Controversial PragerU curriculum approved for Florida classrooms, but it’s unclear where it will be used
Amid the flurry of changes to Florida public school curriculum before the beginning of the academic year, a new set of curricula, published by PragerU, has emerged as approved content for public school teachers in the state.
It’s unclear whether the content — controversial because it is seen as conservative-leaning — will make it inside classroom walls this fall.
Alachua and Levy counties won’t be using the supplemental “edutainment” teaching materials in the coming school year because of the timing of its release, spokespersons said. Other counties didn’t respond to questions about their usage.
Since 2009, PragerU has become known for producing short, educational videos on a variety of topics, such as history, civics, economics and social issues. The conservative non-profit, co-founded by author and radio host Dennis Prager, produces content for all ages.
Last year, its videos were viewed 1.8 billion times, CEO Marissa Streit said. Now the organization is working with states to have its K-12 educational content approved for use in public school classrooms. It’s the same process other curriculum providers follow.
Florida was the first state to recognize PragerU as an approved education vendor. Ten more states are in the process of granting the same approval, but those details have not been finalized and can’t be discussed, Streit said.
PragerU’s goal is to provide teachers and parents with an alternative to a curriculum that does not align with their values, she said.
Over the last few years, parents across the nation have become more involved in their children’s education. They’ve spoken at school board meetings against classroom teaching they feel leans too far to the political left. They’ve clashed over the appropriateness of books with LGBT ideology or sexual content. And they’ve run for elected positions on school boards in attempts to take control of decision-making in their school districts.
The announcement has raised the ire of the president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. Andrew Spar took to social media to share why he strongly opposes the curriculum being used.
“This is the propaganda the governor wants to use in Florida,” he said in a video posted to social media. “This is pushing an agenda.”
He objected to a PragerU video about the U.S. Constitution that describes Bible verses being included in the document and teaches that America was founded on biblical principles.
“He is trying to whitewash history,” Spar said, referring to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president. “He is trying to change history. And he’s trying to implement resources that limit the learning of our students. We should all be pushing back on this.”
DeSantis was not directly part of the approval process, Streit countered.
But in conversations with the state’s educational agencies, some of which are led by DeSantis appointees, the word “choice” was used repeatedly in discussing the benefits of using PragerU materials, she said.
“Our point is not to advocate for the states to force teachers or schools to use anything,” Streit said. “We want to give tools for people to make their own choices and bring the best that they see fit into their classrooms and into their communities.”
But without having the right tools, it’s difficult for them to make the changes they want to see, Streit said.
“This approval is giving a voice to parents and educators who have had no voice.”
Now, some parents are applauding the decision to make PragerU materials available in Florida classrooms, saying they’ll bring balance in an environment that often presents subjects from the viewpoint of the political left.
Mother-of-four Heather Quarles, of Newberry, said the use of PragerU materials would bring much-needed balance to what students are taught.
“There needs to be the opportunity for both sides to be represented, not just one [viewpoint’s] side pushed on our kids,” she said. “That’s the only way that children learn how to critically think.”
The curricula cover the same subjects as PragerU’s regular content. It all can be viewed on the PragerU website because transparency in curriculum choices is one thing parents have been asking schools to provide.
“There is nothing that is delivered to the school and not available on our website or not available for parents to see,” Streit said.
Parents interested in the curriculum can approach the local school board and ask for it to be used.
“We foresee parents are going to go to their school boards and their teachers and say. ‘Hey, this is approved. Why would you not use this?’”
But it’s not that easy, school officials said.
The PragerU content is available for public-school teachers to use as supplemental materials at district discretion, said Cassie Palelis, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education. The approval also means that the curriculum has been recognized as meeting state standards and can be purchased with state funding.
But if a school district does not approve of the curriculum, that could block teachers from using it.
In Alachua, it could be three to five years before the school district considers whether to use it, said district spokesperson Jackie Johnson.
In May, the district finished a yearlong process of reviewing all social studies curriculum. Because PragerU’s content was not included in that review, it will not be considered for classroom use until the next districtwide review, she said.
A teacher in Alachua County who wants to use the curriculum would need to get district approval to use it, Johnson said.
She declined to say whether a teacher could be disciplined for using it before it’s considered in the district’s lengthy review and approval process.
“Why would we not honor all of that work that was done to develop a core curriculum, unless we see there’s a need for supplemental materials?” Johnson said, when asked if the supplemental materials could be used now in Alachua classrooms.
Around the country, at least one teacher has been fired for playing PragerU videos for students, Streit said.
Social studies teacher Dennis Unverferth lost his job in 2019 after playing part of a PragerU video in his classroom at a Catholic school in the Midwest.
The video, titled “Why You Can’t Argue with a Leftist,” features stand-up comedian and actor Owen Benjamin speaking about debating topics with people with whom one disagrees.
His aim had been to teach a lesson on how students could honor parents, even when disagreeing with them. But the school’s DEI officer considered the video to go against diversity and inclusion policies, he said. He now teaches math and English at another school.
It’s unclear if the state approval would protect teachers from discipline if they choose to use it before it’s officially considered for use in Alachua County.
Alachua County School Board Member Kay Abbitt, elected in 2022, said she plans to look into the option. Abbitt was the longtime director of a successful East Gainesville charter school.
School board member Tina Certain declined to comment on the potential to use PragerU materials in the district. Board members Sarah Rockwell, Diyonne McGraw, and Leanetta McNealy did not respond to requests for comment.