$1,661 given to science education!

Thank you to all who supported our Fifth Annual fundraising for Florida classroom science supplies on Donors Choose (see our previous post announcing the launch of the fundraiser).  We chose five science education-related requests to support and now $1,661 later all five are fully funded!

For instance:

Dissecting for Science

“Thank you for your generosity and support.

“My students and I will enjoy these dissection kits. Cant wait to receive them and test them out!

“Again, thanks for finding the time to read the project and for donating. I am humbled by all the support and trust you showed in my class.”

And another one:

Understanding Climate Change

“Wow, wow, wow. This is so very exciting. Thank you all for helping to make this happen for my students. It is amazing to get the love and support from so many on such an important issue plaguing our world. This will be a fun real life experience that my students will be able to learn from, and thanks many thanks to you as you have created this opportunity for them”

According to Donors Choose we supported “538 student learning experiences” with this campaign.

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Let’s help Florida science education!

We don’t get to do this often enough, but I’m happy to kick off our Fifth Annual (can I call it annual if we don’t do it every year?) fundraising for Florida classroom science supplies on Donors Choose. We typically match your donations up to $500 but this time we’re doubling that! We’ll campaign for donations for a month (until about September 7) and then we’ll match your donations up to $1,000.

We’ve chosen five classrooms to support, making sure to help teachers from across the state and at different grade levels. If we fully fund these, we’ll add more to our list.

Go to our Donors Choose Giving Page and let’s get this year off to a great start for science education in Florida!

Understanding Climate Change
Help me give my students climate change kits, a hands-on lab experience to discover how carbon dioxide interacts with the atmosphere to contribute to rising global temperatures from both natural and human resources.
Lehigh Senior High School•Lehigh Acres, FL

Dissecting for Science
Help me give my students first-hand dissection experience. My advanced middle schoolers dissect flowers each year but we use old or substitute instruments. These dissection kits will give them a much better experience!
Glades Middle School•Miramar, FL

K-Style Scientists
Help me give my students authentic lab coats and fog free goggles for fun Science.
Shaw Elementary School•Tampa, FL

STEM Makes The Difference!
Help me bring science to life for my scholars with Science Instant Learning Centers and the K-1 STEM that will help to make Science Alive.
U B Kinsey-Palmview Elementary School•West Palm Beach, FL

Experiential Learning in Space Science
Help me give my students understand and experience space science using visuals and models!
James W Johnson Prep Middle School•Jacksonville, FL

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Florida Citizens for Science: Reject Senate Bill 48 and its “Education Savings Accounts”

It’s spring and that means it is time for the annual assault on Florida public schools by the powers that be in Tallahassee. For the third year in a row Governor Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have crafted a bill that will divert even more taxpayer dollars to private schools that are unregulated and have no accountability to anyone for what they teach. Some of these are schools that deny evolution, teach creationism, deny climate change, teach that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, and much more pseudoscientific garbage. And they do it with our tax dollars. (See our posts about this: Blatant creationism in “Schools Without Rules”; Reactions to Schools Without Rules article; More reactions to Schools Without Rules article.)

SB 48 is a massive 150 plus page bill. Filed by Republican Senator Manny Diaz, it consolidates, expands, and adjusts five existing scholarship programs into two programs that will now be designated “education savings accounts.” The five programs are a complex, hard to navigate mess because each one was designed individually to get around legal challenges.

A quick refresher: Tax Credit Scholarships allow businesses to receive tax credits for contributing money to one of the education scholarship funds. If you have purchased a car in the past few years you were probably asked during the final paperwork signing if you would like to donate some of your sales tax to education scholarships. This is where that money went. Because the money is donated pre-tax and never enters the general revenue pot the courts have ruled that tax credit scholarships are legal under the Florida Constitution. Of course, other sources of revenue have to be found to compensate for the general revenue money lost pre-collection and the taxpayers foot the bill and public schools suffer from the loss of revenue. The pre-tax concept was a cynical effort by a legislature and governor obsessed with funneling state revenue to unregulated private schools to circumvent the Federal and State Constitutions. 

Also remember that more than two-thirds of the state scholarship dollars go to private, religious schools. Most of those are conservative Christian schools. 

When DeSantis became governor, he and Corcoran (both strong advocates for school vouchers which they prefer to call school choice) started funding their new scholarship programs with general revenue. In the current session, SB 48 will merge the five existing scholarship programs into two programs and they will be officially designated as “education savings accounts.” ESA dollars can be used for a broad array of “educational purposes” including private school tuition, digital devices, tutoring, and access to the internet. In addition, for the first time funds will be taken from the pot of money designated for public schools, reducing the money available to public schools already struggling with COVID and unfunded security costs.  SB 48 expands scholarship awards to 97.5 per cent of student funding calculation. It provides for an annual 1 per cent growth rate in scholarships for McKay-Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. It decreases state auditor general operational audits of the nonprofit scholarship funding organizations from annually to once every three years but does require SFOs to be audited in the other two years by a CPA of their choosing.

