Wake won’t drop controversial math curriculum but will make some changes

The Wake County school system will make changes to a controversial new high school math curriculum but says it will not drop the program despite the requests of some parents and students.

The school district received formal complaints from 16 parents asking it to stop using the MVP Math Curriculum that’s changed the way how math is taught in high school level courses. In a response Friday, Edward McFarland, the district’s chief academic advancement officer, said that a committee that reviewed the complaints determined that Wake will continue to use MVP as its core math curriculum.

“However, every member recommended at least some changes and improvements to the curriculum,” McFarland said in the letter. “Based on these recommendations and your feedback, the District will provide additional supports for students, parents and staff.”

McFarland listed several changes that will be made for the 2019-20 school year, including:

Bringing in a third party to independently evaluate the implementation of MVP in the district.

Creating a “robust” website on each school webpage to support students with homework.

Delaying districtwide implementation of MVP in Math 3 so that it will be optional for schools this upcoming school year.

Developing more curriculum resources such as video support with 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.

McFarland said the review committee, which included district staff, principals and teachers, will share its findings with the school board at the June 18 meeting. He invited parents who had filed complaints to attend presentations with district staff on June 17.

The district’s response fell far short for critics who have held student walkouts, protested outside the district’s headquarters, spoken at school board meetings and flooded social media. They were back at this week’s board meeting with demands for the curriculum to be dropped as well as for the firing of school administrators who’ve been involved with the program.

“They’re not going to get away with this,” Blain Dillard, a parent at Green Hope High School in Cary, said in an interview Friday. “Parents are going to beat down the doors.”

Dillard said the only new thing mentioned in the letter is not making MVP mandatory in Math 3. But he said he’s worried some principals will still opt to use the curriculum anyway.

Dillard, who formed a Facebook group calling for the removal of MVP Math, said they’re considering filing an appeal of the review committee’s decision to the school board.

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 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. Natalie Johnson, a Green Hope High sophomore, told the school board on Tuesday that the low math grades she and her classmates are getting are hurting their chances of getting into academically strong colleges.

“I’m just really worried that the MVP curriculum has made students depressed because their grades won’t go up, just down,” Johnson said. “I know a bunch of straight A students who now have a C or high D. MVP is making students lose motivation and stop trying because they can’t do it.”

The school board has largely been publicly silent on the complaints. School board member Chris Heagarty said that members taking a public position would disqualify themselves from hearing any appeal of the review.

“I believe that the motives of the review are good and I’m going to be very interested to see what comes out of it,” Heagarty said to parents at Tuesday’s board meeting. “I’m hopeful that what comes out of it will benefit all of our students and address a lot of the concerns that you have.”

Some Wake high school math teachers have spoken in defense of the MVP curriculum, but critics have questioned their motives.

Dillard, the Green Hope parent, complained that the review committee didn’t have any parents or students as members. Instead, McFarland said that the district “sought feedback from a varied group of Wake County stakeholders, including parents, students and members of the business/higher education community.”

The parents had filed a 40-page complaint listing 10 different violations they charged had been made by Wake, such as students not being able to do the homework due to the lack of instruction from the lessons.

McFarland denied in the letter that the district violated board policy or law in adopting and using MVP.

“It’s very weak,” Dillard said. “They didn’t give any defense of MVP.”

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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.