Marion County got complaints about science textbooks

November 10th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

Rather than use the traditional approach of choosing instructional materials from a list vetted and approved by the Florida Department of Education, Marion County is the first school district to forgo the list and review and select textbooks on their own. I posted that interesting news back in September. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard much about the process or the motivations behind it since then. Why are they putting in the extra time, effort and expense to do it themselves?

This seems like quite a newsworthy event and yet no media outlet has jumped on it until now (edited to add: my mistake, other media outlets did report on this back in September, but none of those stores had any mention of science book complaints). The Orlando Fox News station interviewed superintendent Heidi Maier: Residents could have direct input on school textbooks. Here’s an interesting tidbit (bold emphasis mine):

“I said there has to be a way to chose our own and in statute there was, it’s called pathway A. Pathway B is using the state list, we chose to go with pathway A, so we will be able to choose our own textbooks,” said Superintendent Dr. Heidi Maier.

Maier was receiving complaints about the district’s science and history books, along with complaints about low reading proficiency in students throughout the district. It’s a problem that teachers, we spoke to, say needs to be addressed through the text children are reading.

The reporter apparently didn’t follow up or report on what those science textbook complaints were about. I think a public records request to find that out for ourselves is in order.

Marion County residents, please report in to us. Your activism is sorely needed.

(Edited to add: Other media reporting here, here and here.)

Nassau County complaint: “stop promoting this scientifically inadequate theory of evolution as fact to our students”

November 9th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

Florida has a new law this year that allows any citizen, even if he or she doesn’t have a child in the school system, to challenge contents of instructional materials used in the local public schools. Don’t like something you see in a textbook? File a complaint with your local school board and you may get your moment in the spotlight because the new law apparently requires that your complaint triggers a formal hearing complete with an appointed hearing officer. (See our long series of posts about the law at our Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category.)

That law is now heading out for a test drive in Nassau County. The school board there received a complaint from Mr. Jay W. Shutt last month. I obtained this request via public records request. All bolding and other formatting are his.

PETITION FOR ACTION TO
THE NASSAU COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION

     My request to the Nassau County Board of Education is that we stop promoting this scientifically inadequate theory of evolution as fact to our students.  We should no longer purchase books teaching evolution as proven scientific fact or books that present evolution as proven fact.  Until the current books wear out, I propose placing a disclaimer sticker in the front of every textbook that promotes or presents evolution as proven fact.  The sticker could read something like the following:

This book contains references or information about evolution leading the reader to believe that evolution is proven fact.  Those who believe in Creation Science would argue that evolution is impossible because:  (1) evolution cannot explain the chance formation of  the first  living cell capable of cell division. (2) evolution cannot explain the complexities of life such as the human genome having 3 billion base pairs and the human brain being  capable of more than 20 million billion calculations/second. (3)evolution cannot explain the transfer of intelligence to genes.  For example, how does a pollen grain know when it is at the right place on  the right flower?  How does it know what to do next? And (4) evolution cannot explain the lack of transitional forms (missing links) in the fossil record.  There is not one “so called” missing link agreed upon by all highly qualified evolutionary scientists.

If the Nassau County Board of Education decides to adopt these measures, there is a strong possibility of a threatened lawsuit by groups such as the ACLU.  However, if our lawyer along with a highly qualified molecular biologist (who believes in intelligent design) sit down with these groups and explain that they will need to come up with reasonable, scientific, evolutionary explanations for the serious flaws in their theory, I doubt they would dare a court challenge.

The truth is that the extraordinary advances in microbiology and DNA knowledge have really eliminated evolution as a plausible explanation for life on planet earth.  As far back as 1953 Francis Crick and James Watson began mapping the human genome.  These men immediately became aware that the complexity of DNA far exceeded what evolutionary science could reasonably produce.

Francis Crick, who was an atheist and a believer in evolution, changed his position to accepting that extra-terrestrials brought life to our world.  I’m not sure if he later changed his beliefs, but he still needed to address the issue of “where did the alien DNA come from?”

This is a second reason I don’t think the Board’s decision will actually be challenged in court.  The new scenario that life on earth was brought here by extraterrestrials is about ready to be publically promoted.  It has been programmed into our literature and our films for many years.  UFO sightings and alien encounters have been exploding exponentially for the last few years.  Even the Catholic Church has astronomers on Mt. Graham observatories in Arizona searching the skies for the arrival of our “space brothers.”
All this is coming, and I don’t think organizations who oppose Creation Science will risk a certain defeat in a court of law on the issue of evolution being taught as fact in our schools.  More than likely, they will do everything they can to keep the Board’s decision from making state or national news.

