“Controversial Theories” bill returns to Florida senate

A bill was pre-filed for the 2019 legislative session in the Florida senate that would impact the standards for all academic subjects, especially science. The bill proposes allowing school districts to adopt their own sets of educational standards if they are equal to or more rigorous than the state’s educational standards. The bill specifically targets science standards with the following directive from lines 62 to 66.

62 (b) Science standards must establish specific curricular
63 content for, at a minimum, the nature of science, earth and
64 space science, physical science, and life science. Controversial
65 theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective,
66 and balanced manner.

What’s wrong with this bill:

What is meant by “more rigorous” and who sets that standard? An organization in Collier County, Florida Citizens’ Alliance, is a firm supporter of this bill. It is listed on their 2019 legislative agenda (pdf file)They advocated that school districts should be allowed to use curriculum from places like Freedom Project, which uses as a biology textbook Exploring Creation with Biology published by Apologia Educational Ministries. Is this an example of what is meant by “more rigorous?”

“Controversial theories” is a standard tactic used for several years to target evolution and, lately, climate change. The bills don’t call out these scientific concepts by name, but the history of bills like these, referred to collectively as Academic Freedom Bills, make it clear what the intended science topics are. This Washington Post article briefly explains the purpose of these types of bills:

These bills are worded as “academic freedom” bills, but they really are efforts to present foundational science as controversial. For example, evolution is the animating principle of modern biology, but these laws attempt to allow creationism and evolution to be debated in a science classroom as though they had equal scientific basis. There is no scientific basis to creationist thinking.

Senate Bill 330: Educational Standards for K-12 Public Schools

Link to bill here. Introduced by Sen. Dennis Baxley.

On Jan. 14, the bill was pre-filed for the 2019 legislative session, which starts March 5. It has not been assigned to any committees yet. (Historical note: this same bill was filed in the 2018 session. That year it went nowhere, not having been scheduled for a hearing in any of its assigned committees.)

 

House Bill —: ———————-

No companion bill has yet been filed in the Florida House.

 

Background:

The Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Dennis Baxley who has a history of disliking evolution lessons in schools. He was a representative in the state house back in 2005 when he sponsored an infamous bill titled The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights. That bill would have prevented “biased indoctrination” by “the classroom dictator.” In defense of that bill he related an upsetting personal story of a Florida State University professor ranting against creationism in class. You can read more about that bill in chapter 8 of Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom.

In 2008 we here at Florida Citizens for Science were deeply involved in the brawl over the inclusion of evolution in the new state science standards. Baxley was then executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida and he had a firm opinion about the issue:

“There is no justification for singling out evolution for special skepticism or critical analysis,” wrote Richard T. O’Grady, executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in a Feb. 8 letter to the Board of Education. “Its strength as a scientific theory matches that of the theory of gravitation, atomic theory and the germ theory.”

The response from Dennis Baxley, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida: “He’s in error.”

“At one time, the scientific community thought that for good health, you should attach leaches to your body,” said Baxley, a former state representative from Ocala. “We’re just asking them to leave the door open a little bit” for other evidence to be considered.

Baxley also sponsored a bill in a previous session, Religious Liberties in Schools, that successfully became a Florida law.

In the Florida Senate, her partner in this quest is State Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who owns a string of funeral homes and was the former executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.

Baxley’s not a fan of evolution, and thinks it’s unfair that Florida’s public school children are being exposed to a science curriculum that doesn’t allow that the earth is just 6,000 years old.

They were the guiding hands that successfully passed a bill that would expand the role of religion in Florida’s public schools to levels that have alarmed the American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida Citizens for Science and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

 

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Gird up now thy loins

Ahhh, winter break. I slept in this morning, leisurely checked a few things off my errands to-do list, and didn’t worry about waiting for the class change bell to use the bathroom. Now that I’m relaxed and temporarily free of lesson planning and grading responsibilities, it’s time to step back to take in the wider view outside of my classroom of what’s in store for science education in Florida in the coming months.

Or maybe I should just take a nap.

But no, you and I are forced to soldier on. We’re in a state where constant vigilance is needed to defend against ignorance and ideology raining down from Tallahassee. Let’s get to it.

