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?

—————————–

(*)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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Florida Legislative Session Wrap Up 2019

May the Fourth Be With You! Today, the 2019 session of the Florida Legislature is finally over. Here’s a quick summary of the issues we here at Florida Citizens for Science were tracking.

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

This bill would have impacted the standards for all academic subjects, especially science. The bill proposed 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 targeted 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.

“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.

END RESULT: This bill died. It was never heard in a committee. A companion bill in the house never appeared. It was a horrible idea even by the standards of this year’s horrible legislative session. I’m betting this bill was filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley just to drum up some publicity. He probably knew full well the bill was dead on arrival.

But will Baxley file the bill again next year or file a bill similar to it? You betcha!

For more background on the bill and Baxley’s history with evolution in schools, see our issues page.

House Bill 855 & Senate Bill 1454 – Instructional Materials

These bills would have made quite a few drastic changes to laws governing schools’ instructional materials. For instance, the section below features the “controversial issues” phrase. (Strikeouts are deletions and underlines are additions proposed by the bill.)


462 (2) EVALUATION OF INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS.—
463 To use the selection criteria listed in s. 1006.34(2)(b) and
464 recommend for adoption only those instructional materials
465 aligned with or exceed the Next Generation Sunshine State
466 Standards provided for in s. 1003.41. Instructional materials
467 recommended by each reviewer shall comply with all quality and
468 content criteria established in state law, including an
469 assurance that such materials are researched-based and proven to
470 be effective in supporting student learning; are be, to the
471 satisfaction of each reviewer, accurate and factual; provide,
472 objective, balanced, and noninflammatory viewpoints on
473 controversial issues; are, current, free of pornography and
474 material prohibited under s. 847.012; are of acceptable quality;
475 are in full compliance with s. 847.012, s. 1003.42, and all
476 other state laws relating to instructional materials;, and are
477 suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the
478 material presented.

The bills would have also done extreme damage to the instructional materials vetting and review process. For a full summary of those aspects, see my series of posts on the bills here, here and here.

END RESULT: The bills are dead. The House Bill was heard in one committee where it underwent a drastic overhaul, taking out the majority of the bad ideas in the original version. But then the bill stalled after that. It never got a hearing in its other assigned committee. And the Senate Bill never saw any movement at all.

But the organization behind this bill, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, was ready to fight for their bill and you can bet they’ll try again next year.

Senate Bill 770 & House Bill 661: Workforce Education

Good grief, this bill was a tough one to follow. There were about 15 other “related bills” and I quite honestly lost track of what was going on until the end. It looks like the end result that tied everything together was the passage of House Bill 7071.

The stated purpose of the original bill was to give students a way to earn a high school diploma through a Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathway. “Some advanced math and science courses” were seen as obstacles to graduation for certain students and so the original bill would have allowed many of those math and science courses to be replaced with CTE credits.

In the final version of HB 7071, this is what can be done (keep in mind that a standard diploma requires four math credits and three science credits):

567 3. A student who earns a computer science credit may
568 substitute the credit for up to one credit of the mathematics
569 requirement, with the exception of Algebra I and Geometry, if
570 the commissioner identifies the computer science credit as being
571 equivalent in rigor to the mathematics credit. An identified
572 computer science credit may not be used to substitute for both a
573 mathematics and a science credit. A student who earns an
574 industry certification in 3D rapid prototype printing may
575 satisfy up to two credits of the mathematics requirement, with
576 the exception of Algebra I, if the commissioner identifies the
577 certification as being equivalent in rigor to the mathematics
578 credit or credits.

589 3. A student who earns a computer science credit may
590 substitute the credit for up to one credit of the science
591 requirement, with the exception of Biology I, if the
592 commissioner identifies the computer science credit as being
593 equivalent in rigor to the science credit. An identified
594 computer science credit may not be used to substitute for both a
595 mathematics and a science credit.

