As Florida mulls changes to its education standards, do we wait to order new textbooks?

When Gov. Ron DeSantis' announced recently that he wanted to eliminate the Common Core education standards, it affected everything related to schools — including textbooks.
Florida educators are having to think harder about ordering new textbooks after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he wanted to change state education standards. School districts don’t want to order books only to have them rendered useless when the standards change in a couple of years.
Florida educators are having to think harder about ordering new textbooks after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he wanted to change state education standards. School districts don’t want to order books only to have them rendered useless when the standards change in a couple of years.
Published Feb. 15, 2019

School districts in Tampa Bay and across the state are looking to buy a new batch of textbooks to last the next few years, a routine task that rarely attracts much attention.

But this year is proving different after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he wants to eliminate any vestige of the Common Core standards from Florida's school system. Textbooks are based on the standards, which the state adopted with minor changes in 2010.

The state Department of Education has pushed back its calendar for textbook adoptions in a nod to the governor's initiative, a move that has left school district leaders scratching their heads about what their next steps should be.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: DeSantis takes aim at Common Core in executive order

In Pasco County, where teachers spent months reviewing books, the question has arisen whether to hold off. After all, the district could end up spending millions of dollars on items the state could render obsolete.

After School Board member Megan Harding raised concerns, district officials assured the board that the state's Common Core review will take at least a year. After that, whatever is adopted will take even longer to work its way into new materials and annual tests.

"We are ensuring we have great materials that are aligned with the standards for next year," said Lea Mitchell, Office of Leading and Learning director. "We didn't take the executive order … as a cause for us to stop the train in motion."

Around the state, districts are reacting differently.

Some, like Martin County, delayed action until they could send a request for clarification to the governor's office. Soon after, the Department of Education held a phone meeting with superintendents to lay out its plans — including an updated textbook adoption cycle that moves back math and language arts until a decision is reached on standards.

The Duval County School Board asked its textbook review committee to take another look at its recommendations in light of DeSantis' request.

The Pinellas County School Board, by contrast, approved its new selections a week ago, and notified its vendors that if the standards change mid-contract, the district expects appropriate updates as part of the deal, spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said.

The response has been largely positive, she added.

In Indian River County, administrators halted the district's purchase of new math textbooks that already had won board approval.

Instead, spokeswoman Cristen Maddux said, the staff is looking to order updates and other materials on the current editions used in the schools, while waiting to see what the next round of math standards looks like.

Florida adopted the Common Core as part of a nationwide effort to increase academic rigor in public schools after the U.S. fell behind other nations on several educational measures. But the effort hit opposition from conservatives who perceived it as an overreach by the federal government.

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To address those concerns, Florida tweaked the standards and changed the name, but the new governor now wants an overhaul.

The standards address math and English-language arts only. And with DeSantis raising specific concerns about the way math is taught, the expectation is that the books' design might change significantly.

"Everyone is waiting for more feedback," Maddux said. "It's just going to be a process."

As the third-largest state in the nation, with a state-level process for adopting textbooks, Florida is among the biggest players in the marketplace. It routinely draws dozens of publishers seeking approval to sell their titles here.

And when the state changes its standards, the publishers stand ready to make the needed edits.

Florida's state of flux has prompted many in the industry to begin discussions about how to proceed. Things like contract extensions on existing editions are in the mix.

At the Florida School Book Depository in Jacksonville, which houses adopted books and delivers them to schools throughout the state, an executive said the situation remains fluid and everyone is trying to figure out what all the changes will mean.

Tallahassee lobbyist Ron LaFace, who has represented publishers, said the Department of Education appears to be taking sensible steps to establish a review that can work, even on a tight timetable.

"They are working with all involved parties, including school districts and publishers, to ensure the standards review is achievable and implementable," LaFace said.

Keith Flaugh, managing director of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance, has long fought to excise some of the content of current science and history textbooks. A member of DeSantis' education advisory team, he urged districts to act cautiously.

"None of us would purchase a car that we expected to be obsolete in a year, (that) would remain in our garage for five years and be unusable. Why expect our students to use obsolete materials?" Flaugh said in a statement directed at districts. "To demonstrate your fiduciary credibility with your community of students, parents, grandparents, businesses and teachers, we call on each Florida school district to voluntarily freeze all instructional materials purchases, effective immediately."

Pasco school superintendent Kurt Browning said he would encourage his board to comply with the current standards, noting they still will drive state tests, school grades and curriculum until changes are approved by lawmakers and the Florida Board of Education.

"There's a long way to go," he said. Meanwhile, "the Florida standards are still there."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at Follow @JeffSolochek.