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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Florida Dept. of Education is looking for your input about standards

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis caused quite a stir when he announced he was directing Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to review the state’s academic standards and suggest revisions by January 1, 2020. I believe every single news story focused nearly exclusively on the governor’s desire to throw out Common Core standards, which are math and language arts. But as I’ve pointed out before, the governor’s executive order says: “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.” The executive order does later emphasize the elimination of Common Core, but also mentions civics education, which is not Common Core. This strongly suggests that all standards are under review, which means science, too.

With that in mind, please consider offering your input to the Florida Department of Education. The DoE has posted a link to a survey for citizens to complete. It’s a very simple one that asks only three questions: your name, your organization and then a text field for you to offer your opinions on the current standards and suggest what should replace them.

Even this Orlando Sentinel article about the survey falls into the trap of only mentioning Common Core.

To that end, the Florida Department of Education has opened a survey, seeking input on what educators, parents and others might not like about the Common Core standards and what they think should be adopted in their place.

Unless the governor or the commissioner state explicitly that science standards are not being reviewed, I suggest that we assume they are. With that in mind, please consider filling out the DoE survey. Do you like our current science standards? Should we keep them? If not, should we go with the Next Generation Science Standards (which would likely be a non-starter give the hatred for Common Core)? Or what other science standards do you suggest?

Speak up. Be heard.

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New Instructional Materials bill includes “controversial issues” requirement

A bill filed Friday in the Florida Legislature, House Bill 855, proposes making a slew of changes to instructional materials laws, tackling issues like pornography and sex education. Science is not directly mentioned in the bill, but there are two sections that can definitely impact science materials.

One proposal is small yet significant. Below is a section of current law that the bill would change. Parts underlined are additions to law the bill proposes, and strike-throughs are deletions.

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.

My first concern is in line 465: the addition of “or exceed.” I believe this is meant to dovetail with another bill we’re watching in the senate (Senate Bill 330) that proposes allowing school districts to choose their own sets of academic standards as long as they are equal to or more rigorous than the state’s academic standards. In other words, the Florida Citizens Alliance, who wrote the senate bill and this bill, are trying to influence several parts of Florida education law and weave them all together into their own vision of what education should look like. The addition of “or exceed” can be seen in several places throughout this bill.

The next concern is lines 472 to 473: namely the “controversial issues” part. The Alliance tried several times to get equal time in science textbooks for their creationist and anti-global warming views. When they ultimately failed, they complained that school boards were not adhering to Florida state statute 1006.31, which says, “Instructional materials recommended by each reviewer shall be, to the satisfaction of each reviewer, accurate, objective, balanced, noninflammatory, current, free of pornography …” So, here they are trying to include that language in another part of state law and marry it to the phrase “controversial issues.” This bill also adds a reference to 1006.31 in line 532.

An interesting fact to note is that the bill sponsor is Rep. Walter Byran “Mike” Hill from Pensacola. I recognize him from an interview he did with Bill Nye in the National Geographic Explorer show Bill Nye: Global Meltdown. I show that video to my high school environmental science class every year. Rep. Hill frustrated the heck out of Bill Nye because Hill steadfastly refused to acknowledge that global warming is a very real threat being caused by humans. I recommend you see for yourself. Rep. Hill’s interview starts around 8:30 in this version. No wonder Rep. Hill would agree to help the Alliance with this bill.

The other main concern I have with this bill is the changes being made to the hearings that must be held whenever a citizen complains about instructional materials. If you’re not familiar with the relatively new law about hearing officers, read our issues page about it.

A new law passed by our state legislature and signed by our governor in 2017 now allows any citizen, not just a parent, to protest to local school boards about instructional materials and those protests could then force the school board to appoint a hearing officer to collect evidence about the complaints. This has led to several challenges already, some of them blatantly targeting evolution and other science topics.

First, here is one drastic change:

230 3.a. If the district school board finds that an
231 instructional material does not meet the criteria under sub
232 subparagraph 2.a.a. or that any other material contains
233 prohibited content under sub-subparagraph 2.b.b., the school
234 district shall proactively remove discontinue use of the
235 material regardless of whether a parent or resident has objected
236 to the material for any grade level or age group for which such
237 use is inappropriate or unsuitable.

