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Florida’s new textbook standards cause issues to school districts

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While Florida teachers and administrators have been planning for the 2022-2023 school year, some districts are having a difficult time getting textbooks approved under the new Florida Department of Education standards.

On Friday, the department sent out a news release announcing the state’s list for math instructional materials. The textbooks and materials are meant to be “properly aligned” to Florida’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards, which were adopted in 2020.

With the current school year nearly over, districts have already begun vetting textbooks. But some previously approved textbooks are now missing from the list.

On Tuesday night, the Walton County School Board discussed how to proceed with using a math textbook for kindergarten- to fifth-grade students that has already been vetted and approved by teachers and parents.

“They (DOE) didn’t provide any specific feedback to the publishers,” said Chris Brown, coordinator of instructional support services for Walton County School District.

The textbook in question is a K-5 math textbook from the publisher Big Ideas Learning, LLC. Accelerate Learning is the only vendor on the approved list for K-5 mathematics.

“The one textbook that is on the current adoption list has a lower rating for covering standards in B.E.S.T. math,” said Crystal Apple, supervisor of the curriculum and instruction department.

The district held its review of materials with teachers and stakeholders on Jan. 4, Brown said.

“(They) followed up with teachers multiple times to make sure they were making informed decisions about the curriculum they wanted to move forward with knowing there would be a transition with both standards and curricula,” he said.

“Overwhelmingly, the vote came back with the vendor that’s in front of you today.”

Overall, Florida DOE rejected 54 of the 132 (41%) submitted textbooks on the state’s adopted list, according to the release from the department. Of that list, 21% were rejected because they included prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies, including Critical Race Theory (CRT); 9% did not properly align to B.E.S.T standards, and 11% were not adopted because they didn’t align to B.E.S.T. standards and they included topics such as CRT.

“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,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in the 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.”

This follows the governor’s recent wave of bills that attempt to quell classroom discussions around CRT or the LGBTQ community and give parents more say on their children’s education.

Brown told the board that DOE did release three specific categories on why a book may have been removed from the list: the inclusion of social-emotional learning, CRT, or Common Core.

“What I've received from our vendor is that there’s no CRT in the textbooks, there's no Common Core and there were three minor references to social-emotional learning and all of those have been pulled,” said Brown. “Two were in digital access and have both been removed. One was in supplemental print material our district had no intention of ordering anyway.”

“(With) social-emotional learning, there are parts of that that are very good,” added School Board member Jeri Michie. “It’s unnerving to think we’re adopting a book that’s on a not-recommended list by the department of education.”

Big Ideas Learning, LLC is listed on the approved list for middle- and high-school classes and is currently being used in the district.

Vetting and approving a new textbook puts the district behind in planning. Apple said that books in hand would be delayed for the beginning of the school year.

Walton County received an “A” grade for the 2020-2021 school year. Superintendent Russell Hughes also noted that the district ranks high in math scores.

“The reason we do so well is we train the teachers well,” Hughes said. “They know the material.”

Krissa Johansen is the local chapter chairwoman of Moms for Liberty, a nonprofit group that advocates for parental rights. Johansen called it a "watchdog" group of schools. She attended the January committee meeting where the materials were vetted but did not have a vote.

“We know how sneaky the publishers are and I’m not placing blame on any particular party but we’ve seen firsthand, unfortunately, how agendas can sneak into the curriculum,” she said. “If it’s on the Florida DOE not-recommended list, I feel the long-term repercussions are greater than the short-term hassles that the teachers and staff may have to go through to make sure they are getting an approved curriculum to the students.”

In the end, the board voted to approve the textbook, noting there was still a 30-day waiting period for opposition before books would be purchased. By that time, the board hopes any issues with FDOE standards will be rectified.

The entire issue is frustrating, said Hughes.

“All of the sudden at the end (of the school year) we have this list,” he said. “Is there going to be another list coming out? Talk about frustrating. It’s disheartening how this has played out. It’s difficult for teachers, students, and families. The fact of the matter is they’re changing the standards. I trust the committee of teachers along with parent participation. I trust locally — this team that vetted it.”