One thing that isn’t changed is the complete lack of accountability for schools receiving money from the new education savings accounts. There are no standards for curriculum, no standards for teacher qualifications, no standards for buildings used as schools. Parents get the school choice and we, the taxpayers, pay the bills so these private schools can indoctrinate their charges with false science.

Contact your legislators and urge them to reject SB 48.

(Post written by Florida Citizens for Science secretary David Campbell.)

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Science teachers are a critical need in Florida … again

The Florida Department of Education issues an annual report entitled Identification of Critical Teacher Shortage Areas. (Here is the most recent report.) For at least a decade, science has been on the list of certification areas that “represent the greatest need among teachers statewide.”

The factors used to determine which certification areas are critical needs include:
–how many courses in that field that are taught by teachers not certified in the appropriate field
–the current and projected number of vacancies by certification area
–the number of students completing Florida teacher education programs by certification area (this statistic is the most recent available number, usually a few years old)
–and other factors

What happens to this information? The state board of education reviews and approves the report. And then? Nothing, as far as I can tell. There were a couple of incentive programs a long time ago: the Critical Teacher Shortage Tuition Reimbursement Program and the Critical Teacher Shortage Student Loan Forgiveness Program. However, it looks like they were discontinued around 2011.

Keep in mind that other subjects show up in this report every year, too. But my focus is science, of course. Below is a breakdown of the stats from the past ten years. Note that “Science-Physical” groups chemistry and physics together. And one of the stats that stands out the most to me is the number of new teachers Florida’s education programs are producing. There were zero Earth&Space in the 2021-2022 and 2017-2018 reports! And the Science-General teacher education program numbers will never fill all the reported current vacancies and projected vacancies or the not-certified positions. Of course, teachers come from education programs other than Florida’s. But the number of people who take the Florida certification exams to teach science in our state are discouraging, too (see this breakdown of the exams by Bridge to Tomorrow).

I would like to see the source material for many of these numbers. For instance, where does the very high projected vacancy numbers come from and how accurate did they turn out to be each year?

The biggest question we should all have is how does this impact the students, especially this current year of the COVID-19 pandemic? I personally know of a few hundred students currently not getting a quality science education due to having long-term substitutes instead of a certified science teacher in front of the classroom. Even before the pandemic I lamented the low priority science education seems to have in Florida: A decade later and science education is still not important to Florida’s leaders.

Our state and country grapples with problems such as rising seas, invasive species, the quality of our diminishing fresh water resources, and disease outbreaks, just to name a few issues that require a sound background in science to understand and solve. There are also job opportunities in space exploration. Boeing is moving its Space and Launch division headquarters from Virginia to Florida. SpaceX is launching – and landing – rockets here. NASA is testing the Orion spacecraft here. By the way, these high paying jobs require a physics education, Gov. DeSantis.

When will out state leaders start taking science education seriously?

2021-22
Critical Teacher Shortage Ranking
Science-General: 1
Science-Physical: 3
Science-Earth&Space: 7
Teachers Not Certified in the Appropriate Field
Science-Physical: 487
Science-General: 1,188
Science-Earth&Space: 411
Current and Projected Number of Vacancies by Certification Area
Science-General current vacancies for 2020-21: 152, projected: 370
Science-Physical current for 2020-21: 24, projected: 160
Science-Earth&Space current for 2020-21: 8, projected: 60
Number of Students Completing Florida Teacher Education Programs by Certification Area 2018-19
Science-Earth&Space: 0
Science-General: 13
Science-Physical: 15

2020-21
Critical Teacher Shortage Ranking

Science-General: 2
Science-Physical: 5
Teachers Not Certified in the Appropriate Field
Science-Physical: 496
Science-General: 1,122
Current and Projected Number of Vacancies by Certification Area
Science-General current for 2019-20: 126, projected: 370
Science-Physical current for 2019-20: 10, projected: 195
Number of Students Completing Florida Teacher Education Programs by Certification Area 2017-18
Science-General: 17
Science-Physical: 23

2019-20
Critical Teacher Shortage Ranking

Science-General: 1
Science-Physical: 5
Teachers Not Certified in the Appropriate Field
Science-Physical: 420
Science-General: 1,026
Current and Projected Number of Vacancies by Certification Area
Science-General current for 2018-19: 144, projected: 502
Science-Physical current for 2018-19: 16, projected: 164
Number of Students Completing Florida Teacher Education Programs by Certification Area 2016-17
Science-General: 32
Science-Physical: 9

