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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News & Updates 3/17/19

We’re monitoring several bills in our state legislature that could negatively impact science education. The good news is that so far there has been very little movement. One has been scheduled for a committee hearing and others have gotten some press. But the session is still quite young and we can’t relax until it’s all over May 3. You first opportunity for action is the Alternative High School Diploma Bill in the senate. We need you to contact committee members to warn them about the negative consequences of the bill. Read further down in this post for more information and the committee members’ contact information.

Here are some bills we are tracking that have updates (but this is not everything we are tracking):

  • Alternative High School Diploma Bills (that allow students to graduate having taken only one science course)
  • Instructional Materials Bills (that contain references to “controversial issues”)
  • Academic Standards Bill (that contain references to “controversial theories”)

Alternative High School Diploma Bills: SB 770 & HB 661

These bills would allow students to graduate high school with only 18 credits instead of 24 and would allow students to substitute science and math courses with courses that lead to some type of industry certification. The main problem with these bills is that a student could graduate high school after having only taken one science course!

I wrote a blog post about it here: Should Florida students be allowed to graduate with only one science course?

I wrote an op-ed about the bills that was published in the Tallahassee Democrat. And a longer version was published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. (Unfortunately, I messed up and wrote SB707 instead of SB 770 and neither paper caught the error.)

Science and math are just too darn hard. We can’t expect everyone to know the difference between astronomy and astrology or be able to read a scatterplot graph.

That’s a message now coming from Tallahassee. Apparently, science and math are just too “advanced” for our poor high school students. So, bills filed in Florida’s House and Senate aim to give students a way to avoid those difficult subjects.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal also wrote an editorial opposed to the bill: Students deserve high standards.

Hutson’s legislation throws a troubling wrinkle into the mix, however. He proposes scaling down higher-level math, science and writing class requirements for students enrolled in a vocational program. Those students could also graduate high school in three years — with 18 credits, and as little as one class in science and two in math.

TAKE ACTION: The senate bill is now scheduled for a hearing in the education committee, Tuesday 03/19/19 at 4 p.m. Please call or write the members of the committee to let them know that this bill is a bad idea. Send them links to the op-eds linked above and put your own personal take on the issue. They need to hear from you!

Chair: Senator Manny Diaz, Jr. (R)
diaz.manny.web@flsenate.gov
District office: 305-364-3073
Capitol office: 850-487-5036
Twitter: @SenMannyDiazJr

Vice Chair: Senator Bill Montford (D)
montford.bill.web@flsenate.gov
District & Capitol office: 850-487-5003
Twitter: @BillMontford (but account isn’t active)

Senator Dennis Baxley (R)
baxley.dennis.web@flsenate.gov
District office: 352-750-3133
Capitol office: 850-487-5012
Twitter: @dennisbaxley

Senator Lori Berman (D)
berman.lori.web@flsenate.gov
District office: 561-292-6014
Capitol office: 850-487-5031
Twitter: @loriberman

Senator Janet Cruz (D)
cruz.janet.web@flsenate.gov
District office: 813-348-1017
Capitol office: 850-487-5018
Twitter: @SenJanetCruz

Senator Keith Perry (R)
perry.keith.web@flsenate.gov
District office: 352-264-4040
Capitol office: 850-487-5008
Twitter: @KeithPerryFL

Senator David Simmons (R)
simmons.david.web@flsenate.gov
District office: 407-262-7578
Capitol office: 850-487-5009
Twitter: @DSimmonsFL

Senator Kelli Stargel (R)
stargel.kelli.web@flsenate.gov
District office: 863-668-3028
Capitol office: 850-487-5022
Twitter: @kellistargel

Instructional Materials Bills SB 1454 & HB 855

These bills are jam-packed with bad news, with massive changes suggested to the way instructional materials (textbooks and other materials used in instruction) are selected and challenged. There’s a lot to be concerned about in these bills, including: “Instructional materials recommended by each reviewer shall be accurate and factual; provide, objective, balanced, and noninflammatory viewpoints on controversial issues.” The controversial issues targeted are, of course, evolution and global warming in science courses. To learn about all of the other problems with these bills and a little bit about the lawmaker behind one, read my blog post New Instructional Materials bill includes “controversial issues” requirement.

Both bills have been assigned to three committees each, which is a good sign. The more committees the bills have to pass through, the better the chances of them being stopped. Neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing yet.

The Tampa Bay Times published a story today (3/17/19) about the bills: Will Florida legislators make it easier to ban books in schools? We’ll soon find out.

Members of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance have been appalled with what they’ve seen in the books being handed to students in the public schools.

“Pornographic” scenes in novels. Religious “indoctrination” boosting Islam over others in the social studies books. “Unbalanced propaganda” promoting climate change in science texts.

The bills pose a “clear and present danger” to public education, said Brandon Haught, a leader with Florida Citizens for Science and a Volusia County classroom teacher.