First, take time to review developments reported in my most recent blog posts. In “It’s Going to be Ugly” I highlight how the next Florida legislative session is shaping up as known and potential anti-science lawmakers were re-elected or took on leadership positions. In “Textbook censoring, global warming denying creationists have been given the keys” I document how the increasingly well connected activist group Florida Citizens Alliance now has members advising our governor-elect on education matters. And in “Florida is once again ground zero for antiscience” I discuss a feature length magazine article that shows how the Florida Citizens Alliance operates.

Now that you have the background, let’s move forward. The National Center for Science Education, as always, has our back and is keeping the rest of the country informed about Florida science education issues: Trouble on the horizon in Florida? In that write-up they quote Education Week’s report on our governor-elect’s education transition team: Coming Soon to Florida: More Challenges for Districts’ Science Curricula?

Of course, it is not clear yet what DeSantis, Flaugh, or Donalds have in mind specifically for education. But at the very least, the dots are lining up here for a wave of new challenges. As I reported in my earlier story on the FCA, what separates it from other anti-evolution efforts is that these activists are working through the grassroots and training local activists in many counties. It’s not a stretch to assume that, with Flaugh and Donalds in a more powerful state role, people who share their views will feel emboldened to express them locally.

It’s possible that they will seek changes to the state textbook-adoption process, too; the FCA, in fact, backed a second bill that would have altered it, but that bill got stuck after legislators focused all their attention on school safety following the Parkland tragedy in February.

The Florida Citizens Alliance folks on the education transition team are now becoming lightning rods as the Florida Phoenix notes in: Critics want Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis to kick off 2 members of education advisory committee. The article gives examples of the many times the Alliance has tried to censor textbooks, such as:

A “flawed” environmental science book in the analysis has “extensive errors” and includes “major chapters that teach man-made global warming and evolution as proven science.”

Flaugh, of Florida Citizens’ Alliance, said he was not aware of the parent group that is calling for his ouster from the DeSantis transition committee. But he said that his organization has been criticized before, adding “Progressives are very upset that we’re defending our Constitutional rights.”

The Miami New Times followed up with a story of their own: Far-Right Anti-Climate Change, Anti-“Islam” Group Adivising DeSantis on Education. The story begins:

The Florida Citizens’ Alliance regularly rails against what it calls “cultural Marxism,” “LGBTQ values,” and “Islam” in Florida’s public schools. If a teacher happens to mention that the Founding Fathers were all white men and that many owned slaves, you bet the Alliance would get angry. The group also loses its collective mind when America’s obvious history of racism or climate change comes up in the classroom.

Two group members, naturally, are now “advising” Ron DeSantis, Florida’s newly elected governor.

We certainly don’t have to trust these news outlets’ analysis of the Alliance’s efforts. We can read it all for ourselves. For instance, their recently updated Objectionable Materials Report is a long list of literature and textbooks the group finds unsuitable for classroom use. Here is an excerpt from their science page:

Each of these 7 science books teaches evolution and man-made global warming as a fact not a theory as required by Florida Statutes. Much of the science of Darwin’s theory of evolution has been proven incorrect or at least seriously faulty by recent scientists in many fields: Paleontology, Genetics, Mathematics, Biology and more.

“HMD Environmental Science”, 2013 by Houghton, Mifflin, and Harcourt, Collier County
9 extensive errors, including major chapters that teach man-made global warming and evolution as proven science. This book is so flawed that it is not recommended for adoption.

“Essentials of Oceanography”, 2018, Pearson
Total miss-representation of Global warming and Evolution. This book is so flawed that it is not recommended for adoption.

“Florida Biology”, 2017, McGraw Hill
Total miss-representation of Evolution. This book is so flawed that it is not recommended for adoption.

“Human Genetics”, 2018 McGraw Hill
Total miss-representation of Evolution. This book is so flawed that it is not recommended for adoption.

“Elevate Science Earth”, 2019 Pearson
Total miss-representation of Global warming and Evolution. This book is so flawed that it is not recommended for adoption.

“Earth Science, Regular and Honors”, 2015, Pearson
Total miss-representation of Evolution. This book is so flawed that it is not recommended for adoption.

“Elevate Science Life”, 2019, Pearson
Total miss-representation of Evolution. This book is so flawed that it is not recommended for adoption.