2018-19
Critical Teacher Shortage Ranking

Science-General: 1
Science-Physical: 7
Teachers Not Certified in the Appropriate Field
Science-Physical: 601
Science-General: 923
Current and Projected Number of Vacancies by Certification Area
Science-General current for 2017-18: 60, projected: 269
Science-Physical current for 2017-18: 11, projected: 184
Number of Students Completing Florida Teacher Education Programs by Certification Area 2015-16
Science-General: 26
Science-Physical: 15

2017-18
Critical Teacher Shortage Ranking

Science-General: 3
Science-Earth&Space: 4
Teachers Not Certified in the Appropriate Field
Science-General: 1,011
Science-Earth&Space: 421
Current and Projected Number of Vacancies by Certification Area
Science-General current for 2016-17: 71, projected: 220
Science-Earth&Space current for 2016-17: 9, projected: 95
Number of Students Completing Florida Teacher Education Programs by Certification Area 2014-15
Science-Earth&Space: 0
Science-General: 27

2016-17
Critical Teacher Shortage Ranking

Science-General: 1 (tied)
Science-Physical: 1 (tied)
Teachers Not Certified in the Appropriate Field
Science-Physical: 432
Science-General: 736
Current and Projected Number of Vacancies by Certification Area
Science-General current for 2014-15: 50, projected: 244
Science-Physical current for 2014-15: 32, projected: 237
Number of Students Completing Florida Teacher Education Programs by Certification Area 2013-14
Science-General: 34
Science-Physical: 17

2015-16
There were no sub-categories of General, Physical and Earth&Space. The overall Science category was ranked number 6.

2014-15
There were no sub-categories of General, Physical and Earth&Space. The overall Science category was ranked number 4.

2013-14
There were no sub-categories of General, Physical and Earth&Space. The overall Science category was ranked number 4.

2012-13
There were no sub-categories of General, Physical and Earth&Space. The overall Science category was ranked number 1.

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What do Florida public school students learn about climate change?

What do Florida public school students learn about climate change in their science classes? According to a report from the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund our students may not be learning very much. The report is an analysis of how each state’s public school science education standards address climate change. Each state was awarded a grade depending on how the science education standards incorporate various aspects of teaching about climate change. Florida earned a dismal D. Unfortunately, I believe that D was too kind.

The report explains that standards “identify the basic information and skills students are expected to master in their courses of study. These standards guide the content of statewide testing and assessment, textbooks and other instructional materials, and classroom instruction.” You can find Florida’s education standards at the website https://www.cpalms.org/Public/. The science standards were approved by the state board of education in 2008 and have not undergone any significant revision or updates since then.

What are the Florida science standards that directly address climate change or global warming? There are only five.

SC.912.E.7.7: Identify, analyze, and relate the internal (Earth system) and external (astronomical) conditions that contribute to global climate change.

This is a standard typically included in earth/space and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is on the variety of things that can cause global changes in climate. Notice that the standard seems to suggest only natural, not man-made, causes be covered.

SC.912.E.7.9: Cite evidence that the ocean has had a significant influence on climate change by absorbing, storing, and moving heat, carbon, and water.

This standard is typically included in marine science and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is how oceans influence changes in climate. It doesn’t say anything about human influences. The CPALMS website includes lesson resources that can be used to teach each standard. The resources for this standard include lessons on El Nino/La Nina, ocean currents, comparison of ice melting in freshwater and saltwater, etc. There are some lesson resources that explicitly state or at least point to human influences, but not many.

SC.912.L.17.4: Describe changes in ecosystems resulting from seasonal variations, climate change and succession.

This standard is typically included in biology, marine science, and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is how ecosystems change. Climate change is just one item on a list of ecosystem change causes and human influences are not mentioned.

SC.912.L.17.8: Recognize the consequences of the losses of biodiversity due to catastrophic events, climate changes, human activity, and the introduction of invasive, non-native species.

This standard is typically included in biology, marine science, and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is biodiversity loss, not climate change. Climate change is just one item on a list of biodiversity loss causes.

SC.912.L.17.16: Discuss the large-scale environmental impacts resulting from human activity, including waste spills, oil spills, runoff, greenhouse gases, ozone depletion, and surface and groundwater pollution.

This standard is typically included in marine science and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is broad: what human activities are doing to the environment. Greenhouse gases are just one item on a list of human activities here.

There are other standards that don’t directly mention climate change or global warming but can be incorporated into lessons on the topic.

