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As Florida rejects dozens of math textbooks, Rice-affiliated publisher approved as sole K-5 provider


A textbook company established at Rice University is the only publisher approved for general K-5 mathematics books in Florida after statewide efforts to crack down on instructional materials containing “prohibited topics.”

Accelerate Learning was “incubated” at the Houston research university in 2010, according to private equity firm Carlyle Group, which acquired the company in December 2018. Its website still cites a partnership with the higher education institution.

Florida’s approved Accelerate Learning textbooks, “STEMScopes Florida Math,” are among the 59 percent of submitted textbooks for all grades the state found acceptable for use. The state commissioner of education last week issued a list of allowed mathematics instructional materials and said more than 50 submitted textbooks were “impermissible” with Florida’s new standards or “contained prohibited topics.”

Reasons for the rejections included “references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics.” The Florida Department of Education has provided two examples of material that disqualified textbooks, according to the Associated Press.

The state did not identify which textbooks the examples came from. One appeared to be from an advanced high school algebra or statistics textbook and begins with the phrase, “What? Me? Racist?” It has students work with data reported by an online test that researchers say uncovers hidden attitudes toward different races.

The other example appeared to come from a teacher’s guide to a kindergarten or first-grade textbook. The lesson is entitled “Social and Emotional Learning — Building Student Agency.” Students are told to work together as they put the numbers 1 to 5 in proper order so they can “build proficiency with social awareness as they practice with empathizing with classmates.”

Critical race theory, a term first coined 40 years ago as an academic concept taught in law schools, teaches that racism is systematically entrenched in society and its institutions. State and national conservative leaders have taken steps to attempt to ban it from public education, saying it is divisive and teaches children to blame white people for the ills of society. Education advocates insist the theory is not taught in public schools and that the term is being applied to any lessons that focus on race.

Social emotional learning involves giving children skills to manage their emotions and establish and maintain positive relationships. And common core standards are benchmarks adopted by more than 40 states to describe what students should know after completing each grade. Texas is not one of the states.

Rice officials declined to comment. STEMscopes, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and the Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests.

Accelerate Learning is based in Houston and publishes an array of online curriculum products designed for K-12 learning. The Texas State Board of Education uses STEMscopes textbooks for science but not math, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Several articles published by Rice in the early 2010s reference STEMscopes and its heavy adoption in Texas for science instruction. Teachers wrote the textbooks, and Rice researchers reviewed the science content for accuracy, according to a 2012 newsletter.

STEMscopes’ website displays a diversity statement referencing systemic racism — a topic at the root of critical race theory.

“Our nation’s black communities have long faced the repeated, harmful effects of systemic racism within the justice and education systems,” the statement reads. “Recent events coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement have brought these issues to the forefront, causing individuals, companies and the nation as a whole to reflect on and examine their own role in the system. As a company, we support nonviolent actions to raise awareness and support systemic changes that correct these injustices.”

DeSantis recently has signed multiple bills into law dictating the teaching of certain topics in public schools. In March, the Republican signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which prohibits public teachers in Florida from holding classroom lessons about sexual orientation or gender identity. Opponents call the law, “Don’t Say Gay.”

DeSantis on Friday also signed the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which bans any teaching that could make people feel responsible for the actions of their ancestors.

Accelerate Learning is additionally connected to another governor who this year banned teaching “inherently divisive concepts” in classrooms, including critical race theory.

Carlyle Group acquired Accelerate Learning in 2018 while Glenn Youngkin, now the Republican governor of Virginia, was the firm’s co-CEO. The governor and his office distanced itself from the publisher Friday.

“The governor left Carlyle two years ago and had no direct involvement with the partnership,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement. “Decisions by the Florida government are fully independent of Gov. Youngkin.”

Youngkin is also a 1990 Rice alumnus. He studied mechanical engineering and managerial studies while playing basketball for the school, according to Rice’s student newspaper, Rice Thresher.

samantha.ketterer@houstonchronicle.com



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