I believe this will allow for any school board member who doesn’t like certain instructional materials, such as textbooks with evolution of global warming, to claim that the materials were not properly vetted and toss them without having to wait for a citizen to file a complaint.

And here’s the real kicker:

248 d. After exhausting all local policy remedies and
249 appealing to the State Board of Education, a parent or resident
250 may sue in circuit court for an injunction to remove such
251 materials and may recover reasonable attorney fees and costs.

Don’t like the school board’s decision? Sue them.

The Alliance raged about the perceived unfairness of the hearings they engaged in last year when they tried to challenge evolution and global warming in the science textbooks that were up for adoption by the school districts. They vehemently disagreed with the selection of the hearing officer and the way the proceedings were conducted. You can see for yourself how they reacted to the hearings in Collier County in my post about that experience.

So, they want to change key elements of the process (underlines are additions; strike-throughs are deletions):

252 4.3. Each district school board must establish a process
253 by which the parent of a public school student or a resident of
254 the county may contest the district school board’s adoption of a
255 specific instructional material. The parent or resident must
256 file a petition, on a form provided by the school board, within
257 30 calendar days after the adoption of the material by the
258 school board. The school board must make the form easy to use,
259 prominently advertise the school board’s policy and the form
260 available to the public, and publish the form on the school
261 district’s website. The form must be signed by the parent or
262 resident, include the required contact information, and state
263 the objection to the instructional material based on the
264 criteria of s. 1006.31(2) or s. 1006.40(3)(d). A hearing officer
265 must give priority to a parent’s or resident’s objections based
266 on failure of a material to comply with the criteria of s.
267 1006.31(2) or s. 1006.40(3)(d) in his or her written findings.
268 Within 30 days after the 30-day period has expired, the school
269 board must, for all petitions timely received, commission
270 conduct at least one open public hearing by an independent
271 before an unbiased and qualified hearing officer. A district
272 school board may not appoint its own hearing officer and the
273 hearing officer may not be an employee or agent of the school
274 district. At least 7 days before the hearing, a school board
275 must provide each petitioner with a written notification of the
276 date and time of the hearing and publish on its website for the
277 public all instructional materials included in a petition. A
278 school board’s failure to provide petitioners with the required
279 written notice or publish such instructional materials on its
280 website for the public shall result in the hearing being
281 rescheduled to satisfy these requirements. The hearing is not
282 subject to the provisions of chapter 120.; however, The hearing
283 must provide sufficient procedural protections to allow each
284 petitioner an adequate and fair opportunity to be heard and
285 present evidence to the hearing officer on all petitions timely
286 received. The hearing officer shall provide written findings on
287 each objection with his or her recommendations to the school
288 board. Failure of the hearing officer to provide written
289 findings on each objection voids the adoption process. Members
290 of the district school board, the district school
291 superintendent, and any attorney for the school district may
292 attend a hearing as part of the audience, but may not
293 participate in the hearing. An attorney for the school district
294 may not have been involved in designing or establishing the
295 rules of operation for the hearing.
297 The rationale for the school board’s decision for each contested
298 instructional material must be documented and available to the
299 public. Decisions regarding such instructional materials by the
300 school board may be appealed by the petitioner to the State
301 Board of Education. A petitioner may appeal the decision of the
302 state board to a circuit court and may seek damages or
303 injunctive relief, or both. The circuit court has original and
304 exclusive jurisdiction of all proceedings brought under this
305 section. If any proceeding brought under this section is deemed
306 to be frivolous by the court, the petitioner may recover
307 reasonable attorney fees and costs after convening a hearing is
308 final and not subject to further petition or review.

Wow. Just wow. That is breathtaking. The Alliance didn’t like who the school boards selected as hearing officers, so lines 271-271 take care of that. The Alliance didn’t like that some hearing officers didn’t submit written recommendations, so lines 285-289 take care of that. The Alliance didn’t like how the school district lawyer interpreted the law governing hearings, so lines 289-295 take care of that. And the Alliance didn’t like the school boards’ decisions, so lines 301-308 take care of that.

And that’s how special interest groups in Florida make laws.