This final version isn’t as bad as the original version (see my posts about it here, here, and here). But the persistent idea that anything other than Algebra and Biology are somehow “advanced” courses that are just too tough really got me steamed.

END RESULT: HB 7071 (which contains much more than what I summarized above) is on its way to the governor, who is guaranteed to sign it into law.

New Voucher Program Created

Florida politicians’ love affair with unaccountable private schools resulted in yet another pot of money going to many creationist schools.

Florida dumps another $130 million into wild west of unregulated, unaccountable voucher schools

“You know, if I was confident that my ‘choice’ system was working for kids, I’d welcome basic standards and accountability.

“But if I wasn’t … well, I’d act like Sullivan and the rest of her GOP peers. I’d keep hiding what goes on in voucher schools, dodge standards — and then keep telling everyone that public schools are the problem.”

Florida legislators stick it to public education, as usual

“And Florida? Instead of following the lead of public schools that have demonstrated success — and yes, there are plenty — this state blundered into the abyss during the legislative session that ends Saturday when it set aside $130 million for people who use unregulated voucher schools accountable to almost no one to ‘educate’ children.

“Whoo hooo! Just go out and hire any old high school dropout or convicted felon off the street to ‘teach’ the kiddies. Never mind the hillbilly science curriculum that says dinosaurs and people lived at the same time, that God saved North America from Catholics by giving them South America or that the U.S. would still have slavery except some ‘power-hungry individuals stirred up the people.’ (Blasted Yankees!)”

The Orlando Sentinel exposed how horrible the Florida private school industry is with their Schools Without Rules series. I was interviewed for this part of the series: Private schools’ curriculum downplays slavery, says humans and dinosaurs lived together

“That was just plain-old, misguided, bad, horrible science, talking about dinosaurs and humans living together,” said Brandon Haught, a science teacher at University High School in Volusia and a member of the advocacy group Florida Citizens for Science, who also reviewed the materials.

He said all the texts, compared with what he uses in his public high school, seemed to downplay “actually doing some science.” They also disregard a key point of science — that not all answers are known, that there are more discoveries to be had.

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Book-Banning bill update 3/30

Another week has slipped by in Florida’s annual legislative session and so far the issues we here at Florida Citizens for Science are most concerned about are stalled or defanged.

What was the most dangerous bill on our radar, HB 855 — which had been dubbed the book-banning bill — passed through its first committee hearing Tuesday and come out the other side looking much different.

For background information on this bill (and its companion in the senate SB 1454), please read our first alert about it: New Instructional Materials bill includes “controversial issues” requirement. That post breaks down many of the key issues of the bill and reveals a little background about the bill sponsor, Rep. Walter Byran “Mike” Hill from Pensacola. Then read the update post: Getting ready for another wild ride in Tallahassee. That post has a brief bullet point list of the bill’s many problems. And finally, read the post alerting everyone about the first committee hearing: “Book banning” bill written by creationists/climate change deniers to get first hearing.

Before the committee hearing even began, bill sponsor Rep. Hill replaced it with what’s called a “committee substitute,” which in this case turned out to be a complete revision of the bill. A Tampa Bay Times article gives a brief rundown of the changes: Florida School book removal bill overhauled before first committee stop

The PreK-12 Quality committee has taken the 24-page HB 855 and trimmed it back to six pages before its scheduled hearing Tuesday afternoon. The stripped down version takes out some of the most contentious language that had anti-censorship advocates most alarmed.

The original bill version obsessed over pornography and had a long list of changes to the way a hearing about instructional materials complaints was to be planned and conducted. Poof — all gone in this new version. The new committee substitute focuses on three new changes to law. First there is this (bolded text is the new stuff proposed by this bill):

A school principal must communicate to parents about the content of reproductive health instructional materials at least 10 days before students view such materials.

Then there is this (bolded text is the new stuff proposed by this bill) :

Each district school board shall maintain on its website a current list of instructional materials, by grade level, purchased by the district. Such list must contain, at a minimum, the title, author, and ISBN number, if available, for all instructional materials.

