The conversation about science has started but will it continue?

June 24th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

EOC-PictureI encourage you to see for yourself what Mr. Padget and Ms. Stewart had to say about science scores (see my previous post on this). The video from the meeting is available here. Mr. Padget’s comments on science start at about 12:07. Ms. Stewart’s comments on science are at about 38:48.

I appreciate that they both acknowledge that there is a problem that needs attention. But in typical fashion, Ms. Stewart didn’t linger very long on the low scores, preferring to focus on some bright spots in the sub-categories. And both Ms. Stewart and Mr. Padget neglected to tell the whole story. Stewart said that the passing rate for the biology EOC exams are six percentage points higher than in 2012. True. However, look at the annual break down:

Biology End of Course
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
Spring 2014-2015: 65
Spring 2013-2014: 68
Spring 2012-2013: 67
Spring 2011-2012: 59

The big leap in scores came between the first and second years, 59 percent to 67 percent, which is a nice eight point jump. But then the following year the increase was only by one point. And this year there was a big drop off of three points. There was one really nice year and everything else since has been a disappointment.

They also acknowledged the stagnant science FCAT scores. But just barely. Most of the comments were about the biology EOC. Here’s the FCAT break down:

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

8th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2015: 48
2014: 49
2013: 47
2012: 47

Once again, I appreciate that Mr. Padget brought up the subject and that Ms. Stewart said “We know there’s work to do.” Hopefully, any proposed solutions won’t get derailed or forgotten when the other exam results (the set of FSAs) are released.

Wow. Someone noticed.

June 24th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

I’m genuinely amazed. Someone with some authority took notice of statewide science scores. But will that translate into action?

Orlando Sentinel School Zone blog: State board member worries about declining science scores

“These are not new tests. They are tests the system is used to,” State Board of Education John Padget said. “As a realist and with a higher helicopter, we have to admit, total Florida, the passing rate in those subjects went down.”

Padget, speaking at today’s board meeting in Tampa, said he’d like to hear more at future meetings about what can be done to improve students’ science knowledge.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the Florida Department of Education will be working to do that, analyzing “where are the gaps that we need to fill in” and how can the state provide more support to school districts looking to enhance science instruction?

“We know there’s work to do,” she said.

Textbook trouble: history and sex ed

June 21st, 2015 by Brandon Haught

myworld-historyThe Lee County school board will hear from concerned citizens this week about the content of history textbooks under consideration for adoption.

Board documents show nine objections have been filed for a sixth-grade world history text published by Pearson. Among the complaints for the book, called “my (sic) World History,” are allegations the text is more of a comparative study of religions and cultures as opposed to being historical in nature, and it has a pro-Islam agenda, presenting a biased view of the religion in comparison to Judaism and Christianity.

This is not a new argument. This same issue was real big in Volusia County in 2013, but I believe a different textbook and publisher was in the spotlight then. Nonetheless, the complaint then was about an alleged pro-Islam slant, too. The Volusia school district responded with a “just the facts” document explaining that there was no bias. Volusia didn’t bow to pressure and adopted the textbooks.

That controversy inspired state senator Alan Hays to file a bill that would have dumped all textbook review and selection responsibilities on the school districts, taking the state completely out of the process. (Note: Hays filed an anti-evolution “academic freedom” bill when he was in the House of Representatives in 2008.) His textbook bill passed but with substantial changes.

A new bill, on its way to Governor Scott, would make school districts give parents the chance to object to textbooks used in schools.

The Senate, on Thursday, voted 31-4 for the bill that would require districts to hold a public hearing if parents object—but it wouldn’t get rid of an existing state review of textbooks.

But the legislation will not eliminate state review of textbooks as originally sought by sponsors of the bill. Instead, school boards will continue to decide whether to review textbooks locally, or continue to rely on the state-approved list.

The Florida House rejected the elimination of the state review and instead passed a bill that creates a process that lets parents object to the textbooks. It requires school districts to hold a public hearing if someone complains about the books that are being used.

Now, in addition to the history textbook hoopla, Lee County is also facing conflicting opinions on how much sex education should be in other textbooks under review.

One objection and two responses requesting additional content were recorded for a high school health and physical education text, which was published by McGraw Hill.

