Florida Targets Imagine Learning’s SEL Curriculum in Message to Superintendents

Staff Writer

Florida’s department of education is taking aim at a well-known digital curriculum provider in its latest admonishment of programs the administration believes are at odds with controversial new state laws.

In a memo addressed to superintendents around the state, Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz called on districts and charter schools to do a “thorough review” if they are using Imagine Learning’s social-emotional learning curriculum, Purpose Prep.

He went on to say “Edgenuity/Imagine Learning’s divisive and discriminatory content branded as ‘social-emotional learning (SEL)’ has no place in Florida’s classrooms.”

State-mandated curbs on how teachers can discuss racism and gender issues are shaping how districts review and make decisions on curriculum.

“Schools should immediately cease using any materials that conflict with Florida law,” the memo read.

The message illustrates the escalating controversy around SEL, an extension of the cultural battles focused on classroom lessons that have been repeatedly fueled by Republican state officials across the country.

And it points to the potential impact these battles could have on the K-12 marketplace should Florida’s actions set a precedent for other states.

Imagine Learning declined to comment.

The Florida department did not clarify which law or statute the memo was referencing. But it appears to be the most recent action by state leadership to enforce a measure signed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis that he dubbed the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which seeks to put restrictions on how racism and systemic discrimination can be discussed in public workplaces and schools.

Diaz, a former state legislator, was chosen for the education commissioner’s post by DeSantis.

In recent weeks the state banned a pilot version of the College Board’s new advanced placement African American Studies course after the developer of testing and curriculum said it didn’t change the framework in response to Florida officials’ objections.

And nearly a year ago, the education department rejected a spate of math resources submitted for state adoption under claims that they promote “critical race theory” and include references to SEL.

School districts in Florida, like many other states, still have the power to make purchasing decisions and are not legally limited to state-approved vendors.

But EdWeek Market Brief’s surveys have found that state policy restrictions have had a chilling effect — causing some districts to review existing instructional materials and curriculum products, and in some cases, remove them from classrooms. (Florida is one of 18 states that have approved laws or policies that put restrictions on how teachers can discuss racism or gender.)

More than one in five district administrators and school leaders say they’re reconsidering which SEL products and programs to purchase or renew, as a result of a wave of state laws, an EdWeek Market Brief survey found.

A Focus on SEL

The new memo didn’t make clear what language or topics in the Purpose Prep curriculum were considered “divisive and discriminatory.”

Social-emotional learning saw a massive spike in interest after the pandemic, as many districts across the country, bolstered by federal relief dollars, looked for tools to support students and families who were shaken by COVID and its aftermath.

The longstanding practice is largely aimed at improving students’ skills in areas such as self-management and social awareness — competencies that research has tied to stronger academic outcomes and improved student behavior.

Purpose Prep is just one of the products under the umbrella of Imagine Learning, one of the largest K-12 digital curriculum providers in the country. Other products, such as Edgenuity, offer curriculum across subjects including English/language arts, math, science, social studies, world language, test preparation and more.

However, the company recently has increased its focus on SEL, which it announced at the same time it changed its branding from Weld North Education in 2021.

Last year, the company committed $5 million to launch a foundation with the goal of supporting social-emotional learning efforts happening outside of classrooms.

“Our goal was to find something that we could do, that we could have an immediate impact on, that wasn’t in curriculum,” Chairman and CEO Jonathan Grayer told EdWeek Market Brief at the time. “A big part of what we’re doing here is to enable local initiatives to have the resources they need to work.”

Follow EdWeek Market Brief on Twitter @EdMarketBrief or connect with us on LinkedIn.

Image by Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP: Florida State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. answers a question from a reporter during a legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. 

See also: