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Florida math textbooks weren't evaluated by just math experts

Rejected textbook
Rejected textbook example
Posted at 2:19 PM, May 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-09 10:41:27-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Nearly one month after a press release accused some textbook publishers of trying to “indoctrinate” Florida students by including critical race theory and other prohibited topics into math textbooks; Florida’s Department of Education has moved 19 of those books from the naughty list to the state’s approved list after publishers revised what state education leaders call, “woke content.”

While the state continues to keep the how and why of that content secret from the public; Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone discovered more about the ‘who’ behind the original and historic list of 54 textbooks rejected for containing prohibited or unsolicited strategies.

After requesting the list of reviewers who evaluated these textbooks, Florida’s Department of Education (FDOE) sent a list containing the first and last names of 81 people it lists as “K-12 Mathematic Reviewers.”

However, after the state released copies of these reviewer evaluations on Thursday, Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone discovered several of those reviewers are not included on the state list provided to her. Those reviewers include the one evaluator who flagged the most issues concerning critical race theory. FDOE has not explained why it did not include all reviewers’ names on the list it provided to us.

In addition, despite our repeated requests. FDOE has yet to provide us with any credentials of reviewers.

Using the list of 81 reviewers she did have, LaGrone went digging, combing through public records, social, media accounts, and the web. She found the majority are Florida educators with certifications, degrees, teaching positions, or other expertise in math.

But some, she found, are not.

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In fact, instead of math whizzes, LaGrone found reading teachers, social science educators, and history buffs were also among the state’s math textbook evaluators.

“I was really surprised when I found that out,” said Carrie DeNote. DeNote has two master's degrees, is a K-5 math instruction coach in Hernando County, and President of Florida’s Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

So it’s no surprise she was a recent reviewer. She said she evaluated two math textbooks, one for kindergarten and the other for 4th grade.

“I was looking at standards. I didn't see anything that was inappropriate or questionable as far as a math textbook goes,” she explained about her review.

As for why a civics or history teacher would be part of the state’s math review, DeNote could only guess.

“I can't see a reason other than, you know, that they're looking for something specific,” she said.

Fla. Department of Education releases examples of problematic textbooks

Her theory explains why, at least, one history buff we found on the list got the gig. Turns out, he doesn’t even live in Florida.

Jordan Adams is a civic education specialist at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Hillsdale is a conservative college and popular speaking spot for Republican leaders including former Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

Adams is part of a leadership team at Hillsdale working to expand its network of charter schools across the U.S. using the “Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum.” Critics have raised concerns the curriculum promotes politically conservative views of American history.

Adams refused LaGrone’s request for an on-camera interview, but in limited responses to questions she emailed him, Adams explained why his background in civics makes him qualified to review math.

“Where the Department sought assistance from individuals with a civics background was where the mathematicians who wrote the textbooks went outside of their field and introduced civics content,” he stated in an email.

Adams would not reveal any details about the textbooks he evaluated and if or why he flagged any.

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In reviewer evaluations the FDOE released on Thursday, a review of Adams’ evaluations showed he flagged a high school textbook that he determined, “may violate” state rules prohibiting critical race theory when it included racism on several pages. Adams, ultimately, deemed the passage was in “fair alignment” with state standards and rules.

To date, the FDOE has only released four photos of examples, cited by reviewers, that contain prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies.

“Each state has its own process for reviewing mathematics,” said Trena Wilkerson, President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Recently, the organization released a statement advocating for equity in math education while denouncing any use of math for political gain.

Wilkerson said while states may have reason to include other subject area experts in their reviews; the final say over math material should always come from math experts.

“The prominent voices and the feedback should come from mathematics teachers across early childhood, elementary, middle school, all of those areas,” Wilkerson said.

On its own website, Florida’s Department of Education lists qualifications math reviewers must have to be a reviewer. Those qualifications include holding at least one credential in the field of mathematics.

As to why it seemingly didn't follow those standards, the FDOE’s press shop wouldn’t provide direct answers but stated in an email, “the department seeks reviewers with content expertise and an in-depth understanding of the B.E.S.T. standards, just like any state agency would seek to have multiple content experts review.”

Andrew Spar, President of Florida’s Teachers Union, which has been critical of the DeSantis Administration and its lack of transparency, summed it up thusly, “this was all about political theater for the Governor to say he's standing up to make sure that our kids aren't being indoctrinated with math textbooks. I mean, that's really what this was about.”