Both of those changes seem harmless and a far cry from the original bill’s intent. Then there is the third change (bolded text is the new stuff proposed by this bill) :

(c) Other instructional materials.—Provide such other teaching accessories and aids as are needed for the school district’s educational program, including supplemental instructional materials. Each school district shall create a policy for the use of supplemental instructional materials in the classroom in compliance with s. 1006.31(2) and any other state laws relating to instructional materials.

Section 3. The Commissioner of Education shall review the process school districts use to evaluate materials that are not included on the state-adopted list as required in s. 1006.283, Florida Statutes. The commissioner shall provide a report to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives by December 31, 2020. The report shall include statistics regarding how many materials have been removed by school districts as a result of the review process in s. 1006.283, Florida Statutes, and identify instructional materials with confirmed, factual errors and any corrective measures taken pursuant to s. 1006.35, Florida Statutes. The report shall include recommendations on ways the public can review materials that are not on the state-adopted list, including library materials, books included on summer reading lists, and books available for purchase at book fairs.

This is a tougher part of the law to decipher. First, this bill appears to be concerned with things other than textbooks used in the classroom. In my classroom I use all sorts of things not related to the textbook like worksheets, news stories, videos, labs, etc. On a regular basis I find materials days or even hours before I use them. I try to keep my environmental science lessons current and real-world as possible. President Trump is going to visit Lake Okeechobee in a couple of days? I jump into action to prepare something about it for my class. The referenced statute 1006.31(2) is the one that the writers of the original bill, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, have been trying to reinterpret and use a sledgehammer to promote their own world views in schools. It says, in part:

Instructional materials recommended by each reviewer shall be, to the satisfaction of each reviewer, accurate, objective, balanced, noninflammatory, current, free of pornography

Do my many supplemental materials fit the Alliances’ interpretation of this statute? They definitely match the state science standards and my district’s curriculum map. Are my materials, if they aren’t some type of book, covered by this proposed bill?

The other mysterious part of this bill is the report that would be required about materials being removed by school districts and what kind of “confirmed, factual errors” they have. Of course, I stay focused on challenges to science materials, which have been thankfully unsuccessful so far. But I’m not aware of successful challenges to any other academic materials, either. What’s the purpose of this report?

I encourage you to watch the video of this PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee meeting. Committee member Rep. Anna Eskamani. asked bill sponsor Rep. Hill a few interesting questions. Start at three minutes.

Rep. Eskamani: Does your bill also only apply to public schools or to any type of learning environment, including charter and private?

Rep. Hill: This is just for public schools at this time.

Rep. Eskamani: Reasoning for that?

Rep. Hill: Because the public schools are government run schools. Those are ones we have most control over. The private schools we don’t have as much control over them. We leave those decisions up to the parents to decide the type of material that’s going to be taught there.

Rep. Eskamani: Understood, Rep. Hill. How about for any schools that receive public dollars? Would you consider them to also perhaps follow the same instructional material rules in this bill?

Rep. Hill: Are you referring to like charter schools?

Rep. Eskamani: Any institution that receives a state scholarship program, yes.

Rep. Hill: Yes, I believe that this bill would cover that also.

Other committee members brought up concerns about the over regulation of supplemental materials, which is something Rep. Hill addressed in his closing remarks at 15:18

I apologize if I said that this applies to private schools. It does not. It applies to public schools and to charter schools but not to private schools. So, if I gave you that impression I wanted to clarify that.

And then there was the comment about the supplemental materials. My wife was a preschool teacher for a number of years so I understand what you mean — if they are trying to get things and make their class more lively and so forth. No one is going to object to that. However, if we find that a teacher goes out, brings in some material that a parent finds objectionable, then that parent — the child could take it home and the parent could say ‘what is this?’ This would say now that those supplemental materials that have been introduced will be held accountable. It is not to try and prevent them from doing things which is going to more robust, educational, entertaining. It’s to make sure that the parents have a way of expressing their objection if that supplemental material is against, um, that they find objection to.

