Yes, people are still worried about evolution education in Florida

August 31st, 2016 by Brandon Haught

o_darwinismorintelligentdesignIs teaching evolution still an issue here in Florida? It’s been quite a while since there have been any newsworthy mentions of opposition to evolution here. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still lurking under the surface, ready to burst out at any time. My evidence? Voting guides issued by various “family” and “values” organizations across the state.

Want to know who supports or opposes the statement “Amend DOE Curriculum Framework for Biology and Life Science to allow the teaching of life by intelligent design” in Walton County, Sumter County, St. Lucie County, Okaloosa County, and Lake County? (All links are to voting guide pdf documents.)

How about “Evolution should be taught as a fact” in Clay County?

I haven’t been able to see how all of these candidates did in their primary elections. If you want to do the research, please report your results in the comments. And if you are aware of any other voter guides that mention evolution of intelligent design, let us know.

Yes, the Grand Canyon was awesome!

July 12th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

I’m back from the Grand Canyon and eager to share my experiences. Here is the first bit of my account from that amazing week. If you’re interested, you can click on the link at the end to continue reading at my Going Ape site.

How I spent my summer …

There are no man-made signs deep in the Grand Canyon. If you want to know where to find Elves Chasm or how severe the next set of Colorado River rapids are, you better have a good guidebook with you or be under the care of expert navigators.

A happy teacher in the Grand Canyon.

A happy teacher in the Grand Canyon.

There are no picnic tables. You have to make do with sitting on rocks, sand or your raft, flicking your lunch’s crumbs into the river’s current for fish to finish off.

There are no restrooms. Peeing into the flowing milk chocolate river or squatting over a metal can are the only options. And you’re usually conducting your business mere feet from fellow travelers.

That river also serves as your bathtub, should you feel the need to scrub away the day’s dirt and sweat. You might not feel squeaky clean as you step out, but the perpetually icy water will leave you feeling rudely awake, alive and oddly insignificant. After all, you’re standing naked and shivering, or partially naked if you bring civilization’s modesty with you, before towering rock walls that have seen it all over their millions of years of patient existence.

And there are no handrails, fluorescent yellow warning tape or off-limits rope to keep you safe. One recent, tragic death attests to that. (Florida woman dies after fall from Grand Canyon trail.)

DSCN0104_smI spent a week on a raft slowly cruising through this natural wonder as a guest of the National Center for Science Education. The California based organization has been hosting these expeditions for several years, offering bucket-list travelers a unique perspective of the ancient landmark. NCSE scientists take advantage of several stops along the river to demonstrate how creationists believe the Canyon proves that Noah’s flood is historical fact and contrast that with the scientific consensus that the Canyon walls are oblivious to such a fantastic tale. The presentations are as entertaining as they are educational.

(Continue reading this at Going Ape.)

DOE: Just fudge the results; no one cares about science anyway

June 11th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

The Florida Department of Education released the results of statewide assessments yesterday. Unfortunately, there is a potential fib about the science results in the DOE’s news release:

Tallahassee, Fla., June 10 2016 – Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart today announced that Florida students are improving their performance on state assessments in Mathematics, English Language Arts, Science, Civics and U.S. History.

Did the science scores actually improve? Let’s look at the numbers. You can look up the results for yourself at the DOE results web page. Pay special attention to my extra notes in italics.

Biology End of Course
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
Spring 2015-2016: 64 (or is it 63? The District 2015 and 2016 Comparison Statewide Science and Biology 1 EOC Excel spreadsheet says it’s 64%, but the Biology 1 EOC Spring Administration State Summary PDF says it’s 63%. Which is right?)
Spring 2014-2015: 65
Spring 2013-2014: 68
Spring 2012-2013: 67
Spring 2011-2012: 59

5th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2016: 51
2015: 53
2014: 54
2013: 53
2012: 52

8th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2016: 50 (Biology 1 EOC is added to this score on the District 2015 and 2016 Comparison Statewide Science and Biology 1 EOC Excel spreadsheet. On the Statewide Science Assessment State and District Scores for All Curriculum Groups Grade 8 Excel spreadsheet — without the Biology EOC — it’s 48.)
2015: 48
2014: 49
2013: 47
2012: 47

So, the first line of the DOE’s news release says scores are improving in all subjects, including science. Yippee. The only rise for science was in 8th Grade Science FCAT scores … but wait a minute … did the rise actually happen?

Let’s read the end of the news release where a list of accomplishments is touted, including the one science bright spot:

Student results were up 1 percentage point in Grade 8 Science combined (Statewide Science Assessment and Biology 1).

eraseThe reality is that 8th Grade Science FCAT percentage passing was 48 in 2015 and 48 in 2016. There was no change. To wring something positive out of the science results, the DOE had to include 8th Grade Biology EOC results in the 2016 FCAT numbers. If you look back at the scores released in 2015, the DOE didn’t do that then! My assumption is that the DOE retroactively did that now with the sole purpose of finding an increase in science scores somewhere … anywhere!

OK, there was no outright lying here. Sure, the “combined” results did go up a percentage point (I have to assume that, because the EOC and FCAT “combined” score is not on the 2015 released documents). But it’s clear that a bit of creative sleight of hand happened when the initial, unaltered results didn’t match the DOE’s everything is improving narrative. I can imagine someone in charge ordering his/her staff to “find a way to make this look good … now!”

Great job, guys. You squeezed a one percentage point improvement ray of sunshine out of your ass. No one’s going to notice. Right? Instead of actually doing something about the dismal, stagnant results, just fudge the numbers.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, shows you how much Florida officials care about science education in this state.

