Archive for the 'Textbooks' Category

Truth in Textbooks?

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

TextbooksBefore I do a news roundup of all the articles published about the horrible new Florida instructional materials law, it’s important to note that this issue will only get more heated throughout the year. The Department of Education will soon launch its science instructional materials review and selection process. I encourage you to read the materials currently posted at the DoE instructional materials website. The website currently announces that the “Reviewer portal is now closed for the 2016-17 state adoption.” But that was for last year’s social studies materials review. The portal will eventually reopen when the science materials review kicks off. If you open the pdf document there “2017-18 Instructional Materials Adoption Announcement” you’ll see that the final deadline for publishers to submit materials is:

Publishers must provide FDOE with access to sample copies of the major tool, which includes the Student Edition and the Teacher Edition, in an electronic or digital format, no later than 5 p.m., EDT, Friday, July 14, 2017.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any documents on the site that outline the review schedule, such as when guest reviewer applications will be accepted. If you find the information, please let us know. In the meantime, we need to constantly monitor that website and any announcements issued by the DoE.

The group that wrote and promoted the bad instructional materials law, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, is getting ready. Their latest post asks for folks to take a survey and then sign up for training in reviewing textbooks hosted by an organization called Truth in Textbooks. The Truth’s website is apparently down (I tried to access it several times July 18 and kept getting error messages). But the group made a name for itself when it was known as Truth in Texas Textbooks. Here’s a story about them from back in 2014: A New Conservative Watchdog’s Big Textbook War Debut.

The group’s comments on each text are posted online as Word documents, plus a 52-page summary of their findings. They include grammar fixes and corrected dates, but dwell mostly on the usual questions of patriotism, religion, global warming and evolution—all the usual battlegrounds the State Board of Education is known for.
[…]
The Texas Freedom Network’s review of the new group’s reviews called its complaints “peculiar” and questioned whether the group’s reviewers were qualified for the job. A note on one Truth in Texas Textbooks’ review, TFN notes, suggests including information on Young Earth Creationism sourced to Conservapedia.com.

In other words, we need to be ready. We here at Florida Citizens for Science recently had an informal board meeting, spending three hours discussing a wide range of current event topics. We’re in the process of contacting the DoE to try to pry more detailed information out of them about their instructional materials review and selection process. We’re networking with individuals and groups all across the state with the goal of establishing activists in every county to monitor and participate in local textbook selection efforts. If you want to join in our efforts, please contact us ASAP. Don’t wait!

Now let’s move on to the news roundup. First is a link to the interview I did on radio station WGCU’s radio show Gulf Coast Live: Naples Rep’s New Law Lets Any Resident Challenge Classroom Materials. The main guest was the instructional materials law sponsor in the state House, Rep. Byron Donalds. I was the other guest, but I was on the phone instead of in the studio with Donalds and the show host. That resulted in my not getting much speaking time. I actually think the host forgot I was a guest for a while. In my opinion, the host could have done a much better job of including me. For instance, she asked Donalds to explain how the new law would work if someone came forward with a complaint about how Cuba is portrayed in some material. That was puzzling. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to use a science-related example so that I could then be part of the conversation? The rare couple of times I got to speak I think I made the most of. However, the host’s question to me about how people incorrectly use the scientific meaning of the word “theory” was completely out of context from the ongoing conversation. It was as if maybe her producer reminded her that I was on the phone and she just picked a random question that her producer had prepared for her ahead of time. It was a frustrating experience but still worth the time getting Donalds’ thoughts on the record.

The Florida Keys News published a story: New law allows anyone to question what’s taught in school.

Florida Keys Schools Superintendent Mark Porter said he doesn’t expect any flurry of activity in response to the new law but said the district will have to develop a new policy to match the new law. As for who the hearing officer should be, Porter said that is up to interpretation.

“We have a very thorough process for the adoption of materials, that’s what really makes the most sense,” Porter said. “This opens up the opportunity for after adoption for materials to be evaluated.”

Since he was hired in 2012, Porter said he hasn’t had a phone call questioning such materials on science or any other subject.

Reconsidering textbooks once they’ve been purchased could lead to costly changes, Porter said.

The Humanist interviewed our very own Florida Citizens for Science president Jonathan Smith: Classroom Politics: Florida’s New Law on Education.

Florida’s dystopian turn is a worrisome reality for local and national science advocacy groups that have been fighting for proper science education for years. Florida Citizens for Science (FCS) President Jonathan Smith lamented the law in an email response to me: “This has the potential to undermine all the work we have done in the last eight years and again impose a minority’s religious convictions on the rest of us.”

