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Findings from Florida's math textbook review undermine DeSantis' claims

Conservatives allege Florida textbooks contain references to "divisive concepts," including critical race theory. Responses in a state review say otherwise.


Last month, the Florida Department of Education completed a review of math textbooks submitted for use in K-12 public schools. The analysis was part of Gov. Ron DeSantis' crusade to block teachings on racism, social inequality and other issues Republicans have willfully mislabeled as “critical race theory.” 

The department initially rejected 54 of 132 math textbooks up for review, nonsensically alleging they included the "divisive concepts" of critical race theory and "other unsolicited strategies of indoctrination." The department later said it was reintroducing 19 of those rejected books after publishers made changes that included "removing woke content."

Last week, the department shared partial results of the textbook review, and — surprise, surprise — the findings undercut conservatives’ claims.

As the Florida textbook review seems to indicate, most Americans don’t back the conservative movement’s assault on school lesson plans.

The trove of documents released included nearly 6,000 pages of responses from reviewers asked to determine whether content in Florida math textbooks aligned with a statewide rule banning “critical race theory.” (It's worth noting once again: Critical race theory is a college-level field of study that isn't being taught in public grade schools in the United States.)

The documents showed reviewers’ responses to the content — but not the content being reviewed. Nonetheless, reviewers overwhelmingly said the textbooks they read were either in “good” or “very good” alignment with Florida law. And a significant portion of reviewers specifically indicated the books contained no references to critical race theory.

A few responses clearly echoed right-wing talking points about education. For example, one reviewer — conservative activist Chris Allen — bemoaned a high school textbook referencing topics she claimed were “inappropriate for school aged children.” Those topics, Allen wrote, include things like divorce and vaccinations.

“The lesson on vaccination does not mention natural immunity, medical inability to get it, or religious exemption to the vaccine,” Allen wrote in her review. “Vaccination in general should not be discussed in a school setting as it’s a parent’s choice whether their minor child get it or not.”

Allen also claimed a diagram in that same book “implies that people who consider themselves conservative are more likely to have racial prejudice,” which she said would deter students from becoming or acknowledging themselves as conservatives (as if students need more reasons to reject conservatism).

Still, in spite of reviews like that, it’s hard to overstate just how sparse they are, and how inconsistent Florida Republicans’ claims of indoctrination are with the actual facts about Florida’s education system. In fact, the majority of people who took issue with the textbooks weren’t right-wing revisionists trying to whitewash school lessons. They were people who thought lesson plans ought to promote more collaboration among students or be more accessible to students with disabilities or use more contemporary references to relate to today’s students. 

Those findings align with recent polling data that showed Americans with school-age children overwhelmingly support their school’s curriculum, but many believe schools can provide better services to help kids.

As the Florida textbook review seems to indicate, most Americans don’t back the conservative movement’s assault on school lesson plans. Unfortunately, the conservative movement is largely unconcerned with the issues Americans do care about.