The Board will probably postpone a final decision on this issue until a future date.  Maybe the Board would like to call in experts in the fields of evolution and molecular biology to gather more information.  However, I request that the Board set a timeline for whatever future measures it decides to take.  I make this request because, as human beings, we tend not to rush into areas which may cause us difficulties.  If timelines are not set, decisions may be put off almost indefinitely.   This issue is too important to allow unnecessary delays, and I hope the Board will elevate it to a high priority issue.  Thank you all for your time and consideration.

Sincerely yours,
Jay W. Shutt

Before the new instructional materials law, a request of this type could be dismissed with a polite “thank you for your time.” And that is the proper way to handle nonsense like Shutt’s letter. But no longer. The emails I received in response to my public records request indicate that a hearing was being arranged. An email to Mr. Shutt dated October 6 states:

Mr. Shutt, In follow-up to our conversation and my email to you yesterday, please let me know some dates and times you’re available for a hearing so that I can get it coordinated.  Also, it would be helpful if you would provide me an estimate of the amount of time you believe that you will need to make your presentation.

Thanks.
J. Ray Poole
Chief of Legal Services
Nassau County School District

I’m providing here links to the Word documents Shutt submitted: his request (EVOLUTIONARY PETITION FOR ACTION TO BOARD) that I copied above and his summary of the errors found in some Nassau County textbooks(Evolution is an Unscientific Theory). His summary starts with this:

Since the late 1960’s, and even before that in secular colleges, the theory of evolution has been taught as proven scientific fact.  That is the case in the 3 Nassau County science textbooks (1 middle school and 2 high school) I read.   All 3 textbooks, and almost all science textbooks at any level, begin with a faulty definition of evolution.

I invite you to read his ridiculous summary, which ends with this call to action:

We need to stop teaching a scientifically bankrupt theory which debases our self-worth and eliminates moral absolutes, as proven fact, to our children.  And we need to act as soon as possible!

It will be interesting to see how Nassau County handles this request. I can’t imagine this actually impacting the textbooks there, but you never know. I’m in the process of following up my first public records request with additional requests for updates. I believe that the hearing was scheduled for early November, and so I need to find out what happened. 

This is merely the first challenge. I guarantee more are to come in other counties. And they’ll likely be a bit more sophisticated than Mr. Shutts’ outdated flailing.

By the way, do you know what’s going on in YOUR school district?

What’s in store for the next Florida legislative session?

October 23rd, 2017 by Brandon Haught

The creationist, human-caused-climate-change-denying group Florida Citizens Alliance was successful in writing and getting passed a new law that dramatically impacts how instructional materials used in our schools can be challenged and changed — in a bad way. (See the Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) And they are already hard at work crafting new bills for the next legislative session that could spell more doom for public education.

Go to this Youtube video that shows the Lee County Legislative Delegation Oct. 18 meeting. Skip to about 5:47:45 when Pastor Rick Stevens of the Alliance speaks. He revealed that the Alliance is working on two bills and possibly a third. One bill will require that textbooks approved at the state department of education level adhere to Florida law. I believe, but I’m not positive, that he means that all instructional materials reviewed and approved at the state level should follow part of Florida law that says such materials, among other things, be “balanced” and “noninflammatory.” They had squeezed that bit into their successful new instructional materials law that applies to the local school board level.  If that is their intent with this new bill on the state level, what do you think their ultimate goal is? Creationism alongside evolution? Climate change denial in climate change lessons? That bill will also require some type of guarantee from textbook companies that they’ll “correct” or refund or something if the materials don’t adhere to law or something. Sorry to be vague here, but Stevens’ quick description is vague.

The other bill being worked on will encourage school boards to not just merely “meet” the requirements of the state education standards, but to “exceed” them where possible. Once again, you have to wonder if they mean for school boards to “exceed” science standards by including creationism or climate change denial.

I admit I could be wrong in my guesses. But probably not. Stay tuned.

Another barrel of rotten apples

October 18th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

The Orlando Sentinel is publishing a three part series about Florida private schools raking in voucher money from the state despite some incredibly ugly problems at those schools. The first part ran today: Schools Without Rules: An Orlando Sentinel Investigation (Florida private schools rake in nearly $1 billion in state scholarships with little oversight.)