And the Alliance has issued their 2019 Legislative Agenda. They want to modify existing textbook adoption laws yet again in an attempt to force school districts across the state to reject materials the Alliance doesn’t like. And they want to resurrect last year’s bill that would have allowed school districts to develop their own education standards as long as they are equal to or better than the state standards. There were a lot of problems what that bill last year. See our issues page about it: “Controversial Theories” Bills 2018. Thank goodness it never even got a committee hearing. One of the most significant issues was that it included a “controversial theories” section:

62 (b) Science standards must establish specific curricular
63 content for, at a minimum, the nature of science, earth and
64 space science, physical science, and life science. Controversial
65 theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective,
66 and balanced manner.

As strong advocates for quality science education, we here at Florida Citizens for Science are deeply troubled to see well known anti-science activists on the governor-elect’s education transition team. It’s alarming that people who aggressively challenged established scientific concepts like climate change and evolution in textbooks are being elevated to positions of potentially greater influence.

I know it’s the holidays. I know you are enjoying time with friends and family. But can you spare some time and effort to help prepare for what’s coming? Contact me. Let’s talk.

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Textbook censoring, global warming denying creationists have been given the keys

Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis released the names of those who will be on his education transition committee. Included is a representative from the textbook-censoring, global warming denying, creationist outfit Florida Citizens Alliance.

Among the participants are former Brevard County superintendent Desmond Blackburn, Step Up for Students founder John Kirtley, Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage, Florida Citizens Alliance director Keith Flaugh, Hillsborough County schools lobbyist Connie Milito, Pensacola State College president Edward Meadows, and former Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds.

Just as a reminder, Step Up for Students operates the state’s largest tax credit scholarship program, and the Florida Citizens Alliance has led several efforts to remove textbooks from schools. Donalds led the Constitution Revision Commission effort to create a state charter school authorizer and set school board term limits.

Flaugh and his Alliance have been on our radar for several years. Our most recent clash was when he tried to bully (and I am using the word bully literally) the Collier County school board, with the help of then school board member Donalds, into tossing out a few science textbooks under adoption consideration. Read all about it here: What I did during my summer break, Collier County edition.

So, review that entire list of 41 people on the transition team while keeping in mind this DeSantis campaign promise:

DeSantis also promises a “complete review” of curriculum standards, including a renewed emphasis on civics education and the United States Constitution in those classes.

If it is indeed a “complete review” then I have no doubt that evolution and climate change will be heavily scrutinized in the science standards, especially if Flaugh and Donalds have any role.

Add this to the other recent news about who has been chosen to lead the Florida House Education Committee and who has won reelection to the Florida legislature: It’s Going to be Ugly.

Strap in. The next few years are going to be a wild ride.

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It’s Going to be Ugly

As the dust settles from the mid-term elections, we’re starting to see what is in store for science education and education in general here in the Sunshine State. It’s going to be ugly.

In preparation for the next Florida legislative session, due to start March 5, 2019, House and Senate committees are taking shape. The first shot aimed at public education is who has been selected to chair the House education committee. Read a little about “Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican who has championed such issues as home schooling and tax credit scholarships, and has been an ally to conservative education groups and their concerns.” She was home-schooled, presumably having never sat in a public school classroom, and she is earning a degree from Liberty University online, an evangelical Christian university in Virginia. She also was active in TeenPact.

Can you see where this next state legislative session is headed?

Sen. Dennis Baxley easily won reelection. Baxley, “a Southern Baptist, said his faith is the foundation of his public service and proposed that ‘controversial theories’ such as evolution be taught in a ‘balanced’ manner.” Here is our analysis and history of that controversial theories bill. Do you think we’ll see that bill or something similar again?

Rep. Byron Donalds also won reelection. He “will continue to focus on education issues in Tallahassee after winning re-election in House District 80 Tuesday night.” He was a driving force behind bills that would change how schools’ instructional materials are selected and challenged. One of those bills became law and resulted in lots of headaches for school boards across the state.

Rep. Kim Daniels also won reelection. Daniels was a sponsor of the Religious Expression in Schools law that we here at Florida Citizens for Science opposed in 2017. She was also responsible for the In God We Trust law that requires all Florida public schools to prominently display that motto.

And we know that the Florida Citizens’ Alliance is on their conservative crusade, as we noted a little while ago. “Prominent on [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s] expanded menu of concerns was climate change, and humanity’s presumed role in driving it. […] ‘Unfortunately, what it’s become is indoctrination and not education. That’s our major problem,'”

Are you ready to get to work?

