Archive for the 'Textbooks' Category

New textbook selection process now law

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Textbook selection committees from across the state are now history in Florida. It will now be up to three appointed “experts” to decide what textbooks will be approved for use in our classrooms. I completely agree with the opinion of: it’s not a good thing.

With the stroke of the governor’s pen, Florida now has a Texas-style textbook adoption process. The commissioner of education, who is appointed by the governor, has been handed control of which textbooks and other materials will be used. The commissioner selects three state or national bureaucrats, called “subject matter experts,” who will serve as the review committee. Two of the experts will review books, and the third will act as a tiebreaker.

“I worry that this new legislation will take away checks and balances that keep the focus on student achievement, and it has the potential to allow political agendas to play a more active role in the process.

“I know the number of hours I personally dedicated to the process. I do not see how it is possible that a few people can accurately screen and select the materials given time limitations. I also do not know how it is possible that a few people can have absolute expertise in every course offered in the K-12 public school system.”

Like many others who have served on adoption committees, Griffin also worries that the new centralized system will face the same problems that Texas faces, including perpetual charges of political corruption, publishers’ favoritism and religious influence.

As a result of such problems, cultural battles stay in the headlines, all at a high cost to children’s education. Which version of the human narrative should be in textbooks, creation or evolution? What about the history of black slavery and its significance? How far should textbooks go in discussing Islam and other non-Christian religions? Which books teach math the “acceptable” way? Which books teach reading “correctly”? Who should decide? Which publishers should profit?

Textbook selection process to change?

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Hmmmm … did this slip by everyone unnoticed until now? And even now there is only one reporter on the story so far. This seems like a rather significant change, don’t you think?

Florida Textbook Adoption Process May Be In For Big Changes

Fewer people will approve what textbooks Florida students should use under a bill that dramatically changes the state’s textbook adoption procedures.

The measure eliminates the current process of using statewide committees of teachers, school board members, administrators and ordinary citizens to select textbooks, and instead gives more power to the Education Commissioner.

Teachers and school board members critical of the change say it weakens the voice of teachers and the public in the textbook adoption process, opening it up to a potentially more politics and corruption. But others defend the change as a minor tweak that saves the state money and shifts responsibility for textbook reviews to experts.

The proposal (SB 2120) is contained in an education budget bill that will likely be approved by Gov. Rick Scott this month. The bill requires the commissioner to select three state or national “subject matter experts” to review books for each subject, with only two reviewing the books and the third acting as a tie-breaker.

Who proposed this idea? Rep. Marti Coley. Remember back in 2008 when our state science standards were revised and evolution was included? Coley didn’t like that.

Two Florida legislators supported the standards as written, Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach and minority leader of the House of Representatives, and Rep. Ed Homan, R-Tampa, an orthopedic surgeon, while Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, supported the addition of “theory” as a way to fix the dogmatic approach to evolution.

“We are not asking for you to give watered down information to our students. We are simply asking the word ‘theory’ be used,” Coley told the Board.

Another story:

Opponents to the inclusion of evolution in Florida science standards were the majority such as State Rep. Marti Coley. The Republican from Marianna she was representing her constituents who want the word theory added to the evolution standard.

And another story:

State Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, who represents nine Panhandle counties, said her part of the state is “very conservative” and that the revised standards clash with many residents’ beliefs.

Coley has urged the state board to ensure evolution is taught as a theory, not a fact. She said she and other lawmakers will push to make such a requirement state law if the board approves the standards as is.

“I think it would be irresponsible to present it like that in our public schools,” Coley said.

Is there a connection between this change in textbook adoption and subjects Coley and others disagree with? I don’t know,  but the bread crumbs are there to follow.

Creationism pops up in textbook adoption process

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Creationism has become a possible minor issue here in Florida recently as instructional materials committees conduct a scheduled review of materials and recommend new textbooks for the state’s classrooms. A book meant for marine science classes contained some unusual language that raised red flags for a couple of members of one committee. “Life on an Ocean Planet” (a Florida edition published by Current Publishing Corp with a copyright of 2011, ISBN 978-1-878663-66-5) contained a two page informational sidebar entitled “Questions About The Origin and Development Of Life” that is packed with good ol’ fashioned creationist language. No, I am not exaggerating; it’s really packed. For a purported science book, these two pages manage to mangle basic science concepts to a jaw-dropping degree while at the same time injecting a laundry list of tired creationist objections to evolution. Here’s an example:

“First, Darwin proposed that natural selection is the driving force for change. It favors organisms with particular characteristics (color, size, etc.) that enhance survival. Those with these characteristics survive and reproduce more that those lacking them. Over time, the favorable characteristics predominate in the organism’s population. For example, suppose there are white and black variations of an insect, and birds eat fewer black ones because they’re harder to see. Over time, the insect population will become predominantly or almost entirely black. This is called microevolution or genetic drift. It is the expression or suppression of characteristics that already exist in the genetic code (DNA).”

