Public still in the dark on why dozens of math textbooks were rejected by FL DOE

By: - April 27, 2022 7:00 am

Math formulas on chalkboard. Credit: Getty Images.

Earlier this month, the Florida Department of Education claimed that it rejected 41 percent of math textbooks that could have gone out to school districts for classroom use. Those books allegedly incorporated problematic and impermissible topics.

But nearly two weeks after statewide education officials rejected 54 math textbooks, the public is largely still in the dark as to which textbooks were rejected for what reasons.

What we do know is that the department has asserted that so-called critical race theory and social emotional learning techniques led to ditching some of the math textbooks.

“We have a very militant statement from the Department of Education quoting Governor DeSantis, claiming this is all about critical race theory, social emotional learning in a math textbook, and then we have no actual evidence of what textbooks they’re talking about or where this appears,” Jeremy Young, with PEN America, told the Phoenix earlier. PEN America is a organization that promotes free speech.

Schoolchildren at a public charter school in South Florida attend a bill signing, HB 7, with Gov. Ron DeSantis. CRT references Critical Race Theory. April 22, 2022.

Critical race theory originated in graduate-level law studies decades ago, according to the American Bar Association. It attempts to examine the role of racism in society but it has become a battleground in how history is discussed in public schools.

So far, no clearer details have come forth from the textbook publishers.

Tyler Reed, a communications staffer with McGraw Hill, said in an email to the Phoenix:

“We’re in communication with the Department of Education and expect to work with them to ensure that our programs are available and appropriate for Florida students.”  The publisher did not elaborate on passages of concern in the rejected McGraw Hill math textbooks.

The Phoenix has reached out to other top-name publishers, but have not yet received a response. The education department has said publishers can appeal and edit the textbook submissions.

A few examples?

Last week, a communications staffer with the Florida Department of Education sent an email offering a set of so-called “samples” of excerpts from unnamed textbooks supposedly showing problematic passages.

But those samples came with this caveat:

“At this time, those who have submitted textbooks for consideration still own the material (i.e. their content is copyrighted and we are unable to release it to the public at this time, pending review). Having said that, we have posted a few examples on our website that we received from the public,” according to the email. 

Those samples were provided by “the public.”

The education department did not say who that would be and whether those sample excerpts led to the rejection of textbooks produced by big-name publishers.

One of the so-called samples reference data from the Implicit Association Test under a section called “adding and subtracting polynomials” which is a concept taught in algebra.

Another so-called sample references social emotional learning, saying: “This feature is designed to build student agency by focusing on students’ social emotional learning, specifically in the five competencies that make up the frame work established by the nonprofit Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning (CASEL).”

Teacher with students, in a classroom. Credit: Getty Images.

The CASEL framework, according to its website, outlines the five competencies in social emotional learning as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

The Department of Education does not list which books these samples came from or the grade level of the particular textbooks.

Young of PEN America told the Phoenix that: “It is a very non-controversial practice. It is basically teaching young children how to manage their emotions more effectively in a classroom setting, which can be very stressful for a lot of kids.”

The state of Florida even adopted new K-12 “character” standards last summer, which expects students to learn certain character skills such as respect, responsibilities, and citizenship while in schools.

Tying two issues together

But Young said that there is an effort to tie social emotional learning with the culture-war issues surrounding critical race theory. The Florida Department of Education banned critical race theory in public school classrooms last summer, despite it originating in graduate-level law studies decades ago.

“Now they’re claiming that critical race theory is being rebranded as social emotional learning,” Young said. “Basically, what is happening here — conservatives are arguing, some conservatives, are arguing that if teachers use any term or any teaching technique that isn’t immediately obvious to everyone what it means –that’s critical race theory, and that’s bad.”

Textbook reviews for social studies are on the horizon in the 2022-23 school year, according to the Department of Education website.

“Next year is the social studies standards review. And that review is going to be conducted under these same policies that have been adopted, including the one that was adopted last year that banned critical race theory or whatever they want to call it, and the laws that are being signed right now by the governor,” he said, referencing HB 7 Individual Freedoms and HB 1557 Parental Rights in Education. Gov. Ron DeSantis has already signed those two bills into law.

“Whatever they’re objecting to in these math books, while I doubt it’s as significant as they make it out to be…it’s not going to change math at the basic level,” Young said. “When they start carving up the social studies textbooks, that’s going to destroy social studies education in the state of Florida. There’s no two ways about it.”

“It’s terrifying,” he said.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.