We appreciate when you like and share our social media posts. That helps with awareness, so please keep doing so. But if that’s all you’re doing, then we’re in trouble. We need to take your energy that went into those incredibly tight, recent elections that are so close that they’re going into recount and focus it on standing firm in defense of science education in the coming months. There is no doubt that we’re going to be very busy soon. We need your advice, your effort, your time, your commitment to science education, your connections, and your experience. Without your participation in this fight, science education, and Florida education in general, will erode and this state’s students will pay the price.

Contact us. Today.

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Florida is once again ground zero for antiscience

M.I.T.’s online magazine Undark recently 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 writer, Sean Patrick Cooper, spent quite a bit of time with me in my empty classroom on a Friday afternoon. We had a long, wide-ranging conversation about the importance of teaching the facts about climate change in schools and how it’s a tough, uphill battle. Students come into school with no significant background in the subject other than possibly some misconceptions passed down through family and social media. They don’t really know anything about the basics of greenhouse gases let alone any of the more complicated concepts. When I teach it, I have to start at a very elementary level and build up from there as fast as I can. There’s surprisingly little time devoted to it in our curriculum map. Of course, I mention climate change throughout the year since it ties in with so many other concepts in my freshman environmental science class. But the time that is devoted to it alone is only a week or two.

Something that didn’t make it into the story was this fact: depending on what school district and what school a student attends, there is a good chance that the student won’t take a science class that teaches the facts of climate change. Students in my school need three science credits to graduate. So, a student could start off with the state-required biology course, then move on to chemistry and physics. And that student will thus never encounter a single science-based global warming lesson.

And what makes it even tougher is the outside opposition, which is what the Undark story goes into excellent detail about. Most of the story is set here in Florida because of the law we now have that requires all school districts to bend over backwards to hear out any citizen’s complaints about instructional materials. We fought hard against the bill as it progressed through the state legislature and onto the governor’s desk but ultimately lost. See our page “Challenges to evolution & climate change in textbooks” for an overview and links to our many blog posts written as events happened.

The Undark story has a clear message for us that we need to heed.

Prominent on [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s] expanded menu of concerns was climate change, and humanity’s presumed role in driving it. […] “Unfortunately, what it’s become is indoctrination and not education. That’s our major problem,”

The outcome matters: Whoever wins over the minds of this upcoming cohort of American voters will, to a large extent, shape the nation’s policies on climate change for decades to come. Surveys suggest that more Americans than ever now understand the human-climate change connection, but as voters head to the polls for the 2018 midterm elections, more than 40 percent still remain unconvinced that climate change is predominantly caused by human activity. The best way to nudge that number higher, conservative groups seem to be wagering, is to target youngsters in America’s science classrooms.

Leaders of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance said that with the new bill in place, they will be in a position to pilot and test different strategies deployed at school board meetings. They plan to refine those strategies with challenges across all of the state’s 67 public school districts.

In other words, the fight has only just begun.

The alliance was also featured in a recent Education Week piece: Citizen Activists Push to Revise History Textbooks.

What separates the Florida Citizens Alliance and Truth in Textbooks from earlier mom-and-pop approaches to reviewing materials is that these groups are trying to significantly expand their reach, training local activists in districts across many states. The approach is powered by some of the same populism that has boiled up in both political parties, in the sense that activists are relying on local citizens rather than professional historians to review the books.

[…]

The Florida group now sends advocacy emails to about 20,000 people and maintains a network of activists in about seven of the state’s counties who keep tabs on local classroom materials adoptions; they are trying to build that number up to 15.

About 60 Florida activists have been trained through the Truth in Textbooks’ training process, now conducted mainly online, to look for bias, “half truths,” factual errors, and omissions in the books.

And then there is this story in PBS’s Frontline: Dueling Books Compete to Educate Kids on Climate Change.

The group that mailed books and DVDs arguing that global warming isn’t real to science teachers around the country last year is redoubling its efforts: It plans to publish and distribute a new book — this one aimed at both teachers and students — in the coming months.

Fortunately, we’re not alone in this fight. We work closely with the National Center for Science Education and their awesome network of science defenders. And over the past few years we developed great working relationships with other groups, eventually joining with them to form Florida Education Defenders.

But did you take note of the Alliance’s main tactic? They have volunteer activists set up all across the state ready to harass their local school boards about any and all textbooks under consideration for adoption. They have teams devoted to recruiting state lawmakers to their cause, resulting in 2018’s attempt to pass yet another law about textbooks and a nefarious “controversial theories” bill. You can guarantee they are already cooking up bills for 2019’s session.

