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Florida publisher reacts to 'rejected' status over math instructional material

School districts halt plans to purchase math textbooks
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Posted at 5:59 PM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 10:13:25-04

As the wait continues to learn exactly why 41% of math textbooks submitted by publishers to Florida’s Department of Education were rejected by the evaluators who reviewed them, Link Systems International is among those publishers who landed on the state’s rejected list.

“Everybody is talking about this,” said Vincent Forese, President and CEO of Link Systems International. The small, Tampa-based technology firm publishes digital-only educational products including three online math homework systems that were all denied by the state.

This year marks the first time the publisher submitted material for inclusion on the state’s lucrative list of approved instructional math material. But all three of the high school level math products they submitted were rejected by state evaluators for not meeting the state’s newly adopted B.E.S.T. Standards.

“Sure, it’s disappointing,” said Forese who described how he learned his products was rejected more than one week ago, after receiving an email from the state with a link to approved material

However, it was just a few days ago when his team finally got a better understanding why their material was rejected. On Thursday, they received the state’s feedback explaining how his products didn’t meet state standards. In one instance, Forese explained the question was considered not difficult enough.

Details behind his rejection came a week after Florida’s Department of Education issued a press release accusing some publishers of trying to “indoctrinate students.”

Forese said getting more details sooner would have helped him field the frenzy of media calls he started receiving shortly after the department’s fiery press release was issued.

“At first, everyone thought anyone who got rejected was rejected for things like critical race theory. So I spent a lot of time explaining that’s not what we did.” But, he added “to wait a week for feedback was very odd and for so much media attention to happen immediately after the ‘indoctrinating your children’ memo came out, to not get any feedback across the board for anybody, that felt a little odd,” he said.

But why other material was rejected for the “inclusion of special topics” like CRT is still, largely, a mystery.

On Friday, in response to the volume of requests for examples of such rejected material, Florida’s Department of Education released four examples its evaluators deemed not appropriate.

In one of the examples posted on the state’s website, bar graphs are used to measure racial prejudices by age and political identification. In another example, a passage is titled, “social and emotional learning.”

“When the state puts out a memo and says hey, don’t do this. Don’t include these topics, we do not want them in the books. I’m not surprised they got kicked out,” explained Forese.

The memo Forese is describing was sent to districts in June of 2021 by the state’s head of public schools. In it, Chancellor Jacob Olivia advises publishers, “to not incorporate unsolicited strategies, such as social-emotional learning and culturally responsive teaching…in instructional material.”

“Those were pretty egregious examples of just ignoring the Florida mandates, but I don’t know if in every single instance, people will have that glaring of an obvious violation,” Forese said in reference to the examples posted by the state.

As of Monday afternoon, it remained unclear if all rejected publishers received details over why their material was flagged. According to the press release issued on April 15, while textbook rejections aren’t new, this year marked a record number of rejections with 52 of 132 textbooks submitted, rejected. Most of the math material rejected is for K-5 instructional material.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson from the department said it has the responsibility to ensure books are aligned with newly adopted standards and do not include strategies that are prohibited by law.

Still, the recent textbook turndown list has now forced school districts to halt plans to purchase textbooks for next year.

In Hillsborough County, a spokesperson said the district is in the process of reviewing the list with publishers since three math books approved by the district’s selection committee, were rejected by the state.

In Miami-Dade County, district orders for all instructional math material are now on hold “until concerns identified by Florida’s Department of Education have been resolved,” according to its website.

For the next few days, Forese’s team will dissect the state’s scorecard to determine if making changes is worth it.

“It could be in a month, we’re all back on the list. We just have to see, the story is not over,” he said.

We contacted every rejected publisher, only Link Systems International and Savvas Learning Company responded.

In a statement, a spokesperson from Savvas Learning Company stated:

“Savvas has a long and successful track record of working with the Florida Department of Education to ensure that our instructional materials deliver high-quality, research-based pedagogy designed intentionally to align with Florida’s standards for mathematics. We are actively working with the Florida DOE to resolve any issues. We remain optimistic that our instructional materials for grades K-5 and 7 that were specifically developed to meet Florida’s B.E.S.T Standards, including the Mathematical Thinking and Reasoning Standards, will ultimately be accepted and delivered to our Florida customers, the school districts who are relying on our high-quality, blended, standards-aligned math programs.”

Savvas is a third-party distributor of Advanced Placement (AP) and elective instructional materials for high school mathematics published by Pearson. Since separating from Pearson and becoming an independent company in 2019, we have distributed these books, some of which are for college-level courses, as a convenience for our school district customers. Pearson has sole control over the content in these AP and elective programs.

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