Miami Herald | By Sommer Brugal | Updated April 21, 2022
Who has the ultimate decision-making power to choose what textbooks should or shouldn’t be included in the classroom?
The question has been top of mind in recent days following the state Department of Education’s announcement Friday rejecting dozens of math textbooks for what officials claimed were “indoctrinating concepts.”
Despite the chatter among district leaders about the announcement, and confusion about why certain titles were omitted from the state’s approved list, however, Florida’s law remains clear: Individual school boards — not state officials — ultimately have the responsibility for selecting instructional materials. Furthermore, a district may spend up to 50% of its state funds for books that are not on the department’s list of recommended titles.
Rachel Thomas, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education, on Wednesday doubled-down on the notion: “The department does not dictate curriculum decisions,” she said in a statement. “But we hope those decisions are made by all states and districts in consultation with parents around the issues their children are actually facing.”
In other words, regardless if a book or curriculum is on or off the state’s list of approved materials, a school board still has the authority to purchase it for the district. (The list is the “initial adoption list,” according to the state education department, and has yet to be finalized.)
WHAT DOES TEXTBOOK REJECTION MEAN FOR MIAMI SCHOOLS?
Earlier this month, district staff presented to the School Board the recommended textbooks, which a review committee had selected. The list included K-5 math books from publishers such as Big Ideas Learning and Savaas Learning Company, neither of which are included on the state’s approved list.
The district did not return requests by the Herald for comment Wednesday, but earlier in the week said it was “awaiting feedback from the state as to why the titles were rejected.”
In other counties, such as Orange and Pinellas counties, the list of unapproved texts is important because they’ve already selected their new math books for the 2022-23 school year. None of the books either district picked for elementary math classes were on the state-approved list.
In Broward County, the School Board deferred an item that was scheduled for its Tuesday meeting to approve a measure to buy K-5 math books from Savaas, the Sun Sentinel reported.
HOW TEXTBOOKS ARE REVIEWED
Miami-Dade Schools’ committee convened in September and reviewed materials through January, according to the district. (The state instructional material task force began identifying and selecting math books for consideration five months prior, in April 2021.)
In March, the Miami-Dade committee’s recommendation materials were made available to the public and the public review process began in April. Parents are able to contest the board’s adoption of specific materials in May before the board makes its final decision in June.
Districts have until July 1 to make their decision.
The effort comes nearly two years after Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced new education standards, the Florida Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking, which replaced the controversial Common Core standards.
Districts at the time were told they’d be required to adopt new state-approved curriculum that aligned with the updated standards. English language arts curriculum was implemented at the start of the 2021-22 school year. New math curriculum is to be established before the upcoming 2022-23 school year, followed by social studies in 2023-24.
Miami Herald Washington Correspondent Bryan Lowry contributed to this report.