Oklahoma board wants proposed textbooks altered after Moms for Liberty complained
Math textbooks for elementary schoolchildren subject of dispute
BY: CARMEN FORMAN – NOVEMBER 17, 2023 4:10 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY — A state board requested a major publisher remove portions of its math textbooks for students in pre-K through fifth grade after a local conservative group complained.
Despite the textbooks receiving the top rating from a review team made up of dozens of teachers, the chairwoman of the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee on Friday asked McGraw Hill to remove the “math thoughts” sections in its “Reveal Math” books in order to receive approval from the board.
If the publisher does not make the requested changes, the Reveal Math books won’t be added to a list of approved titles that districts can purchase using state textbook funds. However, districts can purchase unapproved textbooks using other funding sources.
In a previous meeting, the head of the Tulsa chapter of conservative parents’ rights group Moms for Liberty criticized the same elementary school textbooks, claiming they contain social-emotional learning concepts that don’t belong in math classes. Social-emotional learning teaches children how to manage their emotions, make good decisions and relate to others.
Committee Chairwoman Kendra Wesson, a State Board of Education member State Superintendent Ryan Walters tapped to lead the textbook approval process, did not mention Moms for Liberty when she objected to portions of the McGraw Hill books.
Wesson said parts of the books don’t specifically focus on teaching children how to do math. In the pre-K through second grade textbooks, she pointed to a section that she said asks questions like, “What helps you feel calm when you’re angry?” and “How can you act with your classmates to build a safe classroom culture?”
“We have things in a math book that are not related to math, that are completely separate from that,” she said. “I don’t want to give up five, 10, 15 minutes of math time for things that are not related to math.”
In the companion teachers’ manual, Wesson flagged portions of a “math mindset” section that included suggested questions like, “Were you relaxed or frustrated during math today?”
Board member Jessica Thompson, a fourth-grade teacher, said she doesn’t have time to ask her students questions like, “What do you do when you feel sad?” when she’s trying to teach math.
“I don’t have the time or the knowledge to be a certified counselor … if those kids were to give me a really hard answer,” she said.
She called that portion of the books “a waste” and expressed concerns that such questions would distract educators from teaching the fundamentals of math.
Jay Rotert, another board member, wondered if pushing back to 2024 a vote on adopting McGraw Hill’s textbooks would leave the company enough time to get the new materials into classrooms for the next school year.
Citing the top ratings the review team gave the textbooks, board vice-chair Kathryn Szallar expressed optimism that McGraw Hill could make the requested changes.
“They do exemplify quality, and I do think those are the kinds of textbooks we would want in our classrooms,” she said.
The board voted to provisionally approve the textbooks contingent upon McGraw Hill making the requested changes. The board plans to revisit the issue at its next meeting.
The company will reach out to the State Department of Education to get further details about the requested changes, said spokesperson Tyler Reed.
“We look forward to working collaboratively with the (Department of Education) to ensure our math materials are available to students and instructors across the state,” Reed said.
If the board does not endorse the McGraw Hill textbooks, elementary schools will have few options that could be purchased using state dollars.
In that scenario, there would be just one approved vendor for pre-K through second grade and three vendors for math textbooks for children in third through fifth grades.
At least eight textbook publishers withdrew from consideration this year, leaving the state with a limited number of new textbooks for consideration.
This is the first cycle for the textbook committee to review proposed educational materials since Walters took office in January. The new superintendent previously accused textbook companies of trying to indoctrinate students and has said it’s a good thing some vendors pulled out of the selection process.
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