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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Amplify Lawsuit Updates

Update: Emily Cherkin is hosting an info session about the Amplify story on Sunday, September 22nd from 3-5 pm. Special guest will be former Ballard science teacher (and all-around good guy), Eric Muhs.  Contact her at emilycherkin@gmail.com


Amplify updates (from various sources):


- There is currently only one appellant, parent Emily Cherkin.  She's the only appellant with standing for the court. The other filed appellants, former SPS teacher Robert Femiano and former Board director Sally Soriano have stepped off but still support the appeal.  Makes sense.

- GoFundMe for this lawsuit.  Honestly, if you believe how this situation played out is wrong, chip in something.  I'm going to do so soon.

- Apparently there is a District-mandated calendar for teaching Amplify this year, that appears to be very strict with no teacher input. There are also pre- and post-assessments for each unit until, for a single 8th grade class, it adds up to a minimum of 18 assessments over the course of one school year.

- Recent statements from former SPS science teachers:
"The science curriculum revisions shamed this school district in both substance and process. Established rules, procedures, accounting practices and the school board itself were blatantly disregarded. In the school setting, scheduling, budgeting, enrollments, college admissions concerns, as well as the deep professional experience of science teachers was equally disregarded. Even worse, the experience and feedback from students and parents on much of the content was shamefully disregarded.  The process was so lacking in the standards of transparency that we expect for our school community that we can only hope that such a process is never again repeated."
Eric Muhs
former SPS science teacher (retired)
AAPT Washington Physics Teacher of the Year 2013
former Science Dept Chair
Dewey Moody, PhD
former SPS science teacher (retired)
former Science Dept Chair
I'll just note that Muhs and Dewey were two of the best science teachers in the district and they left on their own accord.

A parallel story came out this week via Education Week -
Parent Who Criticized His Son's Math Program Is Sued By Curriculum Company
A group of families in Wake County, N.C., have pushed for months to get the district to stop using a controversial new curriculum. Now the company behind the curriculum is suing one of the most vocal parents for defamation. 

It's a surprising move that some say could have broad implications for parent advocacy around curriculum and instruction. A win by the company "would certainly cast a shadow on the idea that parents have a right to participate in their own children's education, to criticize schools for buying particular textbooks, to voice their concerns about instruction and curriculum," said Tom Loveless, an education researcher formerly at the Brookings Institution, who is not involved in the case. 

The Mathematics Vision Project, a nonprofit provider of open source math curricula, filed a complaint this summer against Blain Dillard, a parent in the Wake County public school system. MVP has accused Dillard, an outspoken opponent of the math program, of libel, slander, and "tortious interference with business relations."
Will Sue Peters and I get hit with this kind of action? I doubt it.

Also, to note, the parent in question is being sued for actions AFTER the adoption of the math curriculum.

Backstory
The district is entering its third year using the MVP curriculum, which received a favorable evaluation from the curriculum reviewer EdReports. The open source curriculum emphasizes problem-solving and collaboration-students learn by working through problems, and teachers are expected to act as facilitators. 

For months now, parents have spoken out against lessons that they say are confusing and poorly structured, lodging complaints with the district and making statements at school board meetings. Parents said their children weren't getting enough direct instruction and were encouraged to rely on their classmates for help. As a result, they said, students who used to get As and Bs were now getting Cs and Ds, which would have long-lasting effects on their grade point averages and college prospects.

In March, Dillard started writing a public blog, Wake MVP Parent, where he posted results from his public records requests to Wake County, his own analyses of district math achievement data, and results from informal polls he conducted with district staff. 

In the complaint, MVP alleges comments Dillard made online and in person included false statements that harmed the nonprofit's business interests. 

The complaint cites two instances in which Dillard said that data on math score improvements after use of MVP had been fabricated or falsified. Also implicated in the complaint are several of Dillard's blog posts, including his analysis of student achievement data and his results of informal teacher polling. 

Joiner, the Wake County parent, was shocked when Dillard told her about the lawsuit. 

"I didn't really believe it. I thought he was kidding," Joiner said. She recently started a GoFundMe and Facebook fundraiser for Dillard's legal expenses. 

