DeSantis: ‘Ideology’ found in rejected math texts; reviewers saw little evidence of CRT

Information about material deemed objectionable remains limited

By: - May 6, 2022 6:46 pm

Classroom. Getty Images.

The Florida Department of Education has now posted the complaints that arose during its review of 132 math textbook bids, which resulted in its initial rejection of 54 of those books, some for including prohibited topics such as critical race theory.

Out of thousands of pages of responses by people it enlisted to review the texts, only one reviewer found that critical race theory constituted a large component of any of the books and only a handful found evidence that some “might” contain critical race theory.

Yet state education officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis have claimed that some of rejected math texts have been “injecting ideology” and “indoctrination.”

Thus far, the specifics are largely unclear; the public has been given little information about how math textbooks supposedly contain the prohibited topics. The review responses may give insight to some potentially offending passages.

DeSantis: Publishers ‘inject ideology’

DeSantis discussed the book review process during a Friday press conference.

Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference Jan. 5, 2022.

“We’re not going to let them inject ideology into things like math books. So the Department of Education flagged a lot of this sent it back to the publishers. … But what happened is, these textbook companies had to take the nonsense out of the math books. So now they’re resubmitting it,” DeSantis said.

“You know, two plus two equals four. It’s not ‘two plus two and let’s have a struggle session over that,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re focusing on teaching kids how to get the right answer and not being diverted by ideologies and other types of stuff that really isn’t pertinent to any of this.”

In the process of adopting textbooks to align with new math standards, the department released a statement saying that it initially had rejected more than 50 textbooks, with the headline of the press release declaring: “Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students.”

“Reasons for rejecting textbooks included references to critical race theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of social emotional learning (SEL) in mathematics,” the April press release said. It offered no specifics about how many textbooks the department rejected for which reasons.

Critical race theory originated in graduate level law studies decades ago to map institutional racism, according to the American Bar Association. But Republican officials have used the misnomer of “critical race theory” to criticize a wide variety of activities examining the role of racism in American society.

The publishers have had time to make changes and resubmit their textbooks after removing offending passages.

So far, the department has added 19 more textbooks to the adoption list now that publishers are “aligning their instructional materials to state standards and removing WOKE CONTENT,” the department website says.

However, the department has not published the offending passages, citing copyright concerns.

The department did post four so-called “samples” from unnamed textbooks supposedly showing problematic passages. These samples were provided by “the public,” the department says.

Reviewer responses

Reviewers are part of the instructional materials adoption process, wherein the department seeks outside experts to plow through the texts.

According to the department’s call for reviewers, each must have credentials in math, such as a master’s degree or higher; an educator certification; or recognition as a mathematics content expert. Reviewers get a $330 stipend for each textbook book evaluated.

In summer of 2021, the department created a rule that bans critical race theory from all Florida public school classrooms and asked reviewers to ensure that math textbooks follow this rule. The department has provided no background information on these reviewers.

Most of the reviewers wrote some variation of: “There is no critical race theory in the instructional materials.”

But one reviewer named Chris Allen found some in two high school textbooks, “PreCalculus” and “Thinking Mathematically,” both listed under Savvas Learning Co. (formerly Pearson K12 Learning), according to the DOE.  The department has rejected both books.

“Savvas Learning Company submitted the bids for the instructional materials. Therefore, they are listed as the publisher,” according to press secretary Cassie Palelis, of the Florida Department of Education. Both Savvas and Pearson confirmed to the Phoenix that the particular advanced math textbooks are published by Pearson.

Allen found “multiple lessons reference racial bias/racism,” or critical race theory, in the precalculus textbook.

“The chart on page R218 … implies that people who consider themselves conservative are more likely to have racial prejudice. Thus turning off students from considering themselves ‘conservative’ now or in the future,” Allen wrote.

He took issue with several references to racial bias, with some math problems looking at the relationship between age or political identifications and racial bias.

He also had concerns with a passage discussing COVID vaccines, writing that that vaccination “in general should not be discussed in a school setting as it’s a parent’s choice whether their minor child get it or not,” and said that the passage does not mention natural immunity or religious exemptions to vaccines.

Allen had other gripes about topics he considered “neither age appropriate nor engaging to students,” among them divorce, car accidents, alcohol use, marijuana, gender bias, and racial prejudice.

Again, the department hasn’t disclosed the full context of these questions, just the reviewers’ reactions.