I haven’t discussed in this post the sections on sex education and pornography because they’re not really relevant to our focus on science education. But they’re just as insane as what I’ve covered here.

This bill is a clear and present danger to all of Florida education. It essentially gives special interest groups like the Alliance immense power to bully school boards into submission.

We need your help to fight this bill. There is a chance that it won’t ever make it out of the starting gate, which would be wonderful and wise. But the Alliance has been growing in influence. Remember, Alliance members were on the new governor’s education transition team. We can’t just assume that bad bills like this one will be sidelined. We have to remain vigilant and active.

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News Roundup 2/9/19: Sen. Baxley takes a pounding

Several opinion pieces were published since my last news roundup just one week ago. Every one of them tears into state senator Dennis Baxley’s bill that attacks so-called “controversial theories” in science classrooms. If you need a primer about this bill, check out our issues page: “Controversial Theories/Rigorous Standards” Bills 2019.

Writer Joe Henderson writes in Florida PoliticsBalance? Are you kidding? Florida SB 330 is educational quackery.

Despite so much inclusion and moderation by new Gov. Ron DeSantis, some Republicans in the Florida Legislature can be counted on for dunderhead proposals. For today’s example, consider Florida SB 330.

It was filed by conservative Ocala Sen. Dennis Baxley. In this now seemingly annual GOP attack on science, Baxley proposes that “controversial theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective and balanced manner.”

Well, you may ask, what’s wrong with that?

Let’s look at that question in a factual, objective and balanced manner.

When doing that, we learn it’s another straight out of looneyville stab by those say there is no proof climate change is real. If it is real, they say humans had nothing to do with it. They usually punctuate that by saying something intellectual like pffffffffffftttt.

Next up is Donald R. Eastman III, president of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. He writes in the Tampa Bay TimesIgnorance is dangerous.

The price to be paid for this kind of nonsense is considerable. Not only will students suffer when they take standardized tests for entrance to college — which they will, because they won’t know the fundamentals of established science — but they will suffer long term as the climate of their state, country and world continues to erode because people like Sen. Baxley insist on playing politics with facts. Neither evolution nor human-caused climate change are “controversial theories”: They are, by scientists the world over, confirmed as truth, as fact.

Also in the Tampa Bay Times is writer Daniel Ruth’s: Baxley tries to turn back the clock on climate change, evolution.

The Florida Citizens Alliance and their faithful Friar Tuck of fake hysteria have introduced a piece of cynical legislation predicated on a false premise.

There is nothing “controversial” about the proven science of evolution or climate change. These concepts have been validated repeatedly by people who are completely foreign to likes of Baxley and the Florida Citizens Alliance — scientists who actually know what they are talking about. You see the problem.

Meanwhile, the National Center for Science Education summarizes the list of antiscience bills that have popped up so far across the country. Of course, Florida gets a section all to itself: A Baker’s-Dozen-Plus-One of Half-Baked Measures.

Bills requiring balance with regard to controversial issues. There’s just one such bill, in Florida, where it reprises a similar pair of bills, which thankfully died in committee, from 2017. The idea here is to require “[c]ontroversial theories and concepts” discussed in science standards “[to] be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner,” and while there is no indication of what theories and concepts are deemed to be “controversial,” the bill’s sole sponsor, Dennis Baxley (R–District 12), has a history of antievolution advocacy. In 2008, when Florida adopted new state science standards, for example, he complained that scientists should “leave the door open a little bit” for the consideration of supposed alternatives to evolution. As always, Florida Citizens for Science is calling for concerned Floridians to work against the misguided bill. Florida’s Senate Bill 330.

Florida has a growing list of school voucher programs that allow public tax money to be diverted into private schools, which is a problem considering how much bad science is taught in some of these schools. An Associated Press story covers a recent controversy stirring over this issue: Hashtag stirs debate over role of Christian schools in US.

To critics, many of these Christian schools venture too often into indoctrination, with teachings that can misrepresent science and history and potentially breed intolerance toward people with different outlooks.

“These schools are front and center in the politicization of knowledge and that’s problematic,” said Julie Ingersoll, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida.

A lengthy story published in Scientific American highlights a growing problem with climate change education in states all across the country: Some States Still Lag in Teaching Climate Science. The good news is that the topic is in Florida’s science standards. The bad news is, well, Baxley.