  • SC.912.E.7.4: Summarize the conditions that contribute to the climate of a geographic area, including the relationships to lakes and oceans.
  • SC.912.E.7.8: Explain how various atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrologic conditions in Florida have influenced and can influence human behavior, both individually and collectively.
  • SC.912.L.17.11: Evaluate the costs and benefits of renewable and nonrenewable resources, such as water, energy, fossil fuels, wildlife, and forests.
  • SC.912.L.17.13: Discuss the need for adequate monitoring of environmental parameters when making policy decisions.
  • SC.912.L.17.15: Discuss the effects of technology on environmental quality.
  • SC.912.L.17.17: Assess the effectiveness of innovative methods of protecting the environment.
  • SC.912.L.17.18: Describe how human population size and resource use relate to environmental quality.
  • SC.912.L.17.20: Predict the impact of individuals on environmental systems and examine how human lifestyles affect sustainability.
  • SC.912.E.6.6: Analyze past, present, and potential future consequences to the environment resulting from various energy production technologies.
  • SC.912.N.4.2: Weigh the merits of alternative strategies for solving a specific societal problem by comparing a number of different costs and benefits such as human, economic and environmental.

An important thing to note is that each of the standards listed here so far start with “SC.912.” The 912 means it’s a standard for grades 9 through 12, in other words high school. There are no climate change standards at all for the elementary or middle school levels in Florida.

Can a thorough examination of climate change be built around the five main climate change standards and the other supporting standards? If the teacher is well versed in climate change, then definitely. But any science teacher not familiar with climate change will likely completely miss the opportunity to provide students even a basic foundation on it based on the standards alone.

Sadly, there is a high chance that many biology, earth/space, environmental science, and marine science teachers don’t have a good working knowledge of the climate change topic. For instance, my state teacher certification is in biology. The certification qualifies me to teach environmental science, which I have been doing for about six years. I didn’t learn anything about climate change in my college courses and I haven’t received any professional development training on it. I had to learn about climate change on my own. How many other teachers are in the same situation? And how many of them might be using unreliable Internet sources?

I’m skeptical of the D grade the report’s reviewers gave Florida. I believe it should have been lower. Here are the criteria the reviewers used and the grade for each that Florida received.

  • (D) It’s real: Recent climate change is a genuine phenomenon.
  • (D) It’s us: Human activity is responsible for the global change in climate.
  • (C-) It’s bad: Climate change is affecting and will continue to affect nature and society.
  • (F) There’s hope: It is possible to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • (D) To what extent is the treatment of the issue in the standards helpful in permitting students to reach these conclusions?
  • (D) To what extent is the treatment of the issue in the standards appropriately explicit?
  • (D) To what extent is the treatment of the issue in the standards integrated in a coherent learning progression?
  • (D) To what extent do the standards make it clear to teachers what knowledge and skills students are expected to attain?
  • (D) To what extent would a student who met the performance expectations in the standards relevant to the issue be prepared for further study in higher education?
  • (D) To what extent would a student who met the performance expectations in the standards relevant to the issue be prepared for responsible participation in civic deliberation about climate change?

Based on the five standards explicitly about climate change, I don’t see how Florida didn’t get straight Fs.

Will Florida public school students encounter quality climate change lessons by the time they graduate? That will all depend on what science courses they take and how knowledgeable the science teachers are on the topic. Students need three science credits to graduate high school. One of those courses is mandatory for all students: biology. Climate change might be briefly mentioned in biology but there is unlikely to be a comprehensive lesson on the subject in that course. What if a student takes biology, chemistry and physics as their three science credits? Then it’s possible the student will never receive a lesson on climate change.

Why is teaching climate change important? The report’s section on Florida states: “How can students and teachers hope [one of the grading criteria] if there is no connection to how bad the problem is? Specifically, for the state of Florida, sea level rise and hurricanes should at the very least be discussed.” How can we hope to solve Florida’s climate change related issues if our students know little to nothing about it? Our 12-year-old state science education standards clearly need an update. But in today’s Florida political climate, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

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Florida Evolution vs. Creationism Timeline

The need to defend science education in Florida is truly never ending. I chronicled the many skirmishes, battles and wars fought over the teaching of evolution in my book Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom. The Florida anti-evolution efforts I wrote about started in the 1920s and with only a few brief breaks continued all the way to the point where Going Ape left off in 2011. I invite you to read the timeline I made of those events here.

But the battle has raged on since then. So, I felt it was important to add to the timeline for the sake of completeness. Below are the significant events that have happened since 2011. Feel free to let me know if I missed anything or made any mistakes.

2011

  • A new law passed in Florida changed the way textbooks are vetted and approved for adoption statewide. Instead of selection committees being formed from people across the state, the state commissioner of education appoints a three-person panel of “subject matter experts.” The bill was sponsored by Rep. Marti Coley, who was an anti-evolution advocate during the state science standards revision process in 2008.
  • Scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History discovered their vehicles, which display evolution related bumper stickers and Darwin fish, were repeatedly vandalized, including nails driven through tires.