Wrong. The terms genetic drift and natural selection are not synonymous but describe very different processes in evolution. Genetic drift is a random process not driven by environmental or adaptive pressures. Natural selection is nonrandom and is caused by environmental factors that affect the reproduction of living things.   The example provided in the text of white and black variations of an insect being eaten by a bird describes natural selection and has nothing to do with genetic drift. The statement “This is called microevolution or genetic drift” is a blatant error in fact.   Students reading this will be misled and confused.

That’s just the beginning. The authors followed the standard creationist script of inaccurately defining macro- and microevolution, insisting that there is a lack of transitional fossils, and claiming that some biological structures are irreducibly complex. An example from the text:

“Skeptics observe that general evolution doesn’t adequately explain how a complex structure, such as the eye, could come to exist through infrequent random mutations.”

The “skeptics” are never identified. Earlier in the text the authors’ term “general evolution” is synonymous with “macroevolution”, and it requires “that new information enter the genetic code”, which the authors cast doubt on. And, yes, evolution can produce complex structures.

Another curious quote to chew on: “Virtually all scientists accept genetic drift as a valid, well proven theory. General evolution, on the other hand, is the mainstream view in biology, but is not universally accepted among all scientists beyond biology.” As you can see, the grossly inaccurate use of “genetic drift” permeates the text. And what are the authors trying to say with the “scientists beyond biology” comment? Are biologists the weirdoes none of the other scientists want to talk to at parties?

Florida Citizens for Science president Joe Wolf sent a letter to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith earlier this week requesting that he review this material for himself prior to deciding on whether or not to adopt this text. Here is the final paragraph of that letter:

A textbook’s job is to present the current state of science so that students can engage with contemporary science.  However, this textbook’s treatment of “Origin and Development Of Life” is clearly bad science and bad pedagogy. The sidebar is simultaneously actively misinforming, at odds with state standards, and ultimately irrelevant to marine science.  It should be removed entirely, as there is so little information that is either correct or useful to make it worth retaining.

In the opening of this post, I said that this was a “possible minor issue.” First of all, this is just one textbook out of many working their way through the adoption process. This is an important issue, but not one that requires a “damn the torpedoes” mentality. Secondly, there is some confusion about the current status of this book in the process. Florida Citizens for Science was informed that the textbook was approved by its adoption committee on a 7-2 vote. The reason why Florida Citizens for Science sent a letter to Commissioner Smith is because he has the final say in textbook adoption after the committees submit their recommendations. The committee vote is clouded in uncertainty, though, because the Department of Education told the St. Pete Times that the committee approval was with the caveat that “two specific pages,” presumably the sidebar, be removed. Information we have about the committee vote indicates that they voted to approve the textbook overall, and then a second vote was called for to remove the sidebar. That second vote failed but a compromise was reached to “fix” the sidebar. Quite frankly, the sidebar is unfixable! Further muddying of the waters comes from there being two versions of the textbook: an electronic one on CD and a print one. It’s unclear whether the votes pertain to both versions or just one since it looks like the committee only reviewed the electronic one.

We are cautiously optimistic that the Department of Education’s statement is a clear indication that the problem is solved. However, Florida Citizens for Science is keeping track of this issue just in case. Updates will be posted as they become available.

What was in that evolution lesson?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

The Tampa Tribune, specifically Hernando Today, has a story out this morning about an evolution lesson that had apparently gone awry. The story is a bit confusing, though. The problem didn’t actually involve evolution, but rather some mentions of religion. A sixth-grade student from  Explorer K-8 in Hernando County told mom about things she heard in science class that day concerning reincarnation and the Catholic Church. Mom got upset because the weird things the girl heard were inaccurate and certainly odd things to pick up during a lesson on evolution.

A further reading of the story reveals that the teacher, David Liptak, wasn’t trying to push any particular religion or even express an opinion on the matter. But the general classroom conversation just grew its own wings and took off. I can understand that.

But why did religion come up in the first place?

Explorer’s principal, Dominick Ferello, said the teacher stuck to the textbook lesson about creation, then went on to explain that there are other beliefs, as well.

“He told students there are other (beliefs), and everyone chooses what to believe,” Ferello said. “He mentioned the others, then told them to talk to their parents for anything further when the kids started asking questions.”