There’s plenty of problems highlighted in just this first article. I cringe while imagining what’s in the subsequent articles. But the main issue that attracts my attention is, of course, this:

Nor do private schools need to follow the state’s academic standards. One curriculum, called Accelerated Christian Education or ACE, is popular in some private schools and requires students to sit at partitioned desks and fill out worksheets on their own for most of the day, with little instruction from teachers or interaction with classmates.

Like many of the Christian schools that take state scholarships, [TDR Learning Academy in Orlando] uses one of a handful of popular curricula that, as one administrator explained, teach “traditional” math and reading but Bible-based history and science, including creationism.

At Harvest Baptist Academy in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood, parents choose the 20-year-old school for its academics, Bible-based lessons and no-nonsense discipline that includes spanking children, said Harry Amos, recently retired principal.

About 78 percent of Florida’s scholarship students are enrolled in religious schools. Most are Christian schools, though some Jewish and Muslim schools take part, too.

Way back in 2012 I got into an online debate with the Assistant Director for Policy & Public Affairs at Step Up for Students, the organization that administers Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. You can read our arguments at this old post: Rotten Apples. (Be sure to read the comments on that post.) For instance, I told him:

Teaching creationism as if it’s real science most certainly should not be supported by public tax dollars. My focus when I wrote my first response to your post and now this response is very narrow. Your argument is (correct me if I’m wrong) that if kids are getting great reading, writing and math education at a private school, then it’s OK to overlook bad science education. My counter-argument is that the science instructors in this narrow subset of creationism-promoting private schools are not just teaching science poorly but are actually teaching the very opposite of science! I also argue that if blatant creationism is being taught in biology classes in these particular schools then I guarantee that other unscientific concepts based on faith rather than science can be found in the geology, chemistry and physics classes. Not only do some of these schools teach creationism, they go a step further and actively teach that evolution is wrong. That way of teaching doesn’t just affect students’ thinking about the one subject of evolution; it gives students a grossly warped view of what science is and how it is done overall! You can have your own opinions, but in science you can’t have your own facts.

I also noted this creationism-in-private-schools issue in 2013: Creationist Voucher Schools.

A website called Say No to Creationist Vouchers lists schools that use questionable (and that’s a charitable word) curriculum and materials in the science classroom or blatantly teach anti-science. The site identifies and links to 163 voucher accepting public schools in Florida that use creationist materials or boldly state that they teach anti-science.

My point now is that this crazy scheme has been around for several years. I appreciate that the Orlando Sentinel is once again exposing it, but let’s be honest. Is anything going to change?

David against the state’s Goliath

October 17th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

Florida’s new Instructional Materials law is now featured in an article in the AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) Explorer: Science Curricula Under Threat?

The problem, according to those who think there is one, is in the first sentence of Florida House Bill 989.

“…allowing a resident of a county to challenge the use or adoption of instructional materials …”

This bill – and Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law – will allow any adult, in any school district, even if he or she doesn’t have a child attending school in district – or, for that matter, any school district in the state – to lodge a complaint over the teaching methods or materials in Florida’s public schools.

And while it could potentially pertain to any subject – Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” for instance, has been called pornographic by some Florida parents who want it removed from public school curricula – the intent, critics contend, has to do with curtailing scientific inquiry, namely with regard to evolution and global climate change.

Sponsored by the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, whose website construes the fight in nothing less than biblical proportions, casting itself as David against the state’s Goliath, the organization purports to “advance a rebirth of liberty in Florida” and claims the bill is simply about choice and academic freedom.

Not all agree.

Jonathan P. Smith, president of Florida Citizens for Science, an advocacy group opposed to the measure, said HB 989 has ominous implications for education in the state.

“This bill will allow anyone – and I mean anyone – to object for any reason to current text books used in the state,” he said.

Make sure to go read the whole thing.

Dixie County’s “inappropriate subject matter” book ban

October 14th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

On the Gulf Coast of Florida, west of Gainesville, is Dixie County, which recently attracted attention from the National Coalition Against Censorship. According to the NCAC, the school district’s superintendent, Mike Thomas, issued a directive “which prohibits the school district from purchasing and/or using ‘instructional materials (textbooks, library books, classroom novels, etc.)’ that ‘contain any profanity, cursing, or inappropriate subject matter …’

The NCAC notes:

Excluding material because it may be subjectively considered “inappropriate” and “questionable” potentially affects a wide range of materials that address race, gender, religion, sex, political violence, history, science, politics, the environment, or any other issue on which people may disagree.