2012

  • The Thomas B. Fordham Institute graded Florida’s relatively new (approved in 2008) science standards and gave them a D. After some complaints, the Institute revised their grade to a C.
  • Terry Kemple (who had a role on the anti-evolution side of the battle over the revision of the state science standards in 2008) runs for Hillsborough County School Board. He’s quoted as saying: “the fact that the state requires us to teach that evolution is the be-all and end-all is a travesty.” He makes it to a runoff election but loses.
  • Kim Kendall (who had a role on the anti-evolution side of the battle over the revision of the state science standards in 2008) runs for a seat in the Florida House. She loses. But it was noted during the election debates: “Possibly the biggest stunner of the night was agreement by all three [candidates] that creationism should be taught along with evolution in St. Johns County science classes, not just in church or at home.”

2013

  • World Changers of Florida successfully sues to allow bible distribution on public school campuses. The group’s president, Jerry Rutherford, tells a reporter that he hopes to get public schools to offer creationism as a competing theory to evolution.
  • Florida education officials consider the national Next Generation Science Standards for adoption but eventually decide against it.
  • A biology teacher at A. Crawford Mosley High School in Lynn Haven, Florida, screened Creation Science Evangelism videos during an evolution lesson, attracting the attention of the ACLU of Florida.
  • Bills in the Florida legislature seek to change the way textbooks are selected. The bill is eventually watered down and passed into law. The law allows school districts to choose not to use the state-approved list of textbooks and instead conduct their own local review and selection process. (In 2018, Marion County was the only district to do this since the bill became law.)

2014

  • Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom by Florida Citizens for Science founding board member Brandon Haught is published by the University Press of Florida.
  • University of North Florida hosts a panel discussion on evolution vs. creation: “Faith & Reason: The Origin of Humanity.” About 500 people attended.
  • Bills in the Florida legislature would expand the state’s school voucher programs, but die.
  • A study reveals that at least 164 voucher-accepting private schools in Florida teach some form of creationism in science classes.
  • Bills in the Florida legislature (one by Sen. Alan Hays) seek to change the way textbooks are selected for use in public schools. These bills would remove the state-level vetting process entirely and turn the entire textbooks selection process over to each individual school district. Hays’ proposal would require each school board to create a committee made up of half teachers, half residents to choose the textbooks. His bill has lengthy Web-posting and public-hearing requirements. But by the end of the legislative session, the bill that was finally passed into law was watered down to essentially giving parents a new method to object to their school board about textbooks.
  • Gov. Rick Scott appoints Andy Tuck to the state board of education. Tuck had protested against the teaching of evolution in public schools when he served on a local school board back in 2008.
  • Candidate for Pinellas County school board, Ken Peluso, was asked about teaching creationism. He said, “I think creationism and evolution should be taught side by side and I don’t care what classroom.” Later, he clarified his statement, saying it should only be taught in something like a world religions class.

2015

  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott is accused of giving orders that “state officials are not permitted to use the terms ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ in environmental reports or talks. The term ‘sea-level rise’ was also replaced with the term ‘nuisance flooding.’”
  • Presidential candidate Marco Rubio, a U.S. senator representing Florida, was asked about the teaching of evolution. He expressed support for schools to teach “about the fact that there are other theories out there that exist as well.”
  • A controversial class assignment forced a Volusia County school to issue an apology. The lesson has since been pulled from Heritage Middle School. It was called “Not Just a Theory.” The assignment was on scientific standards, differentiating between a scientific theory and scientific law. The lesson, however, turned personal for parents because of two lines: “Next time someone tries to tell you that evolution is just a theory, as a way of dismissing it, as if it’s just something someone guesses at, remember that they’re using the non-scientific meaning of the word. If that person is a teacher, or a minister, or some other figure of authority, they should know better. In fact, they probably do, and are trying to mislead you.”
  • Bills filed in the state legislature (one filed by Sen. Alan Hays) “creates a process that lets parents object to the textbooks. It requires school districts to hold a public hearing if someone complains about the books that are being used.” The bills were signed into law. (But in subsequent years groups like the Florida Citizens’ Alliance claimed that school districts ignored this law, prompting the Alliance to push for stronger laws on this topic of textbook objections.)

2016

  • Bills filed in the state legislature (one filed by Sen. Alan Hays) would dramatically alter the textbook selection process, allowing for citizens to complain about the textbook content and ultimately take school boards to court. The bills died. The bills originated with the conservative group Florida Citizens’ Alliance. Among a long list of complaints the Alliance has with various textbooks are issues they have with evolution such as two pages in a history book that “teach the children that we descended from apes. This is stated as a fact not a theory. Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation.”
  • Voting guides in Walton County, Sumter County, St. Lucie County, Okaloosa County, Lake County and Clay County include questions for candidates about evolution and intelligent design.