You heard him, ladies and gentlemen. If you see any creationist or climate-change-denying materials, you can object. Of course, the actual intent behind the bill is just the opposite (since it comes from the creationist, climate change denying group Florida Citizens’s Alliance). The intent is to snuff out evolution and climate change materials, like they attempted several times in the past (see our issues page: Challenges to evolution & climate change in textbooks for lots of examples.)

The bill passed this committee on a 11-2 vote. According to the bill’s web page, there is one more stop in the full Education Committee, but a hearing for this bill has not been scheduled there yet. However, when committee assignments were first done for this bill, it was also supposed to go to the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. I’m confused as to why that subcommittee assignment disappeared off the list. Also of note is that the companion bill in the senate, SB 1454, appears to be stalled. No committee hearings have been scheduled.

And a final note on this bill: the Alliance isn’t happy with it. They have a few amendments written and ready to go that would restore many of the contentious issues that were in the original bill version. We’ll see if those amendments get filed.

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“Book banning” bill written by creationists/climate change deniers to get first hearing

Florida HB 855, which has been dubbed a “book banning” bill by nearly everyone with an ounce of common sense, is scheduled for its first hearing in the house PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee, Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.

The entire bill is overflowing with horrible ideas meant to bully school boards across the state into submission when the bill’s originator, the Florida Citizens Alliance, comes calling to demand removal of anything they deem to be inappropriate. They are targeting the coverage of religions in history courses, the alleged presence of porn in literature, and the presence of evolution and climate change in science textbooks.

For background information on this bill (and its companion in the senate SB 1454), please read our first alert about it: New Instructional Materials bill includes “controversial issues” requirement. That post breaks down many of the key issues of the bill and reveals a little background about the bill sponsor, Rep. Walter Byran “Mike” Hill from Pensacola. Then read the update post: Getting ready for another wild ride in Tallahassee. That post has a brief bullet point list of the bill’s many problems.

The bills have been taking a beating in the media and elsewhere:

It’s time for you to contact every single member of the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee and let them know how destructive the creationist, book-banning, climate change denying Alliance’s crusade will be. If you discover any updates to the representative’s contact information (such as a Twitter handle), please let us know so we can update this list. And if you get any meaningful responses, we would like to know that, too.

Chair: Donalds, Byron [R] (Note: Donalds is known ally of Florida Citizens Alliance)
Email: byron.donalds@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter: @ByronDonalds
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5080
District Office: (239) 417-6270

Vice Chair: Latvala, Chris [R]
Email: chris.latvala@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter: @ChrisLatvala
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5067
District Office: (727) 724-3000

Democratic Ranking Member: Webb, Jennifer Necole [D]
Email: jennifer.webb@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter: @jenniferwebbfl
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5069
District Office: (727) 341-7385

Bell, Melony M. [R]
Email: melony.bell@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter:
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5056
District Office: (863) 285-1101

Brannan III, Robert Charles “Chuck” [R]
Email: chuck.brannan@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter:
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5010
District Office: (386) 758-0405

Eskamani, Anna V. [D] (Note: Eskamani has already publicly supported sound science education and opposed the Florida Citizens’ Alliances’ agenda.)
Email: anna.eskamani@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter: @AnnaForFlorida
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5047
District Office: (407) 228-1451

Grieco, Michael “Mike” [D]
Email: mike.grieco@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter: @Mike_Grieco
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5113
District Office: (305) 993-1905

Hage, Brett Thomas [R]
Email: brett.hage@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter:
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5033
District Office: (352) 315-4445

Hill, Walter Bryan “Mike” [R] (Hill is the bill sponsor and a known climate change denier.)
Email: mike.hill@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter:
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5001
District Office: (850) 494-5690