A textbook lesson about creation? That sounds familiar. In 2006 FCS had kept an eye on a biology textbook selection process in Brevard County. The school board was looking at Biology: The Dynamics of Life, which contains an out-of-context reference to divine origins and intelligent design in two paragraphs at the end of a chapter on the history of life. Here’s an old post of mine about it, and another one. Here’s a 2006 editorial in the St. Pete Times on the general subject. Brevard County eventually apopted an edited version of Biology: The Dynamics of Life. Take a look at page five of the March 2006 school board meeting minutes. Some of the wiser board members predicted there would be problems if the original text was approved:

Bea Fowler stated she is concerned that discussion will be held in science class led by science teachers and not by comparative religion teachers.  This subject should be taught by trained comparative religious teachers and not science teachers.

The questionable text in the book was two paragraphs:

“Common to human cultures throughout history is the belief that life on Earth did not arise spontaneously. Many of the world’s major religions teach that life was created on Earth by a supreme being. The followers of these religions believe that life could only have arisen through the direct action of a divine force.”

“A variation of this belief is that organisms are too complex to have developed only by evolution. Instead, some people believe that the complex structures and processes of life could not have formed without some guiding intelligence.”

My guess is that Hernando County took the opposite road of Brevard and adopted the original version of the textbook with those paragraphs intact, and now that decision has come back to haunt a poor science teacher.

If anyone is in or near Spring Hill, could you do a bit more digging and learn the facts that were left out of the newspaper story? It looks to me like the reporter or editor wasn’t clear on what the story should have focused on. Quite a few paragraphs detail evolution’s new role in the state science standards, but that has little, if anything, to do with what happened in the classroom. It looks to me like this was a case of a bad textbook tripping up an otherwise standard biology lesson. What did evolution have to do with anything?

Textbooks changed under pressure

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

Florida Citizens for Science was under a time crunch to get a letter out to the Brevard County school board about science textbook selections. The letter could have benefitted from another round or two of rewrites, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do to get the letter out in time.

There are five letters to the editor here. As can be expected, some are good and some are wide of the mark. Here are a couple of excerpts from the bad ones:

To teach the theory of evolution as fact, and not even address the possibility of intelligent design or other theories, is another attempt by the liberals in the media to impose their agenda on the American people and our children.

The short two-paragraph reference to life forming under a guiding intelligence only acknowledged the fact that many cultures and world religions hold this belief to be true.

Having these few paragraphs included in the text is not pushing religion on any student studying science.

It is an introduction to a widely held theory that can then be further discussed in social-study classrooms teaching world religions, cultures and philosophies.

Each of those excerpts can be slapped down by pointing out one glaring problem. From a previous post here:

But the issue has crossed into the district, because publishers like Holt have changed textbooks over the years while under pressure from such groups as the Discovery Institute.

Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit agency that has monitored the Texas textbook adoption process for a decade, said Holt kowtowed to conservatives with its Florida biology book.

And here’s a post I compiled a while ago that has a lot of real good information about the whole textbook deal.

A South Florida Sun-Sentinel review of both textbook finalists — Glencoe’s book and Holt’s Holt Biology — found that the publishers had edited explanations of Darwin’s evolution theory under pressure from Christian conservatives.

The publisher caved in to pressure! This is not some “innocuous” cultural reference. This is not a nod of acknowledgement for some new scientific theory bursting onto the scene. Those two paragraphs were “wedged” in there by a group with an agenda. It’s not the liberals trying to impose anything; it’s just the opposite!

I’m wishing that mentioning this fact about the textbook’s history had made it into our letter to the school board. Maybe next time …

Letter to Brevard County school board

Monday, March 13th, 2006

Joe Wolf, president of Florida Citizens for Science, sent the following letter to Brevard County school board members today in reference to yesterday’s post:

Dear (name of School Board Member),

It has recently come to my attention that one of your Board members, Amy Kneessy, has suggested the biology text, “Biology: The Dynamics of Life,” published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, for adoption. The book contains an out-of-context reference to divine origins and intelligent design in two paragraphs at the end of a chapter on the history of life. Our group, Florida Citizens for Science (http://www.flascience.org) strongly opposes the adoption of this textbook with those two paragraphs included. “Intelligent Design” is another label for creationist arguments that have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S Supreme Court (Edwards v. Aguillard, 1987). The notion that these paragraphs put the study in a ’social or historical context’ is absurd and does not shield the school district from previous court rulings.