2017

  • [March for Science events held across the country and across Florida.]
  • Global-warming-denying conservative think tank The Heartland Institute mails propaganda materials to every science teacher in the country (including Florida) “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.”
  • Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law (written and promoted by the Florida Citizens’ Alliance) that targets the teaching of climate change and evolution. It empowers those who want to object to the use of specific instructional materials in public schools. Now, any resident can file a complaint about instructional material; it used to be limited to parents with a child in the schools. Any time a complaint is filed, the affected school board must appoint a hearing officer and conduct official hearings.
  • Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law called The Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act (originally filed in the state legislature by Sen. Dennis Baxley and Rep. Kim Daniels). Some areas of concern related to science are that it allows students to give religious-based answers to school assignments/assessments and the teacher can be accused of discrimination if the answer is marked wrong; and the law appears to allow teachers to express religious views in their classrooms (perhaps allowing a teacher to express creationist views, for instance).
  • Florida Citizens’ Alliance partners with Truth In Textbooks to offer training on how to review school textbooks. And the Alliance is also partnering with the global warming denying organization The Heartland Institute.
  • Florida Citizens for Science founding board member Brandon Haught was a guest on the popular radio program Science Friday and wrote a guest column in the science journal Nature.
  • The Nassau County school board heard from a citizen who asked that a disclaimer sticker be placed in all textbooks that mention evolution. Even though school officials were sympathetic to the man’s point of view, they turned him down on legal grounds.

2018

  • The Clay County school board debates the adoption of new science textbooks. Superintendent Addison Davis said “In no way, shape or form do our textbooks or will our textbooks ever reflect evolution as a fact because the fact that our state standards does not allow us to do so.” Science textbooks are adopted on a narrow 3-2 vote.
  • A pair of Controversial Theories bills (otherwise known as Academic Freedom bills) filed in the state legislature (one of them by Sen. Dennis Baxley) would have required in district-adopted science standards that: “Controversial theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” The bills died.
  • A pair of bills filed in the state legislature would have changed how instructional materials are reviewed and selected, allowing for many more opportunities for creationists and climate change deniers to improperly influence the process. The bills died.
  • The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years to consider making changes to the state constitution, proposed a measure that would remove from the state Constitution the so-called “no-aid” provision, which prevents public spending on churches and other religiously affiliated groups. This would make it legal to give state government money directly to religious private schools that teach things like creationism. The change to the constitution is never made.
  • The Orlando Sentinel runs a story in their “Schools Without Rules” series about private schools that get public money through voucher programs: “Private schools’ curriculum downplays slavery, says humans and dinosaurs lived together.” Florida Citizens for Science is included in the story.
  • Complaints about evolution and global warming in science textbooks under adoption consideration spark an official hearing in Collier County. The complaints fail on a narrow 3-2 vote. The textbooks are adopted as is. Florida Citizens’ Alliance plays a lead role in complaining about the books.
  • Complaints about evolution in science textbooks under adoption consideration spark an official hearing in Martin County. The complaints fail on a narrow 3-2 vote. The textbooks are adopted as is.
  • Organizations, such as Florida Votes Values and the Clay Family Policy Forum, issue voter guides that include candidates’ stances on the teaching of evolution.
  • M.I.T.’s online magazine Undark published a deep dive story about efforts to undermine the teaching of global warming facts in public schools: “In America’s Science Classrooms, the Creep of Climate Skepticism: Conservative groups are working hard to challenge the teaching of mainstream climate science in schools. In Florida, they’ve found a winning strategy.” The story features both Florida Citizens’ Alliance and Florida Citizens for Science.
  • Newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis appoints members of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance to his education transition team.

2019

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis issues executive order: “By January 1, 2020, the Commissioner of Education shall comprehensively review Florida’s Kindergarten through grade twelve academic standards and provide recommended revisions to the Governor.” There is concern about how science standards would be revised. But the focus of the revision efforts were on “Common Core” subjects math and language arts, and civics. Despite the executive order that all standards would be reviewed, science is never mentioned during the process.
  • Sen. Dennis Baxley filed bill that would require “Controversial theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” Bill died.
  • Bills targeting instructional materials would, among other things, require them to have “noninflammatory viewpoints on controversial issues.” Bills died.
  • [Bills allowing high school science and math courses to be replaced with Career and Technical Education certification courses are filed. The bills were modified and eventually passed into law.]
  • State legislature approves new voucher program that allows money to be taken directly from state coffers and given to private schools. The private schools are completely unregulated and unaccountable in Florida, with many known to discriminate against students and teachers (for being gay, for instance) and many religious schools teach blatant anti-science ideas, such as creationism.
  • Andy Tuck is installed as the chairman of the state Board of Education. He had stated in the past: “I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.” When confronted with this, he updated his views to say: “I support standards that ensure students use critical thinking skills to explore multiple views of the world around them.”
  • [Concerns about teacher shortages overall, and science in particular, become more and more of a concern. The Florida Department of Education annually reports the subject areas experiencing critical teacher shortages. In this year’s report “Science-General” was ranked the number one critical shortage. The report stated that in the 2018-2019 school year there were 1,026 science courses across the state led by teachers without certification in the subjects. Fewer people want to be be teachers. For example, the number of people taking the teacher certification exam in Earth/Space Science plummeted from 231 in 2015 to 140 in 2018. And not all of those most recent 140 are ready for the classroom; a little more than a quarter of them failed the exam. Public high schools with at least 1,000 students, 36 of them did not offer physics at all. This is an increase over the previous year’s tally of 31. Gov. Rob DeSantis flippantly dismissed physics when he said: “Other than trying to keep my kids from falling down the stairs in the Governor’s mansion I don’t know how much I deal with physics daily.”]