Hogan Johnson, Delores D. “D” [D]
Email: delores.johnson@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter:
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5084
District Office: (772) 595-1391

LaMarca, Chip [R]
Email: chip.lamarca@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter: @ChipLaMarca
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5093
District Office: (954) 784-4531

Santiago, David [R]
Email: david.santiago@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter: @dsantiago457
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5027
District Office: (386) 575-0387

Smith, David [R]
Email: david.smith@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter:
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5028
District Office: (407) 971-3570

Thompson, Geraldine F. “Geri” [D]
Email: geri.thompson@myFloridahouse.gov
Twitter:
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5044
District Office: (407) 245-0288

Trumbull, Jay [R]
Email: jay.trumbull@myfloridahouse.gov
Twitter: @jaytrumbull
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5006
District Office: (850) 914-6300

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Florida Science Education needs you!

Who would have ever thought that in the 21st Century, in the State that is the Gateway to Space, we would have to put forward a fight to save Science?

Florida Citizens for Science had been fighting the good fight since 2006; now more than ever, we need more citizens to step up and support Science

Please consider coming to our annual meeting this Saturday at 10 a.m. at Stetson University in DeLand. We have a room in the Hollis Center. Contact me if you need more information. If you can’t join us on Saturday, please consider taking on a task for the Organization, either as a Board Member, Committee Chair or other activities. You just need to contact me (bhaught@flascience.org).

We will be electing our board of directors and then our officers Saturday. And we’ll discuss the many, many, many issues impacting science education here in our state. There are bills in the state legislature about instructional materials, curriculum, alternate paths to graduation, and voucher-accepting private schools. There’s also the governor-directed revision of state academic standards (including science). And what about teacher shortages, especially in science and math?

The good news is: our social media presence is skyrocketing. The views on our various social media platforms are in the thousands lately. That’s a wonderful testament to our tenacity and longevity. I can remember not too long ago when we were lucky to break double digits on our social media interactions. So, there’s clear interest in what we’re doing.

We need:

  • Teachers of every level in every School District
  • Parents, including connections with STEM Teams and Science Fair committees
  • Scientists, active or retired
  • College professors and students
  • Citizen scientists
  • Science writers / media
  • Anyone who cares about SCIENCE!

Check out our website to see what’s happening!

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Science Education not important in Florida senate

With an 8 to 0 vote in the Florida senate education committee yesterday, SB 770 cleared its first hurdle after undergoing several changes. Despite an overhaul of the bill and a couple of amendments tacked on, our key concern about science education requirements for graduation getting sliced and diced is still there.

A quick recap: SB 770 (and its companion in the house HB 661) provides a new pathway to high school graduation for students who don’t see college in their futures. Students can take the Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathway proposed by SB 770, earning industry certifications throughout high school which can count as credits toward a high school diploma. Overall, that’s a good thing. I completely agree that college isn’t for everyone. I didn’t go to college until a couple of decades after high school.

The problem is that the CTE pathway option allows students to substitute industry certification for two of the three science credits required for graduation. A student could graduate having taken only the state mandated Biology course and no other science class.

I watched the committee meeting discussion about SB 770 (link here, with SB 770 starting around 16:00) and initially thought my concerns had been allayed when the sponsor, Sen. Travis Hutson, explained that he was presenting an all-new version of his bill to the committee. He said that the CTE pathway now featured “all courses are just the same, just as rigorous” as the other high school diploma options. He said the vocational courses would be taken care of through the “elective track.” I cheered, thinking that three science courses required for graduation had been restored.

I was then excited to see a woman speak during public comments (at about 38:00 in the video) about the importance of math and science, using her extensive experience as a retired science teacher and guidance counselor to tell the senators to not cut the number of math and science credits. Later, during discussion among the lawmakers, they made it seem like the revised bill didn’t cut the number of courses.

