Florida approves more math books but provides no explanation

Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | April 28, 2022

A series of elementary school math textbooks previously rejected by Florida won state approval this week and can now be purchased by school districts that want books to match state standards.

But precisely why the books from Big Ideas Learning faced rejection two weeks ago and what, if any, alterations the publisher made to win approval remains unclear. Three other math books — for algebra, geometry and seventh-grade accelerated math — also moved off the state’s “not recommended” list this week, according to information posted on the Florida Department of Education’s website.

The change means that Florida’s school districts now have more than one choice for their kindergarten-to-fifth-grade math books — and an option that includes print books, not solely online offerings.

The Florida Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday on why some math books now met its approval. But Thursday a notice appeared on its website, saying publishers were “aligning their instructional materials to state standards and removing woke content,” so nine once rejected textbooks were now on the state-approved list.

Cassie Palelis, a department spokesperson, in an email Thursday did not respond to questions about specific changes made to the nine books. But she said education officials hoped other publishers would make needed changes and end up back on Florida’s approved list.

“We have high standards and reject books with unacceptable content because we know that publishers can easily adjust their materials to meet our guidelines, as displayed by the fact that it took less than two weeks for additional publishers to amend entire books, resubmit them and get put on the adoption list,” she wrote.

The state announced April 15 that it was rejecting 54 math textbooks, claiming many aimed to “indoctrinate” students with the inappropriate inclusion of “critical race theory,” “social emotional learning” or other “prohibited” topics. The department later released a list that said 27 books were rejected because they contained the unacceptable topics, but it provided no examples of specific problems in any of the rejected textbooks

The department nixed textbooks from four of the five publishers that submitted bids to provide a K-5 math series to Florida’s public schools.

That left districts with one option — STEMscopes by Accelerate Learning — that is “centered on a digital platform,” according to the company’s website.

In response to the state’s textbook rejections, some school districts delayed purchasing books they’d previously decided on, hoping publishers would appeal or the state would reconsider.

In several school districts — including those in Lake, Seminole and Broward counties — officials said they did not want online textbooks for K-5 students, as they preferred children to solve math problems by hand and worried about access if schools did not have laptops for every child.

A spokesperson from Big Ideas could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday on what the company might have done to win Florida’s approval. An online pamphlet from Big Idea Learning about its Florida K-5 books touted “social emotional learning” as part of its math lessons, but that now appears to have been removed.

The state told publishers that to align with Florida’s new B.E.S.T. standards — benchmarks for what students should learn in math, kindergarten through 12th grade — their textbooks could not include “social emotional learning, “critical race theory,” often called CRT, “culturally responsive teaching as it relates to CRT,” or “social justice as it relates to CRT” and “social emotional learning.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis and other GOP leaders have railed against CRT and banned it from public schools, arguing it is an effort to teach children to hate America and white children to feel guilty. DeSantis dubbed the new anti-CRT law as an “anti-woke” measure. Critics, however, say CRT is a legal theory not taught in public schools and argue DeSantis wants to whitewash history and prevent the teaching of difficult topics such as slavery and Jim Crow laws.

State leaders called “social emotional learning,” typically viewed as a way to help children manage emotions and get along, an “extraneous and unsolicited strategies outside the scope of subject-area standards.”

An algebra 2 honors book, a geometry book and a seventh grade book published by Math Nation also won approval this week. The company’s textbooks also included prohibited topics, according to the state’s earlier list of “not recommended” books, though it was not clear which ones.

This story has been updated with new information released Thursday.

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