2020

  • Parental Bill of Rights bill filed in state legislature doesn’t target any particular subject, but does say this, which could impact “controversial” subjects in science: “The bill would require, among other things, school district procedures for parents to opt their children out of lessons and materials they find objectionable.”
  • A bill filed in the state legislature targeted the disparity in academic standards between public schools and private schools that accept vouchers. “[The bill]would also have private schools follow state academic expectations for students, administer state exams and receive state grades. Stewart would not seek to control curriculum, noting that many families choose private schools for religious instruction. She said she does not wish to interfere with that desire.”
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New Florida Board of Education Chair: “I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.”

Florida has a new Board of Education chairman: Andy Tuck.

When the state science standards were rewritten in 2008, Tuck was vice chairman of the Highlands County school board. Several school boards passed resolutions opposing the inclusion of evolution in the new standards. Highlands seriously considered a resolution but eventually backed down. But Tuck did say this:

School Board Vice Chairman Andy Tuck said Thursday, “as a person of faith, I strongly oppose any study of evolution as fact at all. I’m purely in favor of it staying a theory and only a theory.

“I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.”

Then in 2014 Tuck was appointed the state board of education. Reporters recalled his earlier stance on evolution and so decided to follow up with him now that he was at the state level. This is what he said:

“I’m not an evangelical right-winger,” he told me. “I’m not trying to get religion in schools.”

[…]

Tuck said his problem is that scientists can’t say for certain how the universe began.

“I guess the thing I struggle with is you’re teaching evolution to fifth-graders and you get done and one says, ‘Where did it start?’” he said. “And you say what?”

As I said back in 2014: Keep in mind that the creationist tactic (I’m not calling Tuck a creationist, but rather referring to the general tactic used by today’s creationists) is to find some way to cast doubt on evolution in the classroom. Decades of legal losses whenever creationists have tried to outlaw evolution instruction or insert blatant creationism into the curriculum have forced them to clean up their overtly religious language. Now they want to allow teachers to spend time on “other theories” while declining to be more specific about those other theories that teachers might bring up are. They want to force a bogus disclaimer into evolution lessons that there are “strengths and weaknesses” to the theory. These are the kinds of moves Florida Citizens for Science faced in 2008 when a state Board of Education member and some lawmakers in the state legislature tried tinkering with the state science standards. So, we can’t feel safe and comfortable when someone says “I’m not trying to get religion in schools.” We heard that over and over again in 2008.

The reason why I bring this up is because he’s now in an even more elevated position at a time fraught with worrying changes happening to our state education system. This summary from the Tampa Bay Times highlights why I’m concerned:

The board is closely aligned to the Governor’s Office, and is taking a key role in overseeing actions including a standards review that Gov. Ron DeSantis has demanded. It appointed Corcoran — DeSantis’ choice for commissioner — without considering other options and is seen as a strong ally in pursuing the governor’s education agenda, which has focused on expanding vouchers, charter schools and other choice options in addition to pushing for improved outcomes in district schools.

Do you think we should be worried?

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A decade later and science education is still not important to Florida’s leaders

Friday was the big day! The results for the annual statewide education assessments were released. A press release from Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran’s office celebrated score increases in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies and Biology. He praised “awe-inspiring” teachers and he highlighted a new law that pushed all testing to later in the school year to allow for more instructional time and less testing time.

Corcoran

Did you notice anything missing? Yes, biology scores rose by two percentage points. That’s good. But … um … what about the rest of the science scores?

There are three science exams that public school students in Florida must take: the statewide science assessments in grades 5 and 8 and the high school biology end of course exam. Students have to score a level three or higher on the five point scale to pass. (See all the score reports at the DOE Assessments report page.) The 5th and 8th grade tests cover a variety of science topics, such as the nature of science, earth/space science, physical science and life science. The biology test is the only mandatory statewide science assessment given in high school.

Biology was worthy of mention in Corcoran’s press release because scores improved to their second highest level in eight years.