Science education in Florida obviously needs defenders. Are you ready to step up?

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Florida legislator is back to protect us from “witchcraft”

Kim Daniels will be back in Tallahassee for the next legislative session, having won her recent primary election and facing no opponent in the general election.

Daniels was a sponsor of the Religious Expression in Schools law that we here at Florida Citizens for Science opposed in 2017. She was also responsible for the In God We Trust law that requires all Florida public schools to prominently display that motto. That law was in response to the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. There was recent backlash by school districts against the law. Some opted to display the Florida state seal, which has the motto on it, instead of an obnoxious sign.

Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino explains a little bit of Daniels’ background in his recent piece: Will God sign off on this PBC public school plan?

The law was the mission of Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, a sketchy new member of the House of Representatives who is a religious entrepreneur who calls herself an “apostle” and imagines that America is under attack by “witchcraft coming from Kenya to influence our president.”

Daniels’ Spoken Word Ministries is a merchandise-heavy operation with some ungodly expenses, like a birthday Cadillac Escalade for her ex-husband and tax-exempt $1 million home in Davie called a “parsonage.”

She’s a deep well of nuttiness on a variety of topics, such as slavery, which she calls a blessing, and the Holocaust, which she also finds to be not as bad as advertised.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has taken note of this Florida law, and similar laws in other states, and makes an important point:

State legislators have not been coming up with the idea and strategy to pass these “In God We Trust” bills on their own. These bills are the first step of a nationwide strategy called Project Blitz — a playbook created by three Christian nationalist groups to pass state bills that undermine religious freedom and redefine the U.S. as a Christian nation. They hope to use bills like “In God We Trust” as a stepping stone to even more damaging bills that allow public schools to promote prayer, teach creationism, and eventually allow the government to use religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people, women, and religious minorities.

Now that Daniels has secured her seat in Tallahassee for a couple more years, what shenanigans can we expect from her? Stay tuned.

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We did it! Six classrooms are getting requested science supplies.

Thank you! Our 5th Science Supplies Fundraising Campaign via Donors Choose is now wrapped up. We raised $1,186.99 for six projects requested by teachers all across Florida. Here’s our first four projects your donations helped make a reality:

Amazing Reactions in Science” at Mariner Middle School, Cape Coral

Enhancing Our Science Classroom” at Eneida Massas Hartner Elementary School, Miami

Building Bonds” at Seminole High School, Sanford

DASH and Doodle” at Pinetta Elementary School, Pinetta

But then we here at Florida Citizens for Science needed to chip in our promised $500. So, we topped off the donations for a few of the above projects and then had money left over to fund two additional projects:

Do All Babies Look Like Their Parents?” at Cranberry Elementary School, North Port, FL

Experience Erosion” at Tomoka Elementary School, Ormond Beach, FL

Thank you to everyone who chipped in!

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The Storms has passed

I had neglected to check on the status of Ronda Storms’ Florida House election campaign. I’m so sorry. The good news is that she lost: Florida House: Ronda Storms’ comeback ends in GOP primary

Republican candidate Joe Wicker said he received a concession call about 9 p.m. from opponent Ronda Storms in the District 59 State House Republican primary.

For those of you who have been along for the ride with us here at Florida Citizens for Science since the early days, you very likely know Storms was one of the most polarizing opponents we faced back in 2008. If you don’t know her or just need a refresher, Storms sponsored and went all in for a bill in the state Senate that was a response to the brand new state science standards that had just been approved at the time. Those new standards prominently featured evolution and Storms fumed at that. She filed SB 2692:

The Teaching of Chemical and Biological Evolution [SPCC]; Cites act as the “Evolution Academic Freedom Act.” Provides public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical evolution. Prohibits a teacher from being discriminated against for presenting such information. Prohibits students from being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution, etc.

It was approved by the Senate and the House approved its version of the same bill, but the two bills were very different and couldn’t be reconciled by the end of the legislative session, thus killing both. The huge fight made big news back then and made up all of chapter 10 “Who Gets to Decide What Is Science” in my book Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom. Storms had several colorful quotes and jaw-dropping things to say about evolution throughout the legislative session.

Fortunately, Storms doesn’t get a do-over. But I’m sure new crazies will pop up in the next legislative session. They always do.

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