Florida issues revisions that led to math textbooks being rejected

It was equivalent to: “Show your work.” To help explain its baffling rejection of dozens of math textbooks, the state of Florida released nearly 6,000 pages of reviewer comments this week revealing a confusing, contradictory, and often divisive process.

Conservative activist turned textbook reference was looking for mention of race. Another reviewer does not appear to know that concepts of social and emotional learning, such as developing audacity, should be banned, according to the state. A third pointed out that there is a verbal problem in comparing the salaries of male and female football players.

As part of the formal review process, the state has tasked teachers, parents, and other residents with reviewing textbooks, in part to determine whether they have adhered to Florida’s teaching standards for mathematics—from simple addition in kindergarten to interpretation of graphs in high school statistics.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and allies in the state legislature, also fought against what he called “wake up memorization“In public schools and a series of regulations and laws intended to limit how subjects related to race, gender, and social emotion are taught.

So the reviewers were asked to identify “critical race theory,” “culturally responsive teaching,” “social justice as it relates to CRT,” and “socio-emotional learning,” according to the documents.

In illustrating how these terms have become politicized and subjective, diverse reviewers rarely agree on whether these concepts exist—and if they do, whether books should be accepted or rejected for inclusion.

While many states and school districts hire textbook reviewers, the Florida process was very unusual. Some reviewers considered race and socio-emotional learning along with detail points for math content and teaching methods, while others looked only for critical race theory, according to the documents.

It is not clear why certain auditors have a narrower task, and the Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to a list of written questions about the review process.

But in an April press release announcing the rejection of textbooks, the department said, “Florida’s transparent educational material review process ensures that the public has the opportunity to review and comment on submitted textbooks.”

Governor DeSantis has said that he believes concepts such as SEL are a distraction from mathematics itself.

“The math is about getting the answer right,” he said at a press conference last month, adding, “It’s not about how you feel about the problem.”

Conservative activists participated in the review process. For example, five reviewers read “Thinking Mathemically” from the publisher Savvas Learning Company, a textbook that was rejected in high school. Only one of the reviewers—Chris Allen, a parent in Indian River County and activist for the conservative group Moms for Liberty—tagged the book for including critical race theory and socioemotional learning.

In detailed comments, a. 33-year-old Allen took issue with math problems that suggested a relationship between racial bias and age and education level, which called attention to the wage gap between women and men.

She also cited several topics for being “inappropriate for age,” such as mentioning divorce and drug and alcohol abuse.

In an interview, A. Allen, who works in engineering, said she first heard about the opportunity to review textbooks in January, through an email list of local activists known as the Education Action Alliance. At the time, Florida had invited volunteers as “guest auditors”.

She described herself as a “newcomer” on state policy that first engaged during the pandemic, to resist mandates for school masks. She was also active in efforts to remove what she referred to as “pornographic books” from school libraries.

She said the Florida Department of Education has been more responsive to her concerns than her local school board.

“This is for high school kids,” she said. “You are still discovering who you are and discovering your place in the world. This math book tells you, based on your age, that you may be racially prejudiced.”

From the documentation, it appears that some reviewers did not understand that they should reject textbooks with social-emotional learning, a prevalent educational movement intended to help students develop skills such as cooperation and grit. It is widely taught in colleges of education and professional development sessions.

The first-grade book, published by Savas, for example, includes concepts such as seeking “respectfully different” about how to solve a math problem, and urges students to “use a growth mindset” when they get stuck.

One reviewer, apparently a mentor, noted that the book “provides good strategies for SEL”. But then, the same reviewer also said that the book does not contain content related to socio-emotional learning. The textbook was rejected anyway.

Study Edge’s Grade 7 Accelerated Mathematics book was rejected after one of its reviewers raised questions about a “warm-up” activity that “includes a controversial topic of equal pay and discrimination.”

A look at the textbook indicates that the reviewer, an algebra teacher in Orlando, was referring to a word problem in comparing the salaries of male and female soccer players using Megan Rapinoe as an example.

Many textbooks were rejected by the state despite strong reviews from mathematics teachers, who praised the books for being interactive, comprehensive, and for having rich digital resources. Some teacher reviewers provided detailed feedback on how different texts helped or handicapped students with math, often citing their classroom experiences.

But in the end, for dozens of books, those comments mattered less than those faltering issues like race, gender, and socioemotional learning.

Over the past several weeks, some publishers have agreed to review their disapproved books. Florida law also allows companies to appeal the refusal.

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