Textbook reviewers did not recommend Dave Ramsey book. Pasco approved it anyway, documents show
A team of academics and parents who reviewed personal finance guru Dave Ramsey’s textbook found it riddled with problems, and did not recommend its use in Pasco County Schools, according to a trove of documents obtained in a public records request and seen by WUSF.
Reviewers repeatedly noted they could not compare the text to state standards for a new course, because those standards weren't released yet. Based on a rubric given to them by district staff, three of four reviewers found Ramsey's textbook and materials did not meet standards for recommendation.
Despite this, and an increasing number of objections from the public, the materials were approved by both the Pasco district and the Florida Department of Education in separate processes.
Ramsey is an evangelical Christian and popular conservative radio host who promotes living debt-free and using cash instead of credit cards. One arm of his media empire is dedicated to promoting the use of his textbooks in schools, especially as more states begin to make financial literacy a requirement for graduation.
“Debt is dumb. Cash is king,” says the header of one chapter. The materials include videos of Ramsey on stage, warning viewers to forget about credit scores and recognize profiteering by credit card companies. The text includes quotes of various Proverbs in the Bible to back up key points.
The Florida Department of Education this year moved Ramsey’s textbook from the “not-approved” list to the “approved” list, just as a law signed in 2022 by Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis took effect. The law requires a half credit in financial literacy in order for the incoming high school freshmen cohort of 2023-24 to graduate.
The approval of Ramsey’s textbook also comes as Florida became the first state to allow the use of free online content from another conservative radio host, Dennis Prager, and his media company, PragerU Kids, in schools. It’s neither a university nor an accredited education institution, but offers what it calls a counter perspective to “woke agendas… infiltrating classrooms.”
“I think the overall curriculum adoption process has been infected, especially in Florida. It's become hotly political,” said Jessica Wright, a former teacher in Pasco County and a volunteer board member at the non-profit Florida Freedom to Read Project.
Wright made a series of public records requests with Pasco County Schools that yielded dozens of pages of documents and notes from reviewers ahead of a hearing on the matter Tuesday.
Those notes from reviewers — at both the state and county level — show many concerns about the Ramsey materials falling short on teaching more complex math, failing to include a range of perspectives from other economic sources, and a lack of diversity in the materials.
Districts typically rely on the findings of a “narrowing team,” made up of parents, assistant principals, teachers, district staff and community members, who complete an extensive review of educational materials and make notes on whether or not the content meets a range of national and state expectations for curriculum.
In Pasco County, the narrowing team tasked with reviewing the Ramsey textbook, "Foundations in Personal Finance 4th edition," found that overall it only "partially" met five standards of academic rigor and "did not" meet two others.
For instance, one Pasco school district reviewer noted the “rigor is below high school scope,” while another noted that Florida’s new graduation-required course in financial literacy is still being developed and it was “hard to see without standards” how the text would align to the new course.
“The narrowing team did not choose the Ramsey, quote unquote, textbook. They actually recommended another textbook by a publisher named Goodheart-Willcox,” said Wright, referring to an Illinois-based textbook publisher that has been in business more than 100 years.
“These notes are pretty overwhelming. And they state several times how the Ramsey textbook does not align, how it doesn't provide needed materials for English language learners, how it does not provide basically enough in an accessible way that's going to be great for our teachers,” added Wright, who is also a mother of two children attending Pasco County public schools.
In addition, documents show that 57 people, many of them local parents, filed written objections with the Pasco County school district in recent months.
That's about twice the number previously disclosed by the school district. Some of the objectors raised concerns about “inclusion of Biblical references in the text” and others said it “neglects essential math literacy” and “promotes the purchase of additional Ramsey materials.”
Community members who sent in objections are allowed to speak for three minutes each at a hearing in Pasco school headquarters in Land O’ Lakes on Tuesday at 11 a.m.
Money at stake
According to Wright, the adoption of the Ramsey textbook would likely cost the Pasco County district hundreds of thousands of dollars — and that’s just for one county among 67 in the state.
“The cost of this is pretty significant. It's about $600,000 for them to adopt this textbook and have print materials for teachers,” she said.
A spokesman with the Pasco County school district did not confirm the amount of money associated with purchasing the Ramsey curriculum, saying in an email to WUSF on Thursday: “That information isn't readily available at the time of this response, but we can research if needed.”
Multiple attempts to reach Ramsey’s staff for comment have been unsuccessful.
The Florida Department of Education has not responded to requests for comment on what kinds of changes are being made to the Ramsey textbook, or how much any contract to purchase the materials would cost.
Textbook reviewers at the state level have also raised questions about the rigor of the Ramsey materials, with two of three recommending it for a regular level course in financial literacy, despite some reservations. Only two reviewers at honors level assessed it and both voted against its adoption.
“The absence of independent studies leads the book to feel more like a marketing tool for the Ramsey program rather than an instructional guide for students from across all socio-economic sectors,” wrote one expert reviewer who said the course should not be used at the honors level.
“Weaknesses are bias against other approaches to personal finance. I would worry about teachers using text without background knowledge on content who could not offer supplemental content to balance out the text,” said the second reviewer.