Florida Citizens Alliance members “want to bully the school boards into complying with them,” Haught said.

The bills have been assigned to several committees, and have not been scheduled for hearings. But that seemingly long march to the chamber floors isn’t leading the opponents to ease up.

“You might figure there’s no way,” Haught said. “But we can’t dismiss this.”


Academic Standards Bill SB 330 (no HB)

This bill would impact the standards for all academic subjects, especially science. It 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: “Controversial theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” This, of course, is aimed directly at evolution and global warming. To read more about the background of this bill, see our issues page “Controversial Theories/Rigorous Standards” Bills 2019.

The bill has been assigned to four committees and has not been scheduled for a hearing yet. There is no companion bill in the house.

One columnist in the Orlando Sentinel views this bill favorably: Climate is right to teach skepticism in Florida schools.

But from what I can tell, the most controversial thing about climate change is people saying it’s not controversial.

So I wish Baxley’s bill would drop the evolution fight and solely address climate. I’d like my kids to hear both sides of the story.

Especially when one side is being told by Al Gore.

But an Associate Press article takes a more critical view: School lessons targeted by climate change doubters.

Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley is pressing legislation that would allow schools to teach alternatives to controversial theories.

“There is really no established science on most things, you’ll find,” the GOP legislator said.

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Getting ready for another wild ride in Tallahassee

The state legislative session kicks off Tuesday. We here at Florida Citizens for Science are as busy as can be as we monitor several bad bills filed in the legislature that can negatively impact science education. Additionally, the review of all academic standards directed by Gov. Ron DeSantis has a new plot twist that we need to keep our eye on.

In this post I’ll summarize and provide updates on:

  • Instructional Materials Bills (that contain references to “controversial issues”)
  • Academic Standards Bill (that contain references to “controversial theories”)
  • Alternative High School Diploma Bills (that allow students to graduate having taken only one science course)
  • Revision of the state’s academic standards (including science standards)

Instructional Materials Bills

We told you about HB855, which would, among many things, require all instructional materials used in public schools to be “accurate and factual; provide, objective, balanced, and noninflammatory viewpoints on controversial issues.” We’re worried about the use of the words balanced, noninflammatory and controversial issues. They sound reasonable but we know what they’re really referring to. The organization that wrote this bill, the Florida Citizens Alliance, considers evolution and global warming to be controversial issues that need to be balanced with other “theories.” They already tried several times to make that happen when new science textbooks were purchased last year. In just one county, the Alliance submitted 220 objections to the science texts!

Now we have an update: the house bill has a companion in the senate: SB1454. It’s an exact duplicate of the house bill. The fact that there are identical bills in both legislative chambers is a bad sign.

Other than the problem of evolution and global warming being targeted as “controversial issues” there are several other problems with the bills.

  • It gives a school board power to “proactively remove the material regardless of whether a parent or resident has objected to the material.”
  • It gives citizens who object to a school board’s decision to keep certain instructional materials the authority to “sue in circuit court for an injunction to remove such materials and may recover reasonable attorney fees and costs.”
  • When a hearing about instructional materials is scheduled due to a citizen complaint, the “district school board may not appoint its own hearing officer.”
  • It requires that the hearing officer respond in writing to every complaint filed by a citizen. “Failure of the hearing officer to provide written findings on each objection voids the adoption process.”
  • It prohibits the school board and school district attorney from direct participation in hearing proceedings. “Members of the district school board, the district school superintendent, and any attorney for the school district may attend a hearing as part of the audience, but may not participate in the hearing. An attorney for the school district may not have been involved in designing or establishing the rules of operation for the hearing.”
  • Citizens dissatisfied with the school board decisions about instructional materials can not only sue, but can also go over the school board’s heads. “Decisions regarding such instructional materials by the school board may be appealed by the petitioner to the State Board of Education.”

There are quite a few other problems with the bills, specifically the large chunks focused on pornography. I don’t think there is a single redeeming thing about this pair of bills. This bill is all about the Alliance letting loose its wrath on school boards that have rebuffed them after the Alliance took their new instructional materials law passed in 2017 out for a test drive. They recently stated:

HB 989 was passed in 2017 and was a good start, but unfortunately it lacked the means to hold school districts accountable. Most of Florida’s School Districts ignored the law, and 3 districts (Collier, Charlotte and Martin County) actually made a mockery of it by willfully and blatantly violating the key elements of HB 989.

So, they want a new law passed that will force school boards to bend their knees to the Alliance.

Academic Standards Bill

SB330 could 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.

As of today, March 2, there is no update on this bill. No companion bill has been filed in the house yet. The senate bill has been referred to four committees. For more background in this bill, see our issues page for it. And see our post about the backlash the bill’s sponsor is getting.

