The following is an article cross-posted from Truth In American Education.
Misdirected Evaluation and Intimidation in Wake County, North Carolina
SEPTEMBER 30, 2019 BY J.R. WILSON
In this post, I am going to attempt to address a number of issues related to the situation in Wake County, NC where the school district adopted the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP). The three main issues I hope to address have to do with the evaluation of the implementation of the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP), MVP’s lawsuit against a parent, and the parent voice in Wake County (as well as across the country). And for good measure, or bad, I’m likely to hit on other issues. I keep hearing, “It’s complicated,” being said about so many things. While this whole situation may be complicated, it doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t be. Are the parents the only ones involved in this situation who have not lost sight of what’s important—the students, their education, and their future?
For more information see the linked articles and legal documents provided at the end of this post.
The Wake County Public School System (WCPSS or Wake County) adopted MVP as the math program to be used throughout the district. WCPSS appears to be the fifteenth largest school district in the country so the adoption of this program impacts a lot of students. In short, parents and students have expressed concerns in a variety of ways. In response, the school board hired MGT of America Consulting, LLC (MGT) to conduct an evaluation. MVP filed a defamation lawsuit against a Wake County parent. For more detailed information see the links at the end of this post for articles and legal documents.
Evaluation of the Implementation
An August 6, 2019 article says this about the Wake County Board of Education:
The board voted Tuesday to have an outside company, MGT of America Consulting, review MVP math. The review will include classroom visits, analysis of student work, in-depth data review, and focus groups. The total cost of the project will not exceed $125,000.
This is misleading. It indicates there will be a review of MVP math. It isn’t the MVP math program that will be reviewed.
The board did contract with MGT to conduct an evaluation. The contract with MGT says:
MGT of America Consulting will work with district staff to do a comprehensive evaluation of implementation during the fall of 2019. This evaluation will include classroom visits, staff interviews and student, parent and teacher focus groups.
MGT is not being tasked with evaluating MVP, which is a math curriculum/program. The contract clearly states the evaluation will be of the implementation of MVP. I think it is important to make a clear distinction between the program itself and its implementation.
In my eyes, evaluating the implementation does not address the problem and the questions parents in Wake County are raising. Decision makers often seem to blame poor implementation when problems arise and concerns are expressed. That blame gives reason for doubling down on implementation efforts.
What needs to be evaluated first is the concerns parents have about this program, why they have those concerns, and solutions they may propose. What are their concerns? What do they like and not like about the program? What kind of math education would parents like for their kids? What math program would they like to be used in their child’s math class? What is it parents want? What solutions would they propose if given a chance to have them really considered? Could the proposed solutions be put in place? If not, why?
It seems in Wake County’s case, an evaluation of parent and student concerns should take place. Instead, an evaluation of the implementation of MVP is being conducted. Why aren’t parent concerns being evaluated? Why isn’t an evaluation of the MVP program being conducted? It seems like that ought to come before evaluating the implementation. If the program is not acceptable to parents, regardless of whether it is effective or not, I doubt it would make any difference to parents as to whether the program is implemented well or not. And what if a program is not effective and is well implemented? In this case, I see effectiveness as being subjective depending on which camp one is in and on this issue there seems to be two camps. I would venture to say that each camp, and likely each individual, has their own effectiveness criteria.
From news accounts and a committee report, it appears WCPSS responded to formal complaints submitted by parents. A letter from the district’s Chief Academic Advancement Officer says it is in response to “your complaint about the selection and implementation of the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP) curriculum.” WCPSS established a curriculum review committee to review concerns, determine if any board policies were violated, and provide recommendations. From the committee’s report, it appears the committee members were all district employees. There is no evident indication the committee talked with, met with, or communicated with any of the parents who submitted formal complaints. The committee may very well have addressed the submitted complaints but it is hard to tell without seeing the actual complaints. Is it possible that parent concerns go beyond whether a board policy was violated? While the committee reviewed the formal complaints, it does not appear any in-depth evaluation of parent concerns has taken place.
Evaluating the implementation seems to be an expensive endeavor to appease parents by trying to fool them into thinking the district is looking into things.
MVP’s Lawsuit against a Parent
I want to start with a quote that I hope people will give serious thought to.
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Ben Franklin
On July 5, 2019, lawyers on behalf of MVP filed a lawsuit against Blain Dillard, a Wake County parent.
This lawsuit is extremely important for all parents across the country. It needs to be taken seriously. I question how seriously MVP was in filing suit. I would hope someone filing suit would take the endeavor seriously enough to spell the defendant’s name correctly. The complaint filed by MVP is against Blaine Dillard. His name is not Blaine, it is Blain. I would think in a legal document it would be important to get the name of the person you are suing spelled correctly. I wonder if a grammatically concerned judge would dismiss the case on that count? Is the misspelling of the defendant’s name an indication someone is SLAPP happy?