Of course, the subjects I perk up at are “science” and “the environment.” I’m not aware of science materials being directly targeted in Dixie County, but I also don’t know much about what’s going on there as information about this issue is scarce on the Internet. However, I am concerned when I see in the NCAC letter that the superintendent tells teachers to make instructional materials choices based on “community standards.” NCAC says:

The vague notion of “community standards” offers educators no clear guidance and impermissibly imposes the viewpoints of some community members on every student in the District.

Why am I concerned? Because the argument for matching textbooks with local community standards was used by proponents of Florida’s new instructional materials law. (See our Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category for more on the law.) Can you imagine the argument that “we didn’t come from no monkey” being used as a community standard to ditch certain science materials? I can.

The president of the Florida Library Association is also concerned:

School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to discriminate against unpopular or controversial ideas. The U.S. Supreme Court has cautioned that, ‘Local school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books …’ Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982).

Brevard County asking for help with science materials selection

October 11th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

Thanks to an alert Florida Citizens for Science friend, we now know that Brevard County is looking for the public’s input about what science instructional materials to adopt for their school district.

Read this pdf listing the dates and events: Community Involvement Opportunity.

Brevard Public Schools (BPS) is inviting parents/community members to provide input for the selection of Next Generation Sunshine State Standards aligned instructional materials. There are four opportunities for parent/community input.

Brevard Public Schools (BPS) is committed to fostering high-quality learning experiences we know students need to ensure they have a solid K-12 science education. The upcoming instructional materials adoption cycle for science is an opportunity to select high-quality instructional materials for the beginning of the 2018 – 2019 school year. Participating in the instructional materials review process is a powerful opportunity for teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.

October 12, 2017 6pm – 8pm Parent/Community Information Night
October 12 – November 9, 2017 Parent/Community Input Survey
October 23, 2017 8am – 12pm Parent/Community Information Day
November 13 – 14, 2017 8am – 4pm Brevard Instructional Materials Selection Committee Meeting

It’s definitely time for everyone to monitor your own school district for events like these! Let us know about them and we’ll post information for all to see.

 

Eugenie Scott, Brandon Haught, Bertha Vazquez in Orlando this month

October 3rd, 2017 by Brandon Haught

I’m reproducing here an edited notice that the National Center for Science Education sent out recently about a central Florida event coming up:

NCSE’s founding executive director Eugenie C. Scott will be speaking on “Race, Science, and Society” at 4:30 p.m. on October 21, at the FREEFLO Freethought Florida Conference, held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Orlando Airport, 5555 Hazeltine National Drive in Orlando.

A description of her talk: “The concept of race in biology or anthropology refers to groups of populations in a geographic region that share some characteristics. As such, races, as open genetic systems, are neither permanent, stable, pure, nor are they discrete units. The concept of race to most Americans, however, includes most of this list, and thus has no scientific foundation. Yet socially, race is extraordinarily important in American society, and misunderstanding biology and genetics can have serious consequences for our society. How should we approach this subject to both reflect science as well as our social needs?”

Among the other speakers at the conference will be high school science teacher, author, and Florida Citizens for Science communications director Brandon Haught, speaking on “Evolution and Climate Change and Schools, Oh My!” at 3:05 p.m. on October 21.

A description of his talk: “Attempts to influence science education, especially lessons on evolution, have been ongoing since the 1920s here in Florida. Amazingly, the fight rages on even today. Two new state laws are the latest salvo in this never-ending battle. One law changes the way textbooks and instructional materials can be reviewed and challenged by citizens. The other law allows students and all school personnel to express religious viewpoints free from discrimination. Proponents of these laws have gone on the record to boldly state that they will both be used to attack the teaching of evolution and climate change at the local school board level. Additionally, the Florida Department of Education started the process of reviewing and approving new science textbooks that will be used in classrooms for several years to come. This talk will focus on the origins of the new laws, their potential impact, and what concerned citizens can do to defend quality science education here in the Sunshine State.”

Also speaking is Bertha Vazquez, a science teacher in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools and director of the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, which holds workshops around the nation for middle-school teachers. She will be speaking on “What Is It Like to Teach Evolution in the United States?” at 3:35 p.m. on October 21.

Conference registration starts at $120 ($45 for students). For further details, visit: http://www.freeflo.org/