While these examples are from Allen’s review of the precalculus book listed under Savvas, he expressed many of these same concerns regarding “Thinking Mathematically,” also listed under Savvas. (Both Savvas and Pearson confirmed to the Phoenix that the particular advanced math textbooks are published by Pearson.)

However, a different reviewer for the same precalculus book named Dina Neyman offered a more-positive review, saying, “Overall, it’s a strong program.”

“This material is written in a way that is engaging and provides ample real-world examples that are relevant and interesting,” Neyman wrote.

As for whether the text aligns with the rule prohibiting critical race theory, Neyman simply states: “aligned.”

Reviewer Jordan Adams identified a few examples in “Stats: Modeling the World,” listed under Savvas, for high school students, which he wrote “may” violate the department’s rule prohibiting critical race theory. This book is also among those rejected. (Both Savvas and Pearson confirmed to the Phoenix that the particular advanced math textbook is published by Pearson.)

Adams wrote: “Pages 35 (race and college plans), 668 (racial profiling in
policing), A-34 (discrimination in magnet school admissions), and A-73 (“too many” white police in NYPD compared to racial makeup of the community) may violate the rule’s prohibitions about racism being embedded in society and legal systems and/or that race is the most important factor in considering an aspect of society.”

One reviewer noted a trend in a McGraw Hill textbook. Reviewer Robin Obrien found that in “Florida Reveal Math, Grade 7”: “First example with a black student pic is basketball. Most pictures are of white people, unless sports-related.”

This book is among those the department found acceptable and approved long before publishers had the chance to alter their textbooks.

Social emotional learning

Social emotional learning intends to help students understand their emotions and develop empathy for others. Unlike critical race theory, the department has no formal rule prohibiting this technique, although it did send a memo to publishers asking them not to include SEL in their textbook bids.

The department asked of the textbook reviewers: “Do instructional materials NOT solicit social emotional learning (SEL), as these are considered extraneous and unsolicited strategies outside the scope of subject-area standards?”

Again, most reviewers found no social emotional learning.

“The materials do not solicit SEL and strategies outside scope of subject-area standards,” wrote reviewer Makeda Brome of Cengage Learning’s textbook “Precalculus with Limits: A Graphic Approach.”

“It is a math textbook. I found no evidence of any instruction or indoctrination of social issues,” Carl Clark concluded of “Algebra and Trigonometry” for high schoolers. (Both Savvas and Pearson confirmed to the Phoenix that the particular advanced math textbook is published by Pearson.)

However, some reviewers did detect social emotional learning. “SEL embedded is appropriate for mathematical mindsets,” reviewer Alison Brannack wrote  of Savvas’s second-grade math textbook.

“There is some social emotional learning that is embedded within this textbook … but it is not overwhelming nor does it take away from the subject-area standards,” Kelsey Ivey wrote of Savvas’ third-grade textbook.

The department initially rejected these books but now they’re on the state adoption list, meaning the publisher edited them to suit the preferences of the department, although officials haven’t explained how.

An explanation to our readers and additions to our story:

In a May 6 story about math textbooks, Savvas Learning Company states that it has been characterized “as the publisher of several advancement placement and honors math and stats textbooks that were not recommended by the Florida DOE. This is not correct. Savvas is not the publisher; these textbooks are published by Pearson, which has sole editorial control over their content,” according to Savvas official Richard Weir, in an email May 13 to the Phoenix.

“The reason why Savvas appears on the Florida DOE documents is because we are the third-party distributor of these textbooks, and as such we are the ones who submitted the bid (on behalf of Pearson) for these collegiate-level, AP, honors and electives textbooks to be considered for review by the Florida DOE.”

Pearson official Caley Gray confirmed in an email on May 13 that Pearson is the publisher of those particular math textbooks.

On Monday, May 16, the Florida Department of Education stated: “Savvas Learning Company submitted the bids for the instructional materials. Therefore, they are listed as the publisher,” according to press secretary Cassie Palelis, of the Florida Department of Education.

Also on Monday, Savvas official Weir stated in an email that, “to be clear, Savvas did submit our own K-12 math instructional materials for approval to the Florida DOE, all of which are currently on the state’s recommended list.  

“However, all of the below titles, which are generally produced for college-level courses and used to teach high school advancement placement, honors, electives, and career and technical education (CTE) classes, are published by Pearson.”

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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.