Alternative High School Diploma Bills

SB770 and HB661 have very serious implications for science and math education: Proposed bill would allow Florida students to ditch advanced math for industry certifications

State Senator Travis Hutson (R-St. Johns) introduced a bill last week that, if passed, would dramatically change traditional four-year graduation requirements for high school students by doing away with the requirement to pass some advanced math and science courses.

An op-ed I wrote opposing this bill appeared Feb. 24 in the Tallahassee DemocratFlorida students need more science and math education, not less.

Science and math are just too darn hard. That’s a message now coming from the Florida Legislature. Bills filed in Florida’s House and Senate aim to give students a way to avoid those difficult subjects.

Hutson’s idea allows students to earn a high school diploma having taken only one science and two math classes. That does a gross disservice to our students.

I understand the desire to give students who don’t currently see college in their future a relevant pathway through high school. I didn’t go to college until two decades after graduating high school. But science and math courses shouldn’t be seen as obstacles to be removed. They open doors to future life choices and careers today’s students don’t even know are there yet.

And the Daytona Beach News-Journal agrees with my assessment of the bills: Students deserve high standards

It’s a good thing that Hutson and other lawmakers are looking to the futures of all Florida students, not just those who are university-bound. That will benefit students and the state’s business sector, where employers will need armies of skilled workers to keep air conditioners chilling, tapwater flowing and car engines humming. Certainly, lawmakers should consider investing in a wider array of options for students, and look for industry partnerships that will allow corporate underwriting of programs crafted to deliver work-ready students into good-paying jobs.

But they shouldn’t chip away at the standards Florida has set for all students — particularly in science, writing and math. The trade isn’t worth it, and it isn’t needed to advance career education.

Revisions of the state’s academic standards

Gov. Ron DeSantis is making good on a campaign promise he made to launch a revision of the state’s education standards. The headlines have been making a big deal out of his targeting of Common Core, such as this one: “Florida governor Ron DeSantis orders state to get rid of Common Core standards.” The only Common Core standards Florida has are for language arts and math. But the governor’s executive order clearly says all standards, not just Common Core, will be reviewed. This means the science standards, too!

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.

I posted about this already. But the new tidbit is that Eric Hall was appointed to be Florida’s first chancellor for innovation.

In Florida, Eric will report directly to Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and will focus on implementation of top education priorities such as workforce and computer science education, expanding school choice, K-12 standards and more.

I highlighted in bold the interesting part. Will Hall have a role in the governor’s standards review? What are Hall’s views on “controversial” science topics?

I’ll reemphasize: the legislative session starts Tuesday. Are your seat belts buckled?

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Should Florida students be allowed to graduate with only one science course?

A bill filed in the Florida senate has very serious implications for science and math education: Proposed bill would allow Florida students to ditch advanced math for industry certifications

State Senator Travis Hutson (R-St. Johns) introduced a bill last week that, if passed, would dramatically change traditional four-year graduation requirements for high school students by doing away with the requirement to pass some advanced math and science courses.

The reason behind the bill is to allow students to focus on being workforce ready, not college ready. Sen. Hutson said:

“We are forcing districts to take children that probably can’t pass some of these classes and just make them try. The children suffer, they get frustrated,”

The news article is rather misleading. The story keeps referring to “advanced” math and science courses.

“Under my proposed bill, you only have to take 18 total courses and in math, you don’t have to pass Algebra II, you can replace that with an industry certification course that is more technical and career-focused,”

Is Algebra II really considered advanced? I tend to think calculus, probability/statistics, trigonometry and such are the advanced courses, but I could be wrong. I’m not a math teacher.

But the story only makes the one mention of “advanced science courses” without elaborating. So, we need to read the bill to see what’s going on there: SB 770. (I’ve emphasized the key part in bold.)

31 (a) In order for a student to satisfy the requirements of
32 the CTE pathway option, a student must:
[…]
56 3. Complete three credits in science. Two of the three
57 required credits must have a laboratory component. A student
58 must earn one credit in Biology I and two credits in equally
59 rigorous courses. The statewide, standardized Biology I EOC
60 assessment constitutes 30 percent of the student’s final course
61 grade. A student who earns an industry certification for which
62 there is a statewide college credit articulation agreement
63 approved by the State Board of Education may substitute the
64 certification for two science credits, except for Biology I;

Wow. A student taking this path to a diploma can get out of high school with only one science course. One.

This bill cuts out one math course, allowing a student to graduate with two math credits instead of three. No other subjects take cuts in credits in this bill. But science? Two can be cut, allowing a student to graduate with one science credit instead of three.

The news article referred to the science credits being cut as “advanced” science courses. No, this isn’t cutting anything advanced. This is cutting ALL science other than the state mandated biology course.

Is that a good idea? Will a student graduating under this program really be career ready? How about life ready? We already have a problem with general science literacy (The less people understand science, the more afraid of GMOs they areWhat is climate science literacy?A Look at What the Public Knows and Does Not Know About ScienceAlmost a third of Brits people STILL don’t believe Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, survey finds). Do we really need to make it worse?

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