A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech. From Wikipedea
Many states have anti-SLAPP laws. It appears that Utah, home of MVP, has a weak anti-SLAPP law and North Carolina doesn’t have an anti-SLAPP law. In the absence of a strong anti-SLAPP law is it okay to SLAPP someone? Morally and ethically would someone end up with a red face?
I have heard many questions raised and comments about this lawsuit. One question I have heard asked is who funded the development of MVP and is someone funding their lawsuit. I just bet they aren’t raising funds on GoFundMe.
Is this a lawsuit about corporate rights to make a profit vs parental rights in directing the education of their children which may include expressing concerns in many forms and venues? Starting in the 1800s, the court system gradually began viewing corporations as “people” with many of the same constitutional rights as individual citizens (See here and here). Citizens United seems to be the most recent capstone. Is it possible that this contributes to the boldness of corporations to file suits against parents for exercising their first amendment rights? Are corporate interests to be protected at the cost of individual first amendment rights?
Tom Loveless, a former director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, replied to Sandy Joiner and Barry Garelick on a twitter post with this statement:
This is a first. In all my years of studying parent protests over curriculum, I have never heard of a publisher taking legal action against parents. MVP will not emerge from this looking good. Neither will the Wake County admin and school board.
I agree with Tom—no matter the outcome of the lawsuit, I do not think it will serve MVP well in the long run. Is it possible they may have done more damage to themselves by filing this lawsuit than anything any parent may say or write about MVP?
Like Tom, I am not familiar with any publisher suing any parents. I am familiar with lots of parent criticism of lots of math programs, but no related lawsuits. The only thing close to this I have seen has to do with cease and desist letters being sent to some individuals on behalf of Istation.
Kieran Shanahan, an attorney representing Istation, has sent cease and desist notices to several critics of the new contract. In a statement Monday, Shanahan said those people are “misrepresenting Istation by making false, misleading and defamatory public statements” and are unfairly harming and maligning the company.
“Istation was legally and appropriately awarded the contract in North Carolina and has a proven record and reputation as an industry leader in early education assessments across the country,” Shanahan said. “The cease and desist notices provided are a lawful and appropriate starting point to end the misinformation, set the record straight, protect Istation’s interests, and let the state move forward.”
The cease and desist letters are to people in a different part of the food chain than parents. Links to more info and articles about this issue are provided at the end of the post. One link includes copies of three of the letters.
On page 4, in item 28, and again on page 5, item 37, of MVP’s complaint (lawsuit document), MVP claims Dillard made statements with the intent to harm MVP. They claim he knew statements were false. Did he? If the statements are in truth false, how does MVP know whether or not he knew they were false? How does MVP know what his intent was? Is it possible his real intent is to have a good solid math education provided to his kids and others in Wake County? If MVP knows Dillard so intimately as to know his intent and whether he knows something is false or not, how come they don’t know how to spell his name?
Item 29, page 4, of the complaint reads:
29. The publication and/or public speaking of these statements harmed MVP. Part of MVP’s business involves submitting proposals for education-related contracts with private schools, public schools, school districts, government entities, and other entities. Dillard’s statements harmed MVP’s reputation as well as perceptions of the efficacy of the products and services that MVP provides. Upon information and belief, MVP has been unable to enter into contracts, and/or has not been invited to make proposals for contracts, and/or has been forced to enter contracts on compromised terms, and/or has been denied extensions on contracts, and/or has been forced to accept contract extensions on compromised terms, and/or has been unable to attract employees and/or consultants, and/or has been forced to invest more resources than otherwise would have been necessary to consummate a contract, and/or has otherwise been harmed.
I would like to think that a great program will stand on its own merits and those merits would override and rise above any criticism or possible falsehoods made of the program. Could it be that by filing this lawsuit, MVP has harmed itself to a greater degree than the possible harm of a parent’s statements? At this point, if harm has been done, how would one ferret out whether the harm, or how much harm, is caused by MVP’s own actions or by the statements of a parent? If harm is caused by MVP’s own actions, would they sue themselves?
Since harm is at issue here, let’s ponder a bit. Suppose MVP has been harmed. Suppose they prevail with their lawsuit. Where is the greater harm? The supposed harm to MVP? Or the harm to the willingness of parents to speak out in the interest of their children’s education? Will parents not speak out and express themselves out of fear of being sued? Could the outcome of this lawsuit open the door for corporations to completely shut down the Parent Voice?
