New education commissioner stays mum

Florida has a new education commissioner, Eric J. Smith. The St. Petersburg Times interviewd him and slipped in a question about the controversy over the new draft science standards. Smith essentially avoided the question, which is not a good sign. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to make waves before he’s even unpacked, but it would be nice for some folks to just stand up and say something like, “We’re going to teach science in science classes, and evolution is science. Period.” I guess I’m asking too much.

One of the things that sort of popped up, I don’t want to say out of nowhere because it’s been there for a while, but it’s all of a sudden gotten hot, is the science standards. Have you had a chance to look at that and give your thoughts about it?

Well, the science standards have been worked on for quite a while. It’s gotten a lot of media attention recently, and a lot of e-mail traffic recently. I think that is to be expected … whenever you develop standards. I would hope that the math standards, although they probably didn’t generate as much e-mail traffic, I certainly hope people looked at them as much, and language arts and so forth. They’re important for us. They’re what will drive the work of classroom teachers across the state. … I think we’re going to come to a close with some good recommendations as we enter the new calendar year. The board will certainly be very deliberative as they evaluate the input. … I really don’t have any comment in terms of some of the issues that have been raised recently. We’re still working through that. I think it’s too early for me to make any comment. We’re listening and I think we’ll have a good recommendation to the board when that time comes, probably in the January-February time frame.

Also, an editorial in the St. Petersburg Times pulls no punches in slamming the anti-science crowd. It’s nice to see a newspaper like this one attack this issue so relentlessly, with all the news stories and columns it’s done lately, unlike so many other news outlets that seem reluctant to do more than surface-level reporting.

When a member of the state Board of Education puts her religion before the educational needs of Florida students, she forfeits her standing as an education expert and should resign her post.

[Donna] Callaway clearly doesn’t understand that there are no other scientifically grounded theories on the origins of life. Somehow Callaway, who is charged with making educational policy for the state, missed out on some basic education herself.

Unfortunately, she is not alone at the Department of Education. Charlie Carraway, director of instructional materials, dispatched e-mails using her job title and imploring people to “join me in keeping these standards from being approved.” A department spokesman said Carraway was “counseled” for her actions. Firing would be more in order.

Callaway and her supporters, including Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who is likely to become House speaker in 2011, are probably going to make a lot of noise trying to dumb-down the standards for the study of science. Their ignorance should be ignored. Florida’s reputation as a place that prepares young people for the challenges of the future depends on it.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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