If you wish to learn more on this subject, I suggest that you read the decision in the US District Court for the Middle District Pennsylvania by Judge John E. Jones III on the Dover PA. School Board case. In his rebuke against the Dover school board, this conservative Republican appointed by President Bush wrote a very complete description of “Intelligent Design” and its legal implications. The text of the decision is available at
http://www2.ncseweb.org/kvd/all_legal/2005-12-20_kitzmiller_decision.pdf. If downloading that text is inconvenient, I am sure the District administration can get you a copy.

Judge Jones ruled that “intelligent design’ is creationism and thus it is unconstitutional to have it included in the classroom. In the aftermath of the trial, all eight school board members up for election were defeated. This also reflects the experience of the community in Darby, MT, whose school board proposed introducing “intelligent design” into the science curriculum. The primary difference between Dover and Darby was that in Darby, the election occurred before the policy could be implemented; the school board members in favor of the “intelligent design” policy were defeated.

In the Dover case, the school board ignored the advice of its counsel and proceeded with their “intelligent design” policy. By choosing outside counsel to represent the school district, the Dover school board lost any insurance coverage they might have had, exposing the school district to a significant liability. In fact, the plaintiffs’ legal team submitted a bill for $2.5 million dollars, which was reduced in negotiation with the new school board to an even $1 million dollars. Proceeding with policies to advocate creationist argument in school classrooms is both irresponsible and ill-advised.

“Intelligent design” and other labels for creationist arguments, such as “teach the controversy”, are an establishment of religion. The arguments themselves are anti-science, and foster misapprehensions of what the scientific method is and a mistrust of scientists and the results of scientific investigation. They have no positive effect on pedagogy, so there can be no successful claim that their instruction meets a secular purpose.

Science and faith are not incompatible. This is perhaps best shown by the over-10,000 U.S. clergy who have signed the internet Clergy Letter Project. These clergy of many faiths and denominations have signed a letter stating that science and faith are compatible, and teaching science effectively is in our best interests. The letter itself is too long to include here but can be found at http://www.uwosh.edu/colleges/cols/religion_science_collaboration.htm.

Sincerely

Joseph Wolf
President
Florida Citizens for Science

Textbook debate still evolving

Sunday, March 12th, 2006

Folks in Brevard County need keep an eye on this textbook issue. It’s not a done deal yet as school board member Amy Kneessy makes clear.

Textbook debate still evolving

Brevard County School Board member Amy Kneessy wants the school district to adopt a biology textbook that includes passages on divine creation and intelligent design, going against a district committee’s unanimous recommendation.

“It’s so innocuous,” she said of the text. “To me, those two paragraphs belong there.”

The school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday to adopt new elementary and secondary science textbooks, which were recommended by a committee of teachers, administrators and parents who spent months reviewing dozens of state-approved books.

But Kneessy said choosing curriculum and textbooks are among board members’ top responsibilities.

She thinks the passages in question simply provide cultural context, integrating social studies and science without promoting alternatives to evolution. Her position doesn’t go as far as recommending that Biblical creation or intelligent design be taught, she said.

“We need to stop being so hypersensitive about this subject,” she said. “We’re making the subject taboo, and I think that’s wrong.”

Here is Kneessy’s information should you wish to express your concern about her comments.

DISTRICT 3 — Amy Kneessy — (2004-2008)
285 Satellite Avenue, Satellite Beach, FL 32937
779-8198/631-1911 ext. 412
kneessya@brevard.k12.fl.us

Intelligent choices

Monday, February 13th, 2006

Intelligent choices
Brevard School Board should toss aside textbooks that undermine scientific learning

Here’s a good editorial that gives me hope that there are, in fact, voices of reason out there.

There’s no debate in legitimate scientific circles that evolution is the bedrock biological principle and should be taught to public school students.

Indeed, two studies just published in the journal Nature offer even more evidence that species can and have evolved from common ancestors.

Crusaders who fear scientific knowledge may discredit religious belief, however, want to seed doubt about evolution in the minds of students by introducing unsubstantiated claims about the origins of life into biology class.

A federal judge in Dover, Pa., recently ruled that an attempt to mix faith-based intelligent design theory with hard science in the Dover school district was unconstitutional.

But Florida Education Commissioner John Winn ignored that message when he put a version of “Biology, the Dynamics of Life” that includes a section on divine origins on the list of state-approved science textbook choices.

The Brevard County school district is now reviewing those choices, with textbook committee recommendations to be presented to the School Board on Feb. 28.

We trust district officials to make curriculum decisions that best help students gain needed scientific literacy. That means tossing aside books that undermine the teaching of evolution by discussing intelligent design.
Beliefs about supernatural beginnings of life can be discussed in other courses, such as world cultures, but they have no place in biology class.