Most Florida math textbook reviewers didn’t see evidence of ‘woke’ concepts

But one parent, who is affiliated with the conservative group Moms for Liberty, said she saw “biased” content in her review.
These math books were flagged by the state of Florida for inappropriate content.
These math books were flagged by the state of Florida for inappropriate content. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 7, 2022|Updated May 8, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Dozens of state reviewers found no evidence of “prohibited topics” like critical race theory and social-emotional learning in math textbooks, a partial review of nearly 6,000 pages of book examinations shows. However, a much smaller number of reviewers did find examples they disagreed with on those topics.

The textbook examinations were part of a “thorough” review process that led the Florida Department of Education to reject 54 of 132 math textbooks proposed for use in public school classrooms over claims that publishers were attempting to “indoctrinate” students.

The department later announced that 19 books were added back to the state’s adoption list, claiming that publishers made fixes that included “removing woke content.” The state has not explained what publishers had to do to get their books on the approved list so quickly, raising questions about exactly what content the state’s review process found objectionable.

Related: A closer look at Florida's rejected math textbooks

The textbook examinations were conducted by more than 70 people, including elementary and high school math teachers, college professors, principals and math curriculum coordinators.

Many of those educators assessed the books to see whether they would be easy to navigate, understand and keep students interested in the subject of math — and the majority found no evidence of “prohibited topics” like critical race theory in the books.

But one parent, who is affiliated with the conservative group Moms for Liberty and who assisted the state in reviewing two math books, said other reviewers may have glossed over content that she flagged to the state as inappropriate, “agenda driven” and “biased.”

“I wish they could’ve seen the information I saw,” Chris Allen told the Miami Herald on Friday, speaking to the possible disparities between her responses and those of other reviewers.

Maybe, she said, the others were focusing on “other aspects of the curriculum.”

Some reviewers were trained in the state’s B.E.S.T Standards, according to Allen, “so maybe they were focusing on how things aligned with the standards instead of the words or examples being used” in the problem-solving portions of the books.

For Carl Clark, an assistant professor of mathematics at Indian River State College, the materials presented a different picture.

“It is a math textbook. I found no evidence of any instruction or indoctrination of social issues,” Clark wrote after reviewing a high school-level algebra and trigonometry book that was rejected by the state. He confirmed to the Herald Friday that he was a reviewer but declined to comment further.

Lots of questions but still few detailed explanations

The ways in which state reviewers approached the content underscore the tensions that are emerging in Florida’s book adoption cycle as Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration criticize publishers for attempting to “indoctrinate” students with “woke content.”

The math textbook rejections over issues like critical race theory, an academic concept that is generally not part of the K-12 curriculum, have drawn national attention and left many educators scratching their heads. The state Department of Education has provided few details on the objectionable content, beyond posting four examples provided to the department by the public with no explanation.

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Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, who was recently confirmed as Florida’s new education commissioner, posted on Twitter Friday that the department has “an extensive review process and compiles all pieces of evidence when adopting textbooks — including reviews, evaluation scores and public comment.”

He said there were “several reviewers” that found CRT in submitted math textbooks, but he did not share examples.

Allen, an aerospace engineer, applied to be a book reviewer in January after seeing the department was seeking participants in the review process. She had already been involved in a book-review process in her district, she said, and figured, “Why not?”

She reviewed “Thinking Mathematically,” from Savvas Learning Company, a book for the course “Mathematics for College Liberal Arts,” and concluded the state should reject it “based solely on critical race theory elements.”

Allen said the content contained CRT because it put an “emphasis that racism is embedded in American society,” pointing to a lesson plan answer that said, “The United States has eradicated neither poverty nor racism.”

She also said the book violated a rule that said schools could not use materials from the New York Times1619 Project, saying there was “no mention of the Federalist Papers to understand why the Electoral College was established.”

“The American history of context is presented as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence,” she wrote.

Closer scrutiny just for CRT?

The Herald’s partial review of the book examinations also shows that in many instances, book reviewers only answered whether the books’ contents included critical race theory, not the many detailed other questions found in most of the reviews. The Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment on why reviewers only focused on that part of the standards.

Related: Florida math textbook reviewers made comments on race, climate change, records show

In a statement, the department said it seeks reviewers with “content expertise and an in-depth understanding” of the state’s standards. Those reviewers “must meet minimum professional qualifications.”

“Each instructional material is evaluated by multiple reviewers, just like would happen for any state agency competitive bid process,” the department said.

When asked for the state’s definition of “woke content,” the department pointed back to state rules and laws that reject the inclusion of “critical theory, inclusions of common core, and unsolicited addition of social-emotional learning in mathematics” in instructional materials.

Critical race theory is a legal academic concept that examines systemic racism in American institutions and policies.

Social-emotional learning is the educational practice of teaching students skills such as creative problem-solving, understanding their emotions and showing empathy toward others.

Miami Herald senior editor Dave Wilson contributed to this report.

Correction: This story was updated after initial publication to clarify Allen’s objections to the New York Times 1619 Project, not critical race theory.