Florida Officials Reject Long List of Math Resources, Citing References to Critical Race Theory and SEL

Managing Editor
Florida rejects long list of math materials for adoption, citing inclusion of CRT and SEL. EdWeek Market Brief

The Florida Department of Education has rejected a spate of math resources submitted for state adoption, claiming the materials improperly promote “critical race theory” and include references to the popular concept of social-emotional learning.

The decision represents a striking escalation of the cultural battles focused on classroom lessons that have been repeatedly fueled by Republican state officials across the country over the past year.

And it’s the clearest example to date of how those political fights may affect the work of curriculum providers, who have traditionally regarded Florida as a critical market for selling their materials.

In a press statement released Friday, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said that more than four in 10 of the math materials submitted for approval were “impermissible.”

He pointed to lack of alignment with Florida’s standards, and the inclusion of “prohibited” topics—specifically naming critical race theory, the use of the common core state standards, and the “unsolicited” inclusion of social-emotional learning in math.

The press statement was headlined, “Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Florida Students.”

Corcoran, a former GOP Speaker of the Florida House who was appointed as education commissioner by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, did not say how the math materials referenced any of the concepts in question.

The state’s news release appears to offer a list of math resources that were granted approval for state adoption, but does not offer details on where the rejected materials fall short of Florida’s demands. (An EdWeek Market Brief request to the department of education for more information was not answered.)

The fact that Corcoran did not offer any public evidence supporting his claims about the rejected materials drew a scornful reaction on social media from Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat.

They won’t tell us what they are or what they say b/c it’s a lie,” tweeted Smith. “DeSantis has turned our classrooms into political battlefields and this is just the beginning.”

A list of materials on the department’s website that were described as approved for adoption includes those published by some of the biggest players in the industry, as well as smaller companies. Among those listed: McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Savvas Learning Company (formerly Pearson), and Carnegie Learning.

[Update (April 20): Florida officials have released the list of 54 materials that failed to win adoption for elementary, middle and high school grades. It includes materials produced by several of the same companies that had different materials accepted at various grades.

Among the companies with materials on the rejected list: Big Ideas Learning LLC; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; McGraw Hill; Savvas Learning; EdGems Math LLC; Math Nation; Carnegie Learning; and Agile Mind.]

All told, Florida officials said they were rejecting 54 of the 132 math resources submitted for adoption, or 41 percent of them. They provided the following rationale:

  • 28 materials were not approved because “they incorporate prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies, including CRT.”
  • 12 of them were rejected because they do not align to Florida’s state standards, known as the B.E.S.T. standards.
  • 14 materials were turned down because they either don’t align to B.E.S.T or include banned topics or unsolicited strategies, such as CRT.

Taken together, 71 percent of grade K-5 materials were rejected, as were 20 percent of grade 6-8 resources, and 35 percent of grade 9-12 resources.

Until recently, the concept of critical race theory was virtually unknown in the nation’s schools. The idea emerged from academia more than 40 years ago, and holds that race is a social construct and that racism is not only the product of individual prejudice, but something embedded in legal policies and systems.

There is no evidence that critical race theory, as it as has been defined for years, has any substantial place in lessons taught in U.S. schools, or in individual states, which set their own individual academic standards.

A nationally representative survey conducted last year by the EdWeek Research Center found that 92 percent of teachers say they have never taught critical race theory or discussed it with students.

Targeting Common Core

Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers in several states have seized on the concept, using it as an umbrella term for teaching that they believe wrongly suggests whites are inherently privileged or biased or that pushes objectionable remedies for addressing inequity.

Over the past year, GOP lawmakers in several states have approved laws that seek to more broadly restrict how teachers can discuss references to racism and gender during their lessons.

Last year, Florida’s state board of education approved a policy that bars educators from discussing critical race theory, the 1619 Project, or from otherwise introducing concepts the panel argued would present a biased view of history.

The Florida department of education’s new statement also targets social-emotional learning, broadly defined as the process of helping students develop skills in areas like self-management, communication, collaboration, and sound decisionmaking. There is substantial research showing links between SEL and improved academic performance and student behavior.

Many school district leaders have said that SEL has played a critical role in helping students whose lives have been upended by pandemic-era disruptions. When asked in a December survey by the EdWeek Research Center which areas their districts plan to invest most heavily in to combat COVID-era “learning loss,” the highest portion of any group surveyed, 52 percent, pointed to a need for SEL — more, even, that said the same about some core academic subjects.

In some communities, however, elected officials and parents have railed against SEL, saying it is a back-door way to bring discussions of race into school curricula.

Last year, Florida’s state board of education also sent an unusual note to more than a dozen instructional materials providers in math that were submitting bids for adoption. It warned them not to include references to culturally responsive teaching or social-emotional learning.

Three years ago, DeSantis signed an executive order calling for the elimination of all vestiges of the common core state standards from Florida’s academic materials. The state replaced them with standards known as B.E.S.T.

“It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of common core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” DeSantis said in the state’s news release.

“I’m grateful that Commissioner Corcoran and his team at the department have conducted such a thorough vetting of these textbooks to ensure they comply with the law.”

Check back on EdWeek Market Brief for more developments on this story as they emerge.

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Photo: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks during a bill signing ceremony at St. John the Apostle School in May in Hialeah, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

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