After parent complaints, Wake will review panel that backs controversial math program

The Wake County school board will review an appeal filed by parents who say a district committee acted inappropriately when it defended the use of a controversial new math curriculum and said it should be kept.

The district review committee praised the MVP Math Curriculum as being what students need and said the curriculum should continue in Wake, with some changes. After a lengthy closed-session discussion, the school board voted late Tuesday to review the committee’s work and to give its decision on Aug. 6.

School board chairman Jim Martin said that if the board finds the committee didn’t act appropriately it could take steps such as ordering a new staff review of the curriculum. But Martin said the board isn’t reviewing the curriculum itself.

“The board does not make curricular decisions,” Martin said in an interview Wednesday. “This is not a decision to keep or remove a curriculum.”

The decision to grant the review came as several parents made another plea to to the board Tuesday to stop using MVP.

“We have been saying to you in different ways for months that Wake County middle and high school students in your care are suffering in incomplete programs,” said Carrie Bley, a Holly Springs parent.

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.

According to the review committee’s report, Wake has spent $1.25 million on MVP Math, with 46% of the money going toward training teachers in the new curriculum.

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. They say it’s forced families to pay for private tutors to help their children learn the material.

For the past five months, parents and students have held student walkouts, protested outside the district’s headquarters, spoken at school board meetings and flooded social media with the concerns. A group of 16 parents had filed a protest over the program, resulting in the review committee’s recommendations in June.

The committee did recommend making some changes 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.

Providing additional training for teachers to help them support students and implement MVP lessons.

The parents have been highly critical of how the review was conducted, For instance, Karen Carter, a Cary parent whose protest is being heard by the school board, complained how only three of the 19 committee members had a math degree. She also charged that one committee member may profit financially from Wake using MVP.

“That’s not how you earn the public’s trust,” Carter told the board on Tuesday.

Martin, the board chairman, said that when discretionary appeals are requested he and vice chairman Keith Sutton would typically decide whether to grant them, He said these board reviews are normally handled by a panel of three board members.

But Martin said he wanted the full board to be involved in this appeal. He said that board members have already extensively reviewed the materials submitted by parents.

“We have to treat all concerns as legitimately as possible,” he said.

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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.