Aside from Texas, the other states that haven’t adopted the new standards or the framework are Alaska, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

In at least one of those states, there’s an effort to make it easier to teach that humans aren’t the primary driver of climate change.

Florida Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley introduced a bill that would allow schools to teach alternative concepts from what he deems “controversial theories,” such as evolution and human-induced climate change, the Miami Herald reported last week.

OK, I’ll take a break from Baxley bashing, but I wish I could take a break from bad news. FSU physics professor Paul Cottle has spent years trying to strengthen physics education in Florida’s schools. He wants to ensure kids have the solid foundation they need to pursue high paying career fields. But he keeps digging up depressing statistics: Physics enrollment in Florida’s public high schools continues to decline; now down 12% in four years.

The American Society for Engineering Education recommends that high school students who might major in engineering in college take physics. College majors in physical science fields like chemistry and meteorology are required to take physics, as are students in the life and health sciences. Many bachelor’s degree programs in computer science also require physics.

Thus, the physics enrollment decline demonstrates that the readiness of Florida public high school students for college majors in STEM fields is continuing to deteriorate.

And it’s not just physics: Chemistry course enrollments in Florida’s public high schools decline by 14% in only three years.

The rate of decline in chemistry is even faster than that in physics in the state’s public high schools. Together, the chemistry and physics statistics show that the role of the physical sciences in the education of Florida’s high school students is shrinking rapidly.

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Join Florida Citizens for Science as we educate the state

We here at Florida Citizens for Science are on a mission to “educate the state” about threats to science education. You’re invited to attend the events Florida Citizens for Science board members will be speaking at all across the state. Bring your passion, bring your questions, and bring a friend. If you wish to have one of us come to speak to your group, please feel free to contact us.

February 16, 2019:
Brandon Haught will give a talk to the Humanists of North Central Florida (in cooperation with the Master the Possibilities Lifelong Learning Center) at 2 p.m. The presentation will be in Live Oak Hall 8413 SW 80th Street Ocala, 34481.

Science textbooks are under attack. Science curriculum is under attack. It’s 2019 in Florida and we’re still witnessing lawmakers, school boards, and average citizens denying the reality of basic science concepts and attempting to influence what is taught in our schools. Science teacher and author Brandon Haught will share highlights of the battles over the teaching of evolution that have raged for more than 90 years, including the present day, here in the Sunshine State. Learn how the current conflicts directly impact our children and what you can do about it.

February 18, 2019:
Brandon Haught will give a talk entitled “A War That Won’t End: The Battle for Science Education in the Sunshine State” to the First Coast Freethought Society 6:30-8:30 p.m. Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church, 8447 Manresa Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32244.

February 20, 2019:
Join the Humanist Society of Gainesville at their February 20th meeting to participate in a round table discussion of “Challenges to Florida Public Education: Charters, Vouchers and Science Education in 2019.”

Sue Legg, League of Women Voters Education chair who started a nationwide initiative by the League to study charter schools will speak on charters. Mary Bahr, member of the Florida citizens for science board and a retired teacher who served on the 2008 Florida science standards writers committee will speak on science education. After brief presentations, we will have a round table discussion on the challenges to public education in Florida.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 20th. Doors open at 6:30. It is Located at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 4225 NW 34th Street, Gainesville, Florida, 32605, in the Fellowship Hall. The public is invited. In honor of Darwin’s birthday on February 12th, a birthday cake will be provided.

February 23, 2019:
Brandon Haught will be a panelist at the Florida Conference of Historians annual meeting at the New College of Florida in Sarasota. Panelists will talk about threats to both science and history education.

March 23, 2019:
Florida Citizens for Science will hold our annual membership meeting at the Hollis Center at Stetson University, Deland, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  All members and those interested in learning more about our organization are welcome to attend. We will be conducting our annual business of electing board members and officers. Then we will discuss issues of concern to the organization.

April 7, 2019:
Brandon Haught will give a talk to the Humanists Club In The Villages 10 a.m. at the Canal Street Recreation In The Villages.

