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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School Boards Election Fallout

We’ve had some interesting times this year putting out fires concerning evolution and climate change in new science textbooks up for adoption in a few Florida school districts. Did those experiences impact school board elections in those counties? Of course, there were many other issues voters had on their minds, but perhaps battles over science education were on those lists of issues. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Collier County: Four citizens had filed 220 objections to the textbooks and cited in their written objections filed with the school district many creationist sources but then claimed during the hearing that their complaints had nothing to do with religion. The marathon five-hour hearing and board member deliberation (June 18, 2018) eventually resulted in a narrow 3-2 vote in favor of adopting new science textbooks without any alterations or supplemental materials. One school board member on the losing side claimed that it’s okay for the concept of intelligent design to be taught in science classrooms and the other school board member who voted no accused the books of pushing a political agenda concerning climate change. Election Update: Both of those who voted no to the science textbooks are now gone: Roy Terry and Jen Mitchell elected to Collier County School Board

Throughout their four-year terms, [Kelly] Lichter and [Erika] Donalds have brought a conservative perspective to the board; they pushed for the district to share capital funding with charter schools and backed a group of far-right education advocates in their mission to rid schools of textbooks they said “indoctrinate” students with lessons about Islam, evolution and human-induced climate change.

Their views have often put them on the losing side of 3-2 votes. The pair’s replacements, Westberry and Mitchell, however, have far less conservative views that are more in line with the rest of the board, and their election will likely bring about a string of unanimous votes.

Though the political battle over the local School Board may be over for now, the county’s ultraconservative groups are refocusing their efforts on the state, and Collier board members may be forced to reckon with state legislation they disagree with.

Martin County: School board member Rebecca Negron spent more than half an hour at the June 5 board meeting attempting to dazzle the audience with endless quotes that appeared to show scientists versus scientists arguing over the validity of evolution. She did this in an attempt to convince everyone that the science textbooks under consideration for purchase violate Florida statute that requires the books be “accurate, objective, and balanced.” How can the books be accurate and balanced if so many “evolutionists” (she kept on pointing out these quotes came from scientists and evolutionists) were refuting what was in the high school science textbooks? Election Update: Negron is out: Retired educator Victoria Defenthaler wins seat on Martin County School Board

Victoria Defenthaler defeated incumbent Rebecca Negron in a School Board race clouded by attack ads funneled into Martin County from outside the region.

Defenthaler, a retired educator, raised and spent more during her campaign, but one political action committee alone threw nearly $31,000 more into a massive mailing on Negron’s behalf.

Clay County: School board member Ashley Gilhousen protested during a board meeting: “But my difficulty lies in the narrow scope as it relates to the theory of human and species origin in that the only theory mentioned is evolution. And all that is expected for students to know is its supporting evidence and none of its flaws. At best, this limited level of exposure for students to the highly contested views on the origin of life and species is negligent. At the worst it’s intellectually deceptive.” Election Update: Gilhousen is in a runoff: ‘The real winners are the children of Clay County’.

Bullock teamed up on the campaign trail with incumbent Janice Kerekes and political newcomer Lynne Hirabayashi Chafee under the moniker of JLT. Chafee, a Guardian ad Litem children’s advocate, will be in a runoff in November with first-term District 5 school board member incumbent Ashley Gilhousen, the top two vote getters in a three-way race. Gilhousen received 18,397 votes, Chafee received 11,134 and Travis Christensen received 8,158.

Interesting results, don’t you think? Have you kept an eye on your own local school board elections? Let us know if you have any concerns so that we can keep an eye on them!

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Progress report on fundraising for science supplies campaign

We’re about halfway through our month-long campaign raising funds for science supplies requested by Florida teachers via Donors Choose (see our post launching this 5th annual fundraiser here). And I’m happy to report that we’ve raised $590 so far and fully funded one of our chosen projects! Awesome job, folks. But we’re still steaming ahead until our official wrap up on Sept. 18. We have at least three other projects to fund; we’re so close!

Mrs. Wieman Starling at Mariner Middle School, Cape Coral
“Amazing Reactions in Science”
Fully Funded!

Mrs. B. at Eneida Massas Hartner Elementary School, Miami
“Enhancing Our Science Classroom”
Still needs $178

Ms. Downing at Seminole High School, Sanford
“Building Bonds”
Still needs $151

Mr. Christmas at Pinetta Elementary School, Pinetta
“DASH and Doodle”
Still needs $165, but Craig Newmark Philanthropies is matching donations, so the amount needed now is only $83

Go to our Florida Citizens for Science Giving Page at Donors Choose to pitch in.

Let’s make these projects reality! And remember, we here at Florida Citizens for Science will give $500 at the close of the campaign to any projects not fully funded at that point or to new projects if the ones on our Giving Page are already funded by then. Can we raise more than our previous four campaigns?

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