"A lot of parents are working in this group together," she said. "We're all speaking at board meetings, sending emails to Wake County staff, emails to MVP. We're all trying to advocate. It seems really odd that they would single him out."
Currently
In June, the district released an internal review of the curriculum-a response to formal complaints that parents had lodged with the school system. That review cited a small increase in state test scores for the 2017-18 school year, the first year that schools used the MVP curriculum. 

The review committee, consisting of 12 district staff and seven community stakeholders, found that the implementation of the curriculum hadn't violated laws or district policies.
The district's review suggested keeping the curriculum in place for the 2019-20 school year-but with a few changes. The district plans to provide additional supports for teachers and students and also will hire an external third party to conduct another review of the curriculum. In August, the school board voted to keep the curriculum in place.
 That internal review that that the district in question did is akin to the oversight demanded by the SPS Board before approving Amplify.


What might happen?
From a business perspective, it's "dicey" for providers to start suing parents, Loveless said. "They're salespeople. They want to sell their product, and they want to sell it to school districts. If you're suing parents, I don't see how that would be productive."

In a Facebook group that Dillard created for advocacy around MVP, parents in support of him have called the complaint a SLAPP lawsuit-a strategic lawsuit against public participation. 

"Essentially, [a SLAPP suit] is just a meritless lawsuit that's brought to try to silence, intimidate, or harass a critic," said Evan Mascagni, the policy director of the Public Participation Project, an anti-SLAPP advocacy organization. 

Mascagni noted that he couldn't speak to this specific complaint filed by MVP. In general though, businesses often bring these lawsuits to retaliate against negative online consumer reviews, he said.
I'll note that the one and only time this blog was involved in a legal action, my lawyer filed a SLAPP motion in countersuit.  The judge was intrigued but passed the case off to another judge who didn't think it applied but who also didn't want to here hear anything from the person who filed the action against me and summarily dismissed the case.

Sadly,
Most of Washington's previously rated Excellent anti-SLAPP law was ruled unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court in 2015.  There is only an extraordinarily narrow statute that survived the ruling.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

You mean hear not here. Thanks for all your work. This is a fine example why we need analytical and experienced Board members. I don't recall how the vote went but I can guess that the typical rubber stamps were applied.

Van daddy

Anonymous said...

It is so unfortunate. I spoke to students (older than mine) who had felt the chemistry and physics classes with Dewey and Moody at Ballard were the highlight of their entire high school experience. Nothing takes the place of dynamic scientists who get kids excited with tons of cool hands on experiments. We need more like Dewey and Moody, not less. But as a parent with no say in the matter we can do nothing. I have a student at Ballard with an interest in science currently and we are just so incredibly bummed. Last year was a mess as another chemistry teacher left mid year, and they went through a couple of subs. For a brief few weeks they had Muhs sub and she came home so excited about learning again. Hoping to somehow keep up her interest in science through the rest of high school, we do feel we are at a disadvantage.

Ballard Mom

Curiouser said...

The Mathematics Vision Project (MVP) is a nonprofit provider, but is suing? What's up with that? Isn't this usually the kind of thing you would expect more from a for profit company?

Anonymous said...

Oops meant to type "more like Muhs and Moody."

Ballard Mom

Potter's Ghost said...

Superintendent Juneau supported Amplify.

Yes Votes: Geary, DeWolf, Patu and Harris.

No Votes: Mack, Pinkham and Burke.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sorry, Van Daddy, I don't see; could you please be specific?

Anonymous said...

want to here HEAR anything from the person who filed the action against me and summarily dismissed the case. Curse of being dyslexic you read every word.

Van Daddy

Anonymous said...

What is the rollout schedule for Amplify? My 6th grader does not seem to be doing it - or at least he claims to not be on the laptop every day.....

NW

Melissa Westbrook said...

Van Daddy, thanks, got it.

Anonymous said...

It will probably take months to get the computers up and going, if they ever do. No they aren’t up. No students don’t have accounts. No they aren’t doing science until then. Tick, tock. The furthest from social justice are getting further behind every day the district scores around. Thanks Jill, and the rest of you board members.

Reader

Anonymous said...

Those the furthest from social justice are getting further behind every day the district screws around.

Reader