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News Roundup 2/2/19: Controversial Theories in Science bill

There was quite a flurry of news earlier this week about the bill filed in the state senate that would allow Florida school districts to create/adopt their own sets of academic standards as long as they are equally or more rigorous than the state’s standards. The focus of all of the news was the provision in the bills that would require those districts that adopt their own standards to make sure “controversial theories” in science are “taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” As we’re about to see, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, sees evolution and climate change as those “controversial theories.” For more background on the bill, see our issues page: “Controversial Theories/Rigorous Standards” Bills 2019. The bill is SB 330.

The story that set off the news avalanche was in the Tampa Bay TimesFlorida bill would have students learn alternatives to climate change, evolution. Before this story was published, Baxley had not said publicly what was meant by “controversial theories.” But this story confirmed what we knew.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said that schools need to teach “different worldviews” on issues like evolution and climate change. He asserts that textbooks now skew toward “uniformity” of thought.

“Nothing is ever settled if it’s science, because people are always questioning science,” Baxley said. “If you look at the history of human learning, for a long time the official worldview was that the world was flat. Anything you now accept as fact comes from a perspective and you learn from examining different schools of thought.”

And we get further confirmation in this story about where the bill came from.

The language of the bill sounds fairly unremarkable, requiring only that schools “shall” teach these “theories” in a “factual, objective, and balanced manner.” But the group that wrote the bill, the Florida Citizens Alliance, says the bill is needed because curriculum currently taught in Florida schools equates to “political and religious indoctrination,” according to their managing director, Keith Flaugh.

Florida Watchdog has this story: Bill wants climate change, evolution ‘alternate theories’ taught in public schools.

Baxley said SB 330 is not an attack on science but an attempt to provide school districts with more academic freedom in how they teach science to K-12 students.

“The purpose of this bill is to allow people to question and challenge certain ideas rather than saying ‘This is the way it is,'” Baxley said. “We pursue all kinds of diversity but then we are like, ‘Don’t dare question anything that is set science,’ and the whole pursuit of science, for example, is pursue everything. There was a time in science that the world was flat.”

I noticed that in several news stories Baxley stated that science once thought that the world was flat. If you have a chance to rebut Baxley in a letter to the editor, op-ed or other venue, please point out that he’s not only hopelessly ignorant about evolution, but he’s just as ignorant about flat earth. This Wikipedia page is a good place to start: Myth of the flat Earth.

According to Stephen Jay Gould, “there never was a period of ‘flat Earth darkness’ among scholars (regardless of how the public at large may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the Earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.” Historians of science David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers point out that “there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth’s] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference”.

The Miami New Times hammers the point in their story that the source of the bill, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, isn’t really an authority on science education and yet they are having an out-sized influence in our state when it comes to education matters lately. Florida Lawmaker Sourced Anti-Climate Change, Anti-Evolution Bill From Islamophobic Fringe Group

It’s 2019 and Florida lawmakers still want to debate the existence of evolution and human-caused climate change. For that, you can thank longtime state senator and proud son of the Confederacy, Ocala’s Dennis Baxley, who recently teamed up with a fringe-right, virulently Islamophobic group to push yet another anti-science bill.


The group last made news after then-Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis tapped two of its members to serve on his education advisory team. As New Times has previously reported, the Alliance is virulently Islamophobic, has said LGBTQ people are guilty of “deviant behavior,” and claims schools must teach Judeo-Christian values.


But as New Times has previously reported, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance is on the fringe, even in the Sunshine State. The group routinely rails against the creeping influence of what it calls “cultural Marxism,” “LGBTQ values,” and “Islam” in public schools. It publishes an annual list of books it wants the public school system to ban — it has protested books that include “stories depicting ‘victims’ of capitalism, and the bigoted, sexist, racist ‘American Culture’ where whites victimize Indians, Mexican immigrants, women, Japanese, Chinese, African-American, and animals.”

I do have some good news to report, though! I’ve been active in the Florida evolution wars for several years and I rarely see state lawmakers go on the record as pro-evolution/climate change. The last time I can recall it happening was 2008, more than a decade ago. But before this year’s legislative session even kicks off, there are signs that we finally have someone on our side. WMNF reports: Florida bill could let nonscientific theories be taught in science classes

One critic of the bill, Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando), is a newly-elected state representative in House District 47.

