Florida releases criticism that led to rejection of math textbooks

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

A conservative activist turned textbook critic was on the lookout for mentions of race. Another reviewer didn’t seem to know that social-emotional learning concepts, like building courage, should be banned, according to the state. A third reported a word problem comparing the salaries of male and female soccer players.

As part of the official review process, the state commissioned educators, parents, and other residents to review the textbooks, in part to determine if they met Florida math education standards – from simple addition in kindergarten to interpreting graphs in high school statistics.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and his allies in the state legislature have also fought against what he calls “awakened indoctrinationin public schools and advanced a series of regulations and laws aimed at limiting how topics related to race, gender and social emotions are taught.

Reviewers were therefore asked to flag “critical race theory,” “culturally responsive teaching,” “social justice as it relates to CRT,” and “social-emotional learning,” according to the documents.

To illustrate how these terms have become politicized and subjective, the various reviewers have rarely agreed on whether these concepts are present – ​​and, if they were, whether the books should be accepted or rejected for having them. included.

While many states and school districts appoint textbook reviewers, Florida’s process is highly unusual. Some reviewers looked at race and social-emotional learning alongside detailed points of math content and pedagogy, while others only looked for critical race theory, the papers say.

It’s unclear why some reviewers took on a more restricted task, and the Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to a list of written questions about the review process.

But in a April press release Announcing the textbook rejections, the department said, “Florida’s transparent instructional materials review process ensures the public has an opportunity to review and comment on submitted textbooks.”

And Governor DeSantis has said he thinks concepts like social-emotional learning are a distraction from the math itself.

“Mathematics is about getting the answer right,” he told a news 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 Mathematically” from publisher Savvas Learning Company, a rejected high school textbook. Only one of the reviewers – Chris Allen, a parent from Indian River County and an activist with the conservative group Moms for Liberty – reported that the book included critical race theory and social-emotional learning.

In detailed comments, Ms Allen, 33, took issue with math problems which she wrote suggested a correlation between racial bias, age and level of education and which drew pay attention to the pay gap between women and men.

She also cited several topics as “not age-appropriate,” such as mentions of divorce and drug and alcohol use.

In an interview, Ms Allen, who works in engineering, said she first heard about the possibility of textbook revisions in January, through a local activist mailing list known as of Education Action Alliance. At the time, Florida issued a call for volunteer “guest reviewers.”

She described herself as “a newcomer” to state politics who first got involved during the pandemic, to resist school mask mandates. She was also active in efforts to remove what she called “pornographic books” from school libraries.

The Florida Department of Education, she said, had been more responsive to her concerns than her local school board.

“These are for high school kids,” she said. “You’re still figuring out who you are and your place in the world. This math book tells you, depending on your age, that you might have racial bias.

From the documents, it appears that some reviewers did not understand that they should reject textbooks for social-emotional learning, a general education move intended to help students develop skills such as cooperation and courage. It is widely taught in colleges of education and in professional development sessions.

One grade one book, published by Savvas, for example, includes concepts such as striving to “respectfully disagree” about how to solve a math problem, and urges students to “use a mindset of growth” when blocked.

A reviewer, apparently a teacher, noted that the book “provides good strategies for SEL”. But then the same reviewer also said that the book had no content related to social-emotional learning. The manual was rejected anyway.

Study Edge’s Grade 7 ‘Accelerated Math’ textbook has been rejected after one of the reviewers who recommended it raised questions about a ‘warm-up’ activity that ‘includes a controversial topic regarding equality of pay and discrimination.

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

Many textbooks have been rejected by the state despite rave reviews from math teachers, who praised the books for their commitment, thoroughness, and rich digital resources. Some teacher examiners provided detailed comments on how the various texts would help or hinder students in mathematics, often referring to their own classroom experiences.

But ultimately, for dozens of books, those comments were less important than those issues of race, gender, and social-emotional learning.

In recent weeks, some publishers have agreed to revise their rejected books. Florida law also allows companies to appeal rejections.

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