The sole objection came from Marian Scirrotto, who stated the book is “inappropriate” for presenting sexual education topics, which she believes “should be discussed as a family.”

Meanwhile, the two other responses praise the books and pleaded for additional content to be addressed with students.

Lee County is in southwest Florida, containing Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

I featured Lee County for several pages in chapter 8 of Going Ape. The County tried to implement Bible classes in 1996, resulting in a lawsuit.

Blast from Hillsborough’s past

June 19th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

In the early 1980s Florida’s own Hillsborough County School Board had voted to mandate the balancing of evolution with scientific creationism. The curriculum was written, approved and ready to go for classroom use when, just a few weeks before implementation, two court cases brought everything to a screeching halt. One case was Edwards v. Aguillard, and the other was McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education.

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the Edwards v. Aguillard decision, which reminded me that I had promised on the Going Ape website that I would regularly upload documents from my book research. I hadn’t done that in quite a while. So, today I dumped about 15 files about Hillsborough County’s creationism curriculum onto the page for your viewing pleasure. You can see the files at a recent blog post or on the main timeline page. I think you’ll really enjoy them!

Spread the word. No one else will.

June 17th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

Florida Citizens for Science president Jonathan Smith’s letter to the editor in the Lakeland Ledger discusses students’ poor performance on statewide science assessments.

“These results haven’t improved since the state science standards were vastly upgraded in 2008; however, they will be mostly ignored by the media and brushed aside by our politicians. In the meantime, our students will inevitably keep falling behind the rest of the world and forfeit the standard of science education they deserve.”

I encourage all of you to help draw attention to this issue. Write letters to the editor of your local paper. No one else will highlight this chronic problem, so why not you? See the previous post about the exam scores for some ammunition.

Statewide science scores … anyone out there actually care?

June 12th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

Another year, another dismal performance on statewide science assessments here in Florida. Depending on grade level, students either took the science FCAT or Biology End of Course exam. Here’s the results compared to previous years':

Biology End of Course
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
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)
2015: 53
2014: 54
2013: 53
2012: 52

8th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2015: 48
2014: 49
2013: 47
2012: 47

Take a look at those 8th grade numbers. They mean that for four years running more than half of the students failed the exam every year. Take a look even further back in this blog’s FCAT post archives and you’ll see that the situation has been the same since at least 2008. And you know what? No one will pay any attention. Newspaper stories will barely mention the stagnant science scores and won’t mention how long the trend has lasted. We definitely won’t hear a peep about this from politicians. Anyone care to bet on it?

Upcoming events

June 12th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

Filthy Dreamers

filthy dreamers posterThe documentary film Filthy Dreamers will be screened this Sunday at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando (1901 E. Robinson Street, Orlando, FL) at 9:30 a.m. at the Library of Gore Hall.

Who should control what is taught in our public universities? Educators? Citizens? Or, politicians? In the late 1920s Florida State College for Women was the only public university that allowed women to enroll, and it found itself at the center of an ideological battle over faith and science in the classroom. The outcome depended on the college president, professors, and students, who defended their right to academic freedom. The religious fundamentalist who launched the attack called all of them Filthy Dreamers.

I am in the film and will be at the screening. The film was produced by students at UCF. One of the producers and a professor at UCF, Lisa Mills, will be there for a discussion after the 30 minute film.

Going Ape

I will also be speaking to the Humanist Society of Gainesville on Wednesday about my book Going Ape: Florida’s Battle over Evolution in the Classroom. The meeting is at the UU Fellowship, 4225 NW 34th Street (a little north of 39th Ave. on the east side of the street) at 7 p.m.

Pay attention, kids. This is how real life works.

May 31st, 2015 by Brandon Haught

Now that summer vacation is just about here (Wednesday will be students’ last day), I can breathe again and spend some of my deserved free time on reflection. My first year as a biology teacher was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. But I managed to survive.

My first reflection is on the difficult journey I had just to become a teacher. Head over to my personal Going Ape blog to read: Going through hell: how I earned the title of teacher.

This is a story about how my soul was crushed over and over. My dreams were repeatedly stomped on. My hope was destroyed, restored, and destroyed again. It’s a true story.

But don’t worry, it has a happy ending.