Biology End of Course
Statewide Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
Spring 2018-2019: 67
Spring 2017-2018: 65
Spring 2016-2017: 63
Spring 2015-2016: 64
Spring 2014-2015: 65
Spring 2013-2014: 68
Spring 2012-2013: 67
Spring 2011-2012: 59

But 8th and 5th grade science results? They dropped by two percentage points each. Definitely not something Corcoran would want to crow about.

8th Grade Science Statewide Science Assessment
Statewide Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2019: 48*
2018: 50*
2017: 48*
2016: 48*
2015: 48
2014: 49
2013: 47
2012: 47

5th Grade Science Statewide Science Assessment
Statewide Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2019: 53
2018: 55
2017: 51
2016: 51
2015: 53
2014: 54
2013: 53
2012: 52

As I point out nearly every year, flip these numbers to get the real story. Instead of 48 percent passing the 8th grade test, reflect on the fact that 52 percent are not passing it. That means more than 101,700 8th grade students did not earn at least a level 3. Also, 8th graders haven’t broken past 50 percent in eight years.

The 5th graders are doing a bit better, but note how their passing scores are just hopelessly bouncing around with no consistent upward trend since the 2012 to 2014 streak.

However, a factor to take into consideration when analyzing the 5th and 8th grade science exams is that the results matter to the schools since their overall school grade takes the exams into account, but the tests have no real impact on the students. Elementary and middle school students face few consequences for failing the exam. So, why should the student take it seriously? Also consider the fact that the exams cover a wide range of topics learned over the course of several years. Is an 8th grader going to remember science topics taught in 6th grade?

Beside the consistently dismal state of 5th and 8th grade science scores, there are other worrying indicators that science education is not a subject that’s important to Florida’s elected and appointed officials.

One indicator: teacher shortages. The Florida Department of Education annually reports the subject areas experiencing critical teacher shortages. In this year’s report “Science-General” was ranked the number one critical shortage. The report stated that in the 2018-2019 school year there were 1,026 science courses across the state led by teachers without certification in the subjects. That may be at least partially attributed to the fact that the pool of potential science teachers is shrinking. Another FLDOE report shows that fewer people take science certification exams every year. For instance, the number of people taking the certification exam in Earth/Space Science plummeted from 231 in 2015 to 140 in 2018. And not all of those most recent 140 are ready for the classroom; a little more than a quarter of them failed the exam.

DeSantis

Another indicator is the evaporation of physics from schools’ course offerings across the state. Florida State University Physics Professor Paul Cottle dug through the data and found that in public high schools with at least 1,000 students, 36 of them did not offer physics at all. This is an increase over the previous year’s tally of 31. Unfortunately, this trend doesn’t worry some state lawmakers. A bill recently signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis allows students to substitute computer science credits for math and science credits that are required for high school graduation. Promoting computer science skills is worthwhile, but shouldn’t come at the cost of learning about the natural sciences. The governor flippantly dismissed physics when he said: “Other than trying to keep my kids from falling down the stairs in the Governor’s mansion I don’t know how much I deal with physics daily. You cannot live in our modern society without dealing with technology or computers in your daily life.”

I’m more discouraged today than usual. I spent time reviewing my blog posts about annual science assessments going all the way back to 2008. It’s been a dark cloud of bad news for over a decade now. I wrote op-eds about this issue in 2009 and 2017. Governors and commissioners have changed over the years, but my message has been unchanging and bleak. Sure, politicians love to pose for photo ops as they give lip service to one STEM initiative or another. But then they ignore the much larger issue of science literacy for all Florida students.

Our state and country grapples with problems such as rising seas, invasive species, the quality of our diminishing fresh water resources, and disease outbreaks, just to name a few issues that require a sound background in science to understand and solve. There are also job opportunities in space exploration. Boeing is moving its Space and Launch division headquarters from Virginia to Florida. SpaceX is launching – and landing – rockets here. NASA is testing the Orion spacecraft here. By the way, these high paying jobs require a physics education, Gov. DeSantis.

When will out state leaders start taking science education seriously?

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(*)FDOE started a few years ago combining the 8th grade science assessment results with the results of 8th graders who instead took the Biology EOC. The combined statistic reported on most of the FDOE’s documents this year is 51 percent passing in 8th grade. But the pure Statewide Science Assessment – without including 8th grade biology results – has a passing percentage of only 48. I highlighted and questioned this data sleight of hand when I first noticed it a couple of years ago: DOE: Just fudge the results; no one cares about science anyway.

Additionally, it looks like the biology EOC report, which breaks down the performance of the various grade levels of students who took the test, includes 8th graders. Is the DOE using 8th graders’ biology scores twice in their statistics: once in the biology report and again in the 8th grade science assessment results?

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