Keep an eye on Broward County

May 31st, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Hemant Mehta posted at his Friendly Atheist blog something that sure is making me raise my eyebrows. The chair of the Broward County School Board, Dr. Rosalind Osgood, said this during a worship service at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale:

God has really blessed me this school year that a lot of my principals were transitioned out, and he filled those spots with new principals that were saved. Principals that loved the Lord.

A quote like that makes me wonder if any particular religious philosophy makes it way through these “saved” principals into the schools’ curriculum.

If anyone is in Broward County, please keep an eye on this.

Here is Dr. Osgood’s bio at the Broward school board website.

Darn, how did I miss this?

May 16th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Baptist College of Florida had a Creation Conference:

On April 26-27, The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville hosted the first on-campus Creation Conference in the R.G. Lee Chapel led by world-renowned Creation Scientist Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International. Sarfati holds a Ph.D. in Spectroscopy (Physical Chemistry) from Victoria University in Wellington, and has authored numerous books, articles, and resources focusing on the topic of creationism.

“The purpose of the conference was to show how, contrary to popular belief, the biblical account of creation is actually well supported by science, including evidences from biology, geology, astronomy, and anthropology,” stated BCF Professor of Old Testament and Event Coordinator Rick Freeman. “Sarfati demonstrated how the genuine facts of science do not fit well with the theory of evolution, whereas they do fit nicely with the view that God created all things from nothing about six thousand years ago.”

I missed this glorious and oh-so-educational event. But fear not; there are videos. If I get a little free time, I may check out the one directed at the youth. Maybe.

A calm response to an anti-evolution rant

May 14th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Back on April 25 I posted about a guest columnist in the Gainesville Sun railing against evolution, He’s itching for a fight. The writer’s main point was that past debates at the University of Florida between creationists and scientists over evolution allegedly came down heavily in favor of the creationists. The supposed victories were so decisive that other scientists refused to participate and were instead “hiding under their desks.” I have yet to find solid evidence of any such debates or their fallout, but a guest columnist in Friday’s Gainesville Sun nicely rebuts the anti-evolutionist writer. Essentially, results of public debates have no bearing whatsoever on the actual science: Paul A. Gulig: Catholics face no conflict between faith and science.

His first point is to tell the story of an obviously inept debate on the subject that occurred on campus in the 1980s. The fact that an evolution supporter grossly failed in his mission does not negate the whole subject. If that were the case, nothing would be settled by debate because there are inept people taking every side of every issue, and all one would have to do is find the worst example of support for a side to show that the point of view is wrong.

He then tells of a second alleged debate that was apparently one-sided for evolution. Again, the fact that a poorly planned event took place does not address the core issue.

I encourage you to read the whole piece. It’s a very nice take down, demonstrating just how vacuous the previous writer’s article was.

Gulig is a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at the University of Florida.

It’s truly an honor!

May 3rd, 2016 by Brandon Haught

I’m very honored and excited to be selected as one of two teacher scholarship winners, receiving an all-expenses-paid eight-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon, hosted by the National Center for Science Education this summer! Is that just pure awesome or what?!

NCSE news release: Congratulations to the 2016 NCSE Grand Canyon Teacher Scholarship winners!

“This trip will be the adventure of a lifetime for Haught and Davis,” explained NCSE’s Steve Newton, a geologist and one of NCSE’s guides on the annual raft trip. “Teachers who work so hard for their students and the science-literate future of America deserve some time to relax on the Colorado River. But we’ll be making them work, too. The Grand Canyon is the greatest geology teaching lab in the world, and they’ll be able to explore geological processes up close, place their hands on rock layers laid down before the first multi-cellular fossils, and see how plate tectonics, erosion, volcanoes, wind, and waves built up and carved down the landscape. I can’t wait to see what lesson plans they develop based on that experience.” As part of the scholarship application, both teachers committed to produce a lesson plan and student assessment based on the trip, which NCSE will make available for other teachers to use.

Oh, man … they’re going to make me work?! I guess I’ll endure somehow.

We lost a friend

May 2nd, 2016 by Brandon Haught

krotoThere is some very sad news from over the weekend. Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel Prize winning chemist teaching at Florida State University, passed away Saturday. He was a great friend to us here at Florida Citizens for Science. During the big fight over evolution in the state standards back in 2008, Kroto personally helped in many different ways. It was an honor to work with him. He’ll be missed.

From the National Center for Science Education’s post on his death:

Kroto was enthusiastic about evolution, writing, in a post on his website, “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is supported by an avalanche of synergistic cross-disciplinary evidence from almost every branch of the sciences: Paleontology, geology, biology, genetics, chemistry, physics etc.” And he was correspondingly concerned about creationist assaults on the teaching of evolution, telling a New Zealand newspaper that people who insert creationism into the science curriculum “really p… me off” (bowdlerism in original). His concern was not expressed only to the media. In 2008, for example, he publicly decried legislative efforts to undermine evolution education in his adopted home of Florida, as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (April 15, 2008) reported.

He had no problem speaking his mind about the evolution issue. He wrote an op-ed column for the St. Augustine Record in 2008 taking Florida legislators to task for trying to meddle in the state science standards debate: Evolution is a ‘Theory’ in Name Only.

It is disgracefully unethical for individuals who rail against the teaching of evolution to young people as a proven “fact” to accept, either for themselves or their families, the humanitarian benefits accruing from medical scientific research underpinned by the theory. Evolution is the backbone of biology. Many medical treatments including most drugs could not have been developed if previous generations of young biology and medical students had not been taught evolutionary concepts.