provide appropriate curriculum to teach the way we did when I was a kid.

“It’s too early to change this process. It would be like cutting open a cocoon because we want the butterfly results immediately.”

Moreno spoke in front of parents and students in the audience holding signs such as “Abolish MVP.”

Despite the words of support for MVP on Tuesday, opponents say that many other Wake educators have told them on condition of anonymity that they’re unhappy with the curriculum. In a Facebook post and in an email to district leaders, the critics charge that Wake has imposed a gag order preventing teachers from publicly criticizing MVP.

“WHAT I DO HAVE A HUGE PROBLEM WITH is that we will NEVER see a counter point from another teacher about MVP because they have been threatened with their job for speaking out against MVP,” Blain Dillard, a parent at Green Hope High School in Cary, posted Tuesday in the Parents of MVP Math Students in WCPSS Facebook group. “So how’s that for democracy in action?

“How will we ever get anywhere in resolving this matter when (I believe) the 80+% of teachers who have issues with MVP can’t speak their minds neither in public nor in private!?”

Tim Simmons, a Wake County school spokesman, denied that the district has banned teachers from criticizing MVP.

“There is no gag order on the teachers,” Simmons said. “We wouldn’t do that to the teachers.”

MVP stress cited

This week, the school board heard widely divergent perspectives of how MVP is playing out in the schools.

Since the 2017-18 school year, Wake has used materials from Utah-based Mathematics Vision Project to teach high school level math based on Common Core standards. Instead of hearing a lecture and memorizing formulas, the focus has shifted to students working in groups to solve problems while teachers act as facilitators.

Critics charge that the format actually doesn’t teach the materials, resulting in students coming out of the class struggling to understand what they would have mastered from a more traditional math course.

“The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding tastes awful,” said Kimberly Wood, a parent of two students at Apex Friendship High School. “The key ingredients: foundational knowledge are left out and we simply should not have to swallow this any longer. If you follow the proof, follow the data, you will understand that MVP is not meeting our standards.”

Some speakers told the school board that MVP is putting students at risk of committing suicide.

“I am quite curious if any of you have actually had a conversation with these kids who are going through MVP right now,” said Laura Tingelstad, a parent from Cary. “Kids who have severe anxiety attacks, kids who are cutting, kids who are contemplating suicide because they feel stupid and helpless and they never did before.”

Nick Polsinelli, 16, a student at Green Hope High student, told the board that he has post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of having MVP turn him from a “A” student to a “D” student.

“If you cared about the mental health and suicide rates of students, you would get a soul and rid us of this blasphemous program,” Polsinelli said. “I am begging of you, begging and praying that you reconsider your choices and #AbolishMVP and bring back the basics.”

In contrast, Moreno and Knightdale High School math teacher Margaret Borden told the board that things have improved since Wake began using MVP. Borden said she’s gone from having students who were falling asleep in class before MVP to now being actively engaged in the learning process.

“I’ve just seen incredible growth with them,” Borden told the board. “In addition, I’ve seen growth in my test scores. We like to talk about that kind of data.

“I don’t have the exact numbers with me tonight unfortunately, but I really have seen a growth in my students being able to reason mathematically and then go perform on their tests.”

MVP provides ‘relief’

Moreno said using MVP has given him and his students their “first real textbook” in years.

“It’s a relief to have something,” Moreno said. “Every year for the past six years I’ve been teaching I’ve had to create a curriculum from scratch because of the changing standards and the curriculum. MVP has made it to where I can actually focus on teaching.”

Moreno acknowledged that some teachers have struggled figuring out how to adjust to teaching MVP. But he said the district is allowing teachers to supplement the MVP materials with other materials to help their students.

Simmons, the Wake school spokesman, backed up Moreno.

“I’m not sure where the information has come from that they can’t use supplements,” Simmons said.

In contrast, Dillard, the anti-MVP parent, told the board that school administrators recently forced Wake Forest High to strictly follow MVP after seeing that some teachers were deviating from MVP. Dillard said that has led to scores dropping at the school.

“When MVP is used lightly and highly supplemented, it’s not too bad, it’s tolerable, maybe not as good as before but students learn enough to get by,” Dillard said. “Ironically, where it produces the most problems and the least performance is where it’s used as directed — just like cigarettes.”

The comments from the teachers drew a backlash from critics. Unlike the teachers, parents tweeted that they were not paid to speak and questioned why Moreno left so quickly after he spoke.

Borden did talk with the parents after she spoke, leading to multiple tweets criticizing her on social media, accusing her of deliberately not saying what her students’ test scores were in public.

“How sad is it if a teacher boasts 60s as an improvement. @cmoore90 is this the goal for all schools? 60s?? If so @MVPmath is the correct choice and folks should run to charter, private or homeschool,” tweeted a user called Magnet Schools Rule.

Borden said in email to the News & Observer that the point she was trying to make to the parents was that her students’ scores are growing. Knightdale High is one of Wake’s higher poverty high schools, and test scores are below the district average.

“Any type of passing grade is sometimes a win for my students,” Borden said in the email. “Also, I am not pleased with low grades that my students earn, but as I mentioned in my speech to the board, my students grow in their scores.”

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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.