The email announcing the final list of Florida Department of Education-approved math textbooks arrived shortly after 2 pm on Good Friday, ahead of the Easter holiday weekend.
A South Florida school board member asked why the department would place such a premium on having materials tested against state standards and then reporting back to districts. As one Central Florida curriculum director noted, textbook reviews are held every year on a rotating basis. This year it was math. Social Studies is next year.
School boards across the state already they were in the midst of adopting new math textbooks and, according to observers, this routine process had not attracted much attention. An Orange County parent activist noted that no one spoke up in March when the School Board approved his math textbooks, many of which are not on the state list. of adopted materials, but some people addressed the board the same day about sex education concerns.
The level of interest increased in large part due to how the department framed the message. “Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students,” read the headline of their press release, which did not include examples of the offending material.
The department claimed the books included material from the old Common Core State Standards, which had been superseded, or “disallowed” content. He referred to “forbidden subjects” like social-emotional learning or critical race theory, which the state has tried to weed out of public schools.
According to a later published list, 16 books were rejected for failing standards and 26 for unwanted subject matter.
Publishers, learning for the first time that their materials had been rejected, jumped to the defense of their works. A Savvas Learning spokesperson said the company developed books specifically to meet Florida standards.
A Big Ideas Learning executive sent a letter to the Pasco County School District, which was considering some of its rejected titles, stating that the books did not contain Common Core or critical career theory. The company stated that it found three minor references to social-emotional learning and said they would be removed.
“We hope this letter is sufficient to ensure confidence in your selection of (Big Ideas Learning) as we go through the appeal process,” Executive Vice President Robert Onsi wrote.
The state notes that publishers can appeal the decision and can include revisions to their materials. And, while some have referred to the books as “banned,” they are not banned, as DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw tweeted.
In fact, several school district officials pointed out that Florida law makes it clear that districts do not need to follow the state-adopted materials list for up to half of their purchases of books and supplies.
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But such a large purchase could put districts up against the 50 percent rule, so most have taken steps to select titles that align with the state list. The Pinellas County school district, for example, expects to spend about $10 million on new math textbooks, and its state allocation for instructional materials is about $6 million.
That’s why the state’s announcement has district officials worried. They began the selection process months ago, using a state list of books for review that had been updated in September. Now they’re finalizing drafts and preparing for workouts, just as the state declared several titles unacceptable for reasons that remain unclear.
The Department for Education on Thursday released four screenshots of questions it said parents had criticized for mentioning racial bias or social-emotional learning targets. More than one curriculum expert said the sample, which was not clearly explained or attached to any of the rejected books, did little to clarify the state’s rationale.
If the accusations had focused on the idea that some titles contain old standards with a new label, some educators said they would have had no problem believing it. That’s what happened the last time Florida changed the math books, they said. So it led to materials that didn’t align with grade level expectations, causing confusion for both students and teachers.
Several educators did not doubt that some of the books contain elements of social emotional learning. It is a strategy that aims to help students manage their emotions and develop empathy, among other traits. After the Parkland school shooting, the state promoted it as a way to keep students safe.
In addition, educators said, the new state standards include a section on mathematical thinking and reasoning that encourages qualities like a positive mindset and perseverance, regardless of the state memo calling social-emotional learning an “unsolicited strategy.”
Most of the attention was focused on the claim that many books attempted to indoctrinate through critical race theory, a term that has been used broadly by some to encompass lessons and discussions about race.
In the absence of clear examples of the State, they speculated. Did Florida education officials object to statistical questions about racial disparities, as the examples they released Thursday suggested? Or was it some other infraction, like a word problem that referred to Juan instead of John?
Some critics joked that perhaps the state wanted to ban the use of mathematical symbols like brackets because they refer to inclusion. At least one person noted that the only approved publisher for K-5 books has a diversity statement on its website that includes full support for Black Lives Matter, something that has prompted complaints about many companies the districts do business with.
Pushaw said the department’s approval of the publisher’s books demonstrates the state’s commitment to excellence in the classroom.
“The goal is to ensure that all materials and texts adopted in the classroom align with Florida standards,” he stated by email. “A diversity statement on the publisher’s website is not intended to be used as instructional material.”
At least one DeSantis fan suggested that Florida should already acknowledge the governor’s method: He draws attention by making bold statements, withholds information while his opponents get upset, then drops the details when he knows everyone is watching.
Everyone is watching now.