TALLAHASSEE — Days after rejecting dozens of math textbooks for including what the state Department of Education claimed were “indoctrination concepts,” Florida officials continued Monday to deny requests of examples.
The material is “proprietary,” Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference.
The lack of information caused buzz over the weekend, with the state’s announcement garnering national attention as the latest flame in the ongoing culture wars in the classroom.
Local school officials, publishers and other interested parties rushed for details and wondered what exactly the state was talking about when it said math textbooks contained “banned subjects,” including references to critical race theory.
“Textbook selection has always been a highly politicized area,” said Christopher Finan, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “It is not surprising that textbooks are under attack. It seems so weird that they managed to find the CRT in math textbooks. This is direct satire.
Several publishers whose books were rejected did not respond to requests for comment. Richard Weir, a spokesman for publishing giant Savvas Learning (formerly Pearson), said his company had “a long and successful track record” with education officials in Florida and worked to ensure that its equipment would meet new state standards.
“Like many other companies that have submitted bids to the Florida DOE, Savvas has been informed that some of our math programs developed specifically for Florida have not been recommended at this time. Once we obtain information further from the state on the specific reasons, Savvas will work towards an appropriate resolution,” he said via email.
As the nation talked about the unusual textbook move to Florida, DeSantis administration officials doubled down. Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez appeared on fox and friends Monday morning to argue that publishers are conspiring to indoctrinate children.
“What we’ve seen is a systematic attempt by these publishers to infiltrate our children’s education by integrating topics like CRT,” said Nuñez, who called the process of verifying State books of “very transparent”.
Hours later, DeSantis told reporters at a press conference that the state had not released specific examples of the rejected books because the text is considered “proprietary information.”
“I would love for it to be released, but I also respect the process,” he told reporters.
His comments appear to run counter to the intent of a measure that DeSantis issued a few weeks ago. This law aims to bring more transparency to Florida school districts’ book selection process. It states that districts must provide access to all records “before the district school board takes formal action regarding those records.”
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The lack of information has left many local school officials scrambling for clarity as they prepare to select teaching materials for their classrooms. Districts do not have to purchase books from the state-approved list, but they do try to have materials that meet state academic expectations.
Public Schools in Miami-Dade County, Florida’s largest district, said they are “awaiting comments from the state on why the titles were rejected.”
“We’re trying to figure out what’s going on (and) what the problem is,” said Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade. “It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s the shiny object. Nobody’s complaining about the math books, but (state GOP leaders) are making an issue of it.
In the departments of Orange and Pinellas, information counts because they have already selected their new mathematics book for the 2022-23 school year. None of the books chosen by these districts for elementary math courses were on the state-approved list.
“I’ve never seen a K-5 roster of just one selection,” said Kevin Hendrick, director of studies for Pinellas Schools. “It was a bit surprising not to see the textbooks chosen by our teachers.”
The state has a textbook adoption cycle that rotates through subjects every six years. The process isn’t new, and it’s not the first time books have not been included on a state-approved list. Unusually, state officials said, 41% of books — 54 of 132 textbook publishers submitted — failed to meet Florida’s “high standards for math education.” “.
Hendrick said the district’s review of the books revealed no critical race theory in the lessons. The inclusion of social-emotional learning could be inferred, he said, because publishers follow state standards to help students see mathematics as accessible and relevant.
Social-emotional learning, also known by its acronym SEL, is based on the idea that emotional skills are crucial for academic performance in school.
“I don’t know how these are implemented in math problems,” said Morgan Polikoff, associate professor of education at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. “To me, the onus is on the state to provide evidence of what they’re talking about.”
Lea Mitchell, director of leadership and learning for Pasco County Schools, said her district decided against choosing an elementary math series for the upcoming year because of some of the reasons given by the state to reject them.
“Our concern was the same that publishers would not be able to adequately adapt elementary textbooks to meet BEST standards in the time available,” she said.
But not knowing what officials are referring to when they criticize the content as “indoctrination” could prove problematic for educators as they try to find material for their classrooms. State law states that districts can spend up to 50% of their state allowance on books that are not on the department’s adoption lists.
“If they want to report it to us, that’s what I think is very concerning,” Mitchell said.
Stephana Ferrell of Orange County is one of the leaders of the Florida Freedom to Read Project. The group is fighting efforts to remove the books from school libraries in several counties.
Ferrell acknowledged that the state’s authority to set guidelines for textbooks and curricula is much stricter than determining what happens in libraries. She wasn’t surprised at the direction the state has taken on math books, suggesting it advances DeSantis’ narrative that Floridians can’t trust public education.
DeSantis “scores easy points with the base and he looks like a hero for stopping the bad guys yet again,” Ferrell said.
Jeremy Young, senior director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, said in a statement that the textbook decision “raises serious concerns about whether these decisions are made on the basis of pedagogy or politics.” .
Over the past year, DeSantis and the Florida Republicans have made no secret of their disagreements with local school officials. Mask mandates, classroom instructions on sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary grades, and restrictions on race-related topics have all been targets and part of a broad effort by the GOP to energize its base ahead of the midterm elections.
At DeSantis’ request, the State Board of Education also last year banned courses dealing with critical race theory, an academic concept centered on the idea that racism is systemic and tied to American society.
After reading the department’s announcement, Ferrell said she returned to the Orange County District website to review online versions of her recommended math textbooks, which have been made public due to requirements. of State.
She said she found a few examples where courses focused on ideas such as the statistical probability of being arrested by race, based on existing data. If that’s what the state is talking about, Ferrell said, his group disputes the definition of “indoctrination.”
“The indoctrination is not having it in the book but taking it out of the conversation,” she said. “We want our children to go and be educated in a school that feels like the real world, that acts like the real world, that challenges their beliefs.”
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said he’s concerned the Department of Education’s action on math books could prefigure how it will approach other topics, including how of which he performs HB 1557 on the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity. Critics called the new law vague, leaving decisions about what may or may not be included to the department.
The state will revise social studies textbooks next year.
“The Department of Education has been politicized by Ron DeSantis, by his appointees, and by Moms for Liberty,” Smith said. “Their assessment of what is and is not appropriate for college students is totally out of step with the majority of Floridians.”
Miami Herald reporters Sommer Brugal and Bianca Padro Ocasio contributed to this report.
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