Unfortunately, the new bill version still allows students to reduce the number of science course that they have to take (bold emphasis is mine):

244 3. Complete three credits in science. Two of the three
245 required credits must have a laboratory component. A student
246 must earn one credit in Biology I and two credits in equally
247 rigorous courses. The statewide, standardized Biology I EOC
248 assessment constitutes 30 percent of the student’s final course
249 grade. A student who earns an industry certification for which
250 there is a statewide college credit articulation agreement
251 approved by the State Board of Education may substitute the
252 certification for two science credits, except for Biology I;

Therefore, we here at Florida Citizens for Science still oppose this bill. The senate bill has two more committee stops and the house bill has three committee stops and hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing in any yet.

Meanwhile … “book banning” bills still getting a lot of attention

Instructional Materials Bills SB 1454 & HB 855 are taking a beating in the press as they get labeled “book banning” bills over and over.

Joe Henderson: Florida Citizens Alliance is for freedom, but only its kind of freedom

The FCA wants to wrest from the hands of teachers and students the book “Essentials of Oceanography” from Pearson Education Inc. It commits the high crime of suggesting climate change is real and is affecting oceans.

It’s not as Florida students would benefit from learning how man-made climate change might have led to the rapid intensification of Hurricane Michael last fall before it annihilated parts of the Panhandle, right?

Florida Bill Would Make Banning Books Easier

The Florida Citizens Alliance has been known to speak up against climate change, charging science textbooks used in the classroom promote it, and they’ve had a history of challenging a variety of texts throughout various counties in the state that they believe to be hindering a Christian agenda (this group has called explicitly for Religious education in the classroom), and/or are infused with “pornographic” content.

The Florida book banners are back

A bill birthed in the febrile minds of an outfit called the Florida Citizens Alliance, HB855/SB1454 would allow parents to insist school districts protect innocent tykes from the knowledge that anthropogenic climate change is real, we are indeed kin to monkeys, slavery was not a good thing, American history is not an unbroken string of righteous behavior, some people are born gay or bisexual or transsexual, and humans have sex.

Destructive Legislation Explained by Florida Education Defenders

These bills are a blatant attempt from Florida Citizens Alliance to control educational materials and agendas, censor information they oppose politically and leave generations of students worse off than those that have come before them. Florida Education Defenders is a group of organizations, including National Coalition Against Censorship, ACLU of Florida, Florida Citizens for Science, PEN America, and more, interested in protecting the students of Florida from censorship and special interests.

The Alliance isn’t happy with this media coverage, insisting that their bills aren’t about banning books. They’re also pressuring lawmakers to schedule their bills for committee hearings soon.

Meanwhile … “alternative theories” bill has national attention

Academic Standards Bill SB 330 (no HB) is being laughed at across the country.

Conservative lawmakers have climate change education in their scopes

These attempts to make science into just another ideology are worrying, but not quite as scary as the anchorless reality that Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley—sponsor of one of those Fair and Balanced bills mentioned earlier—seems to live in. “There is really no established science on most things, you’ll find,” he said.

And it appears that more and more people are taking climate change seriously, especially here in the Sunshine State: Saint Leo University Survey Finds Sizable Numbers Say Climate Change Theory Should Be Taught in School; One in Four Say Individuals Are Able to Act in Preventing Ill Effects

A new survey conducted nationally and within the state of Florida by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute has found a majority of those responding think climate change should be taught as accepted theory in public primary and secondary schools. In the cases of both U.S. and Florida results, more than six in 10 respondents agreed strongly or agreed somewhat with the idea.

Meanwhile … “common core” continues to hog the spotlight

All state academic standards are under review right now and a timeline has been set for when recommendations for how to revise or replace the standards will be released. But, as with all news stories on this issue, the only standards to get any attention are the common core ones. Florida standards review targets fall for recommendations

The Florida Department of Education aims to release its recommended changes to the state’s academic standards in September or October, so the public can have time to make final comments before a proposal heads to lawmakers in early 2020, chancellor Jacob Oliva told the State Board of Education on Tuesday.

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