You oppose this bill. Why do you oppose it?

“I do. I believe firmly that we don’t need alternative facts in our schools and we need science. And science is not controversial. It’s actually necessary and it helps to explain how the world operates.

“So, we’re setting a foundation for our young people to be successful as they grow into different career paths. Having a foundation of science is essential to their success.”

Please take time to show Eskamani some love with words of appreciation directly or via social media.

Over the years we’ve had the support of many newspaper columnists who love to make fun of anti-evolution politicians. Frank Cerabino is the first out of the gate at the Palm Beach PostScience teaching would evolve in Florida schools under proposed bill

After all, every child should have the right to be as proudly misinformed as the most uneducated parent in his or her school district.


So, it’s time that children be taught that it’s perfectly within their individual rights, not to mention the country’s founding principles and our family values, to believe in a more tolerant science, one that holds that our planet might be just thousands of years old, and that global warming must be a hoax because, well, it’s been really cold this week.

Did dinosaurs and man live on earth during the same time? If you believe they did, they did!

See how easy it is?

And Fred Grimm at the South Florida Sun Sentinel pokes some fun while at the same time reminding us that some horrible ideas do become law. Love to mock those crazy bills filed in Tallahassee — unless they pass

Just last week, Dennis Baxley, a longtime provider of fish in the proverbial barrel, once again rescued columnists from our winter slumber. The senator from Ocala, where folks don’t appreciate pointy-headed scientists messing with their worldview, introduced a bill that would allow school districts to teach “different worldviews” about such lefty myths as evolution and climate change.

Hear that distant sound? That’s us opinion slingers, howling like indignant banshees, invoking the Scopes monkey trial. Much like we did back when Sen. Stephen Wise of Jacksonville introduced his own anti-evolution measure, asking the question that left biologist cringing: “Why do we still have apes if we came from them?”


But much of our shock and fury are feigned. We know, in our disingenuous hearts, that’s it’s mostly fluff. Because wiser heads in key Senate or House committees will quietly table off-the-wall legislation. We know, secretly, that the wild stuff will just disappear.

Except, sometimes it doesn’t. Baxley and his buddies managed to pass the notorious 2005 Stand Your Ground Act. In 2017, the flat-earthers enacted a law allowing any Florida resident to challenge textbooks or other teaching materials that offend their sensibilities. Which translates into a war on evolution and global warming.


All those laws started out as absurdities, good for a laugh before the session began. Yet, they passed. It could be a bad year for evolution and sex dolls.

So, those are the news highlights. There were many, many more articles published but the majority of them just rehashed what earlier stories reported. But if you come across a unique one that points out something new, please let us know!

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Will Florida science standards be revised?

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.” And many of the news stories about the governor’s announcement also mention his desire to tweak civics education in the state.

What everyone seemed to like was Gov. DeSantis’s idea of getting more civics lessons back in the classroom — teaching kids about the constitution and the principles that our nation was founded on.

But the only Common Core standards Florida has are for language arts and math. (Here is a link to the Common Core website if you don’t know what they are.) Our science standards aren’t Common Core but were last rewritten by committees right here in Florida and approved by the state board of education in 2008.

So, with the spotlight on Common Core and civics, what about all the other academic standards?

Here’s the main message of the governor’s 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.

Seems clear to me. All standards, not just Common Core and civics, will be reviewed.

I’m curious to see how this executive order will be carried out. When the science standards were rewritten in 2008, they created a massive firestorm across the state because for the first time the word evolution was not only included, but made a main theme. (The full conflict is detailed in chapter 9 of my book Going Ape.) The board of education meeting during which the standards were approved was a circus. (I was there). Just last year there were several local school board hearings held because citizens protested about evolution and climate change in newly adopted science textbooks. And this year there is already a  bill filed in the state senate targeting “controversial theories” in science standards.

If this new executive order is adhered to literally, then all standards will have to be “comprehensively” reviewed in less than a year. I can’t imagine fights over Common Core, civics, evolution/climate change, and who knows what else all happening at the same time in the course of about 11 months.

But Florida Citizens for Science stands ready to do what’s necessary to fight for quality science education in our home state.

We’d love to have your help.

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