Only one reviewer who dug into the math books publishers hoped to sell to Florida schools complained there was “critical race theory” embedded in the texts, and she was a member of the conservative Moms for Liberty group who looked at just two high school books, according to state documents released late Thursday.
Most of the other 70 reviewers found little to suggest the more than 130 textbooks for kindergarten-to-12th-grade classes strayed from their subjects or aimed to teach students about “critical race theory” and other prohibited topics, according to thousands of pages of textbook reviews released by the Florida Department of Education.
“It’s a math textbook. I found no evidence of any instruction or indoctrination of social issues,” wrote Carl Clark, on a review of a book for a high school class “mathematics for data and financial literacy.”
Wrote reviewer Rebecca Lee, “Calculus book no mention of social justice.”
The state’s review form asked if the books contained four prohibited topics: “critical race theory,” often dubbed CRT, “social emotional learning,” “social justice as it relates to CRT ” and “culturally responsive teaching as it relates to CRT.”
Florida announced on April 15 that it rejected 54 math textbooks, claiming many were pushing these topics state leaders find objectionable and state rules prohibit.
A list posted several days later showed 27 of the books, or just half, were rejected for including those topics while the others failed to meet Florida’s new math standards. In the following weeks, 19 rejected books were approved.
The education department, however, has not provided examples of why books were rejected or what, if any, changes publishers made to get them approved. Most of the publishing companies have declined to provide details, too.
The state announced the decision with a news release headlined, “Florida rejects publishers’ attempts to indoctrinate students.”
A spokesman for the education department did not immediately answer questions about why it focused on CRT and “indoctrination” in the press release nor how it picked its reviewers.
Most of the reviews did not sound the alarm.
Some reviewers found lessons related to “social emotional learning,” sometimes called SEL, or efforts to help children manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others and make responsible decisions . But most did not seem to view those references as deal killers, and some noted they could be deleted — or could be helpful.
“There is some Social Emotional Learning that is embedded within this textbook (sharing with a partner, growth mindset), but it is not overwhelming nor does it take away from the subject-area standards,” wrote Kelsey Ivey of a third grade math book she recommended for approval.
“While being culturally sensitive with names and illustrations, CRT is not taught,” Doreen Alvarez wrote about a second-grade math book. “Some lessons include growth mindset concepts, which are a component of SEL learning.”
Alvarez, however, did not recommend the book for approval, and it ended up on the state’s initial rejection list.
Social emotional learning concept experts say are embedded in state education guidelines, so many educators are puzzled why the education department targeted it. But foes of CRT view it as a related topic that can be used to infuse race-based lessons.
Chris Allen, an Indian River mother and a member of that county’s Moms for Liberty chapter, found much to dislike. She reviewed high school math textbooks for her county and then for the state, she said in a phone interview last month.
She also sent the state examples of two race-based questions she found in the textbooks — which the education department later posted on its website as examples of the questionable material found in the math books that were banned from use in classrooms.
One was a word problem that began, “What? Me? Racist?” and asked students to calculate a level of racial prejudice. Another was a bar graph with the heading, “Measuring Racial Prejudice, by Political Affiliation.”
For the state, Allen reviewed a pre-calculus book she called “agenda driven and biased” and complained the other one, for a course on “mathematics for college liberal arts,” was “biased when it comes to global warming and climate crisis. ”
Both in her view violated the state’s prohibitions against CRT, a college-level concept about inherent societal racism in America that some conservatives allege is creeping into K-12 public schools.
Allen wrote negatively of both books, and both ended up on the rejected list. Two other people, however, reviewed the pre-calculus textbook, and three others reviewed the other one, and none identified problems.
No other reviews noted a finding of CRT, the documents showed.
While most reviewers answered with a sentence or two, Allen wrote a long narrative. The books wrongly included topics such as gender, climate change, body image and COVID-19 vaccines into math questions “all of which are not relevant or meaningful to high school aged children,” she wrote.
She did not like the bar graph about racial prejudice because it “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,” she wrote.
The author of the two books seemed biased, she added. “He talks about a climate crisis as if it’s a proven fact,” she wrote.
Both books were written by Robert Blitzer, a retired professor from Miami Dade College. In one of the books’ preface, he wrote that he relied on “real-world data” to make the math problems interesting to students.
In an email, Allen said she has a degree in aerospace engineering, has worked in engineering for about seven years and has always liked math, so reviewing math books made sense to her.
Another reviewer, Rachel Schrimsher, noted she found “a controversial topic regarding equal pay and discrimination” in a seventh-grade math book. She still recommended the book be approved, rating it a five on the state’s five-point scale.
“Beyond the few items noted above, the curriculum is stellar,” Schrimsher wrote. “Easy to use, not much ‘fluff, teacher and student friendly. Adheres to the standards with rigor and clear explanation.”
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The book was among the 27 initially rejected for containing a prohibited topic.
The education department posted a list of its reviewers but did not provide any information on their qualifications. According to the “call for reviewers,” those who wanted to evaluate math books needed “content expertise and an in-depth understanding” of Florida’s new math standards, called BEST
The document noted the state was looking for teachers with at least five years of experience and others regarded as math experts.
The state’s education commissioner — Richard Corcoran at the time the books were rejected — looks at the reviewers’ evaluations, the cost of the books and feedback from the public before deciding whether to approve or reject textbooks, the department’s website said.
School districts typically purchase textbooks for their schools off the state list to make sure their classroom lessons match what the state wants taught.
The state’s initial rejection list included the elementary school math books selected by all Central Florida and South Florida schools districts and many others across the state. The districts were poised to spend millions of dollars this spring so the new books would be in classrooms when the new school year starts in August but most delayed those purchases after the state’s announcement.
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