Asked for comment on why the state moved to approve the Ramsey curriculum without any apparent changes to the materials that would have merited such a move, a Department of Education spokeswoman responded via email.
“When materials are not initially included on the state adoption list, publishers have the ability to appeal and update the content within their textbooks to satisfactorily align to Florida’s state academic standards, Florida law and State Board of Education Rule. This occurs annually during each instructional materials adoption cycle,” said the DOE’s Cassandra Paelis.
“The Department worked with the Lampo Group, LLC Ramsey Solutions for alignment of their bid for the Personal Financial Literacy Honors Course,” she added, referring to the LLC name for Ramsey's business venture.
The new course, at both regular and honors levels, is expected to require more math literacy than the current elective that has been offered and which expires at the end of the 2023-24 school year. But specifics haven’t yet been made public.
Process in Pasco
Over the past several months, the Pasco County school district has taken steps to follow the state’s lead and adopt the Ramsey curriculum, signaling at a meeting this summer it would conditionally approve the text, awaiting further specifics and what are known as “course codes” from the state.
In Pasco, the narrowing committee was made up of one parent and three district staff - one assistant principal, a learning design coach and a lead social studies educator with a degree in economics.
Ramsey’s textbook was found by the narrowing team to either partially meet or not meet a series of seven academic criteria.
Another textbook in financial literacy by publisher Goodheart-Willcox was found to meet two of seven criteria.
Yet all these efforts were not to make sure the text aligns with the new course requirements in Florida.
Rather they were for an elective financial literacy course that expires at the end of this school year, explained Wright.
“This was not even reviewed for the graduation-required course. This was reviewed for the elective. And so we're putting all these efforts into a class that is being discontinued,” said Wright.
“It just begs the question of why are we moving forward and recommending an adoption that was not chosen by the narrowing team?” said Wright.
The “adoption process for the state and the districts run parallel with timelines that overlap,” and Pasco paused its process for a time until the state concluded its own, said Pasco school district spokesman Corey Dierdoff.
“Since the resource our teachers chose was on this list, our board voted to conditionally adopt the resource at that time,” said Dierdoff.
“Our understanding is that the state worked with the publisher to ensure that any and all concerns were addressed before the Honors level resource was then added to their approved list, at which time, our adoption process concluded,” Dierdoff added.
Schools sent a ‘survey’
But there is no evidence in the public documents seen by WUSF that Pasco “teachers chose” the Ramsey resources, as Dierdoff suggested.
Instead, Pasco high school administrators were sent a survey April 13, which was just as schools were gearing up for year-end testing.
“Please indicate your school’s vote for the Personal Financial Literacy Resource. Please select only one,” it said in one part.
Not all schools answered the survey, which was due April 18.
Seven high school votes were cast for the Ramsey textbook, and seven were not.
Three voted for Goodheart-Willcox, and four chose a different option: “Our school is recommending to hold off on adoption for a personal financial literacy resource until the 24-25 school year so that we have the final standards from the state to ensure alignment of the resource with the standards.”
Then the survey asked for a yes or no answer on the following: “Our school would feel comfortable with Ramsey Solutions being selected and implemented in the district for personal financial literacy.”
Again, not all high schools answered. Eleven said yes. Four said no.
Those who said no were asked to explain why.
“Content is not rigorous or an appropriate tool,” said one. “Unable to review the materials. Demo login and password would not work,” said another. “Waiting for the standards,“ said a third. “Do not feel it meets the standards,” said the fourth.
Subsequently, the survey asked the same about Goodheart-Willcox, and eight said they were comfortable with it being implemented while six were not.
Only a few of those who were not comfortable with Goodheart-Willcox’s text elaborated. “Felt that the Ramsey was more user-friendly,” said one. “Felt it was too boring and too much like a classic textbook,” said another.
A third said: “Waiting for the standards.”
Under additional feedback, one school administrator wrote: “Our teachers refused to review resources.”
Wright said that may be because the survey was administered hastily, requiring a response within five days, at a busy time of the school year.
“It's an unreasonable ask. You're going to ask teachers over the course of five days, ‘hey, can you review this resource so we can go back and say it's what teachers chose?’ Even though you're gearing up for testing season, it's largely the busiest time of the year, and we're having massive sub shortages. I can completely understand why teachers wouldn't put their name on that. I wouldn't either,” said Wright.
“The administrators’ vote represented the entire school,” she added.
“Throughout my career, just reviewing curriculum and paying attention to these things as it relates to social studies, especially, I've never seen them send a survey out that then supersedes what the narrowing committee recommended,” said Wright.
Teachers within Pasco County are also supposed to be given materials the district is adopting, so they can try them out in the classroom and see what the overall response is and how it worked, a practice known as “try-and-apply,” said Wright.
“The try-and-apply did not happen,” she added.
Furthermore, approving a textbook for a new course that hasn’t even been rolled out makes little sense.
“They are not being set up for success if they're not even able to review the actual standards that this textbook is supposed to align to,” said Wright.
Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.