It appears that MVP posted Clarifications Regarding Our Work in Wake County on their website around September 20, 2019. One could argue that this is damage control. While a link to their lawsuit is provided, I found it interesting that no mention was made or links provided for the Answer and Counterclaim and Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings documents. Those documents are well worth reading, especially the Motion for Judgment. Does the counterclaim make a good case that MVP hasn’t proven harm? Those documents were filed on behalf of Blain Dillard on September 9, 2019. MVP’s Clarifications post spells his name Blaine. Is the misspelling intentional? Is the intentional misspelling of a name a form of microaggression? An adult bullying tactic? We may never know, but the “e”, or lack of, is interesting.
MVP does state in their Clarification post they are a five-person organization and not a big corporate publisher. Even though it is small, MVP is an LLC which shields its members from personal liability. Is an individual parent shielded from personal liability? And while MVP may be a small, five member LLC, its website says it has partnered with Open Up Resources. MVP does not seem to list any funders or supporters but Open Up Resources lists their Philanthropic Supporters as Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
I wonder about a lot of things related to this whole situation. I wonder… Did MVP have a conversation with the parent about his concerns and claims before filing their lawsuit? Or was it a nonversation? If a conversation did take place, how come we haven’t heard about it? How come we haven’t heard of any efforts to resolve this prior to the lawsuit being filed? Lots of parents speak out critically, even with false claims possibly, about their kid’s teachers. Ever hear of a teacher suing a parent for defamation? I am not aware of any cases but I can imagine it has happened. I wonder… Are there reasonable steps one might take in advance of filing suit that render a suit unnecessary?
One last comment related to that “e”. Failure to use one’s preferred gender pronoun seems to become a civil or human rights issue these days. What about the addition of an “e” to a person’s name?
Does this lawsuit subdue the freeness of speech?
For Parents and the Parent Voice
Here’s another quote. This one is for parents all across the country.
“Make yourself sheep and the wolves will eat you.” Ben Franklin
It appears the situation in Wake County is a part of the most recent phase of on going Math Wars. To learn more about the Math Wars, I recommend reading two documents. The documents are lengthy and informative. Math Wars, by Alan H. Schoenfeld, is from the perspective of the progressive reform math camp and A quarter century of US ‘math wars’ and political partisanship by David Klein is more from the perspective of an explicit math instruction camp.
While it has been reported that the WCPSS received formal complaints from 16 parents, that’s just the formal complaints. It is my understanding there’s more than 1400 Wake County parents with concerns enough to connect with each other.
Parents, take responsibility for your child’s education. That includes math. If you have concerns about or find the program being used is not satisfactory to you, teach your child math at home, single subject home school if allowed by your district and state, hire a tutor, or enroll in a tutoring or learning center. If your child receives help outside school, you may want to consider opting out of assessments. If your child scores well on assessments the school and others will credit it to the school program without considering the outside help.
It appears Wake County has school choice options. It would be nice if parents/students had a math program choice: a progressive reform math program or a more traditional explicit example based instructional program. In a district as a large as Wake County, that could work. If they say they can’t do this, would it be because they are unable or unwilling?
Are Wake County parents up for the challenge of identifying potential candidates and supporting them in successful campaigns for the Wake County Board of Education.
The education system is supposed to work for parents and the community. When will that system start listening to the parent voice? What will have to happen to get the system to listen and act based on the parent voice? And parents, are you willing to be a part of the parent voice? Are you willing to take back control over your child’s education? Are you willing to be a part of the rebellion it will take to regain local control?
Links to Related Articles and Information
Sites for Wake County Parents and Other Interested Parties
Wake County Parent Page Website
Wake MVP Parent Blog
Parents of MVP Math Students in WCPSS Facebook Closed group
Parent Rights for All Website by friends and supporters of Blain Dillard
Wake County Math Parent Legal Defense Fund Go Fund Me
MVP lawsuit documents
Answer and Counterclaim Sept. 9, 2019
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Sept. 9, 2019
News articles or posts
Clarifications Regarding Our Work in Wake County c. Sept. 20, 2019 on MVP’s website
A Few Facebook Comments—Abusive Litigation at its Worst Sept. 15, 2019
The Accidental Advocate August 9, 2019
Is An Education-World War Coming? August 1, 2019
MVP math suing Wake County parent for ‘libel and slander’ after he criticized program July 30, 2019 updated July 30, 2019
A Rising Parent Voice Gains Attention April 29, 2019
Related to Cease and Desist Letters
Company awarded K-3 reading contract sends cease and desist letters ‘to end the misinformation’ July 15, 2019 updated July 16, 2019 includes copies of three cease and desist letters