The Tampa Bay Times has an editorial: Florida’s micromanaging of public schools.

Think of the mayhem this could create. Don’t believe in evolution? Challenge the science teacher. Don’t believe high schoolers should learn about sex education? Challenge the health teacher. Don’t believe the Holocaust actually happened? Challenge the history teacher. Don’t like the language in The Catcher in the Rye? Challenge the American lit teacher.
[…]
For a state that has gone to great lengths to ensure that teachers are held accountable and curriculum adheres strictly to Florida’s testing standards, how on Earth does it make sense to permit anyone with time on their hands and an ax to grind to throw a classroom into chaos?

And our final news item for now is from The Ledger: Polk schools expect easy transition to new state process for challenging instructional materials.

School Board member Billy Townsend said there might not be any impact at all. “Like so much of what came out of this legislative session, it’s a horribly vague and unhelpful piece of legislation… and I’m not sure what kind of problem it’s trying to solve,” Townsend said. “Looking at the entire legislative package that was sent out, it’s one big statement of bad intent and how that bad intent manifests itself on the ground in reality — we don’t know yet.”
[…]
“Sometimes it’s a double-headed coin: Some may say they don’t like the materials you’re currently using and want you to use materials that most people in the community are not in favor of,” [School Board member Lynn] Wilson said. “We’ll just have to see.”

And the next county on the terrible textbook tour is …

Monday, June 5th, 2017

lee countyI’ve already pointed out that Collier County is the main hotbed of textbook unrest in Florida. That’s the home of Florida Citizens’ Alliance, the group that authored and supported the passage through our state legislature of the instructional materials bill that is much loved by creationists and climate change deniers. The Alliance has been protesting about what’s in various textbooks to their school board for quite a while now and they’ve even resorted to filing a lawsuit. But we need to keep in mind that the Alliance has friends in other counties.

The next target could be Lee County in southwest Florida. Someone there has compiled a laundry list of complaints against three social studies textbooks. You can see the complaint documents here. Of special interest to us here at Florida Citizens for Science are these two points:

First is “HMH Social Studies: Civics In Practice Integrated: Civics, Econ, & Geography Florida: Student Edition 2018”

The Geography Handbook contains maps with instructions for interpretation. Two maps in particular call into question bias and slant. Pg 441 includes maps of the west coast of Florida that Project the Impact of Global Warming on Charlotte Harbor. “Maps can be used to predict future conditions. This pair of maps shows how predicted sea-level rise due to global warming might affect the Charlotte Harbor area on Florida’s Gulf coast.” This takes the perspective that global warming is a known fact, introduces it as fact and an accurate prediction and does not allow for discussion regarding the possibility or denial of global warming. BUT the bullet uses “predicted” and “might” in the same sentence. The Skills box asks questions of the students about elimination of landforms, increase of vegetation and changes in wildlife, fisheries and economies as if global warming is an indisputable fact. FACT: Global warming is argued for and against on many levels by some of the best scientific minds and still there is no conclusive evidence that warrants instruction in the classroom where ‘predicted” is considered the correct approach. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/425232/climate-change-no-its-not-97-percent-consensus-ian-tuttle

Next, we have “HMH Social Studies American History: Reconstruction To The Present Student Edition” ~ 2018

Page 966-967 A Global Concern: States without any scientific fact or resource that “extreme weather events are occurring more often” and “the greenhouse effect has led to global warming and climate change.” They conclude that fossil fuels in the atmosphere have caused this. This is purely political diatribe used to gain power and money. Read the book, Global Warming every 1500 Years by S. Fred Singer, or go to http://www.dailywire.com/news/9767/9-things-you-need-know-about-climate-change-hoax-aaronbandler# or http://www.lordmoncktonfoundation.com/ for scientific links and political problems pursuant to the global warming “crisis” promoted by supporters of this debunked theory.

I invite you to check out the links given in these complaints, review them and report back on their claims so as to help the folks in Lee County who might need to fight back against this nonsense.

Collier County: the epicenter of textbook calamity

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

Seal_of_Collier_County,_FloridaFresh off their success in the Florida legislature where their instructional materials bill passed, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance is now causing migraine headaches on their home turf: Group sues Collier County schools over textbook selection

Three parents sued the Collier County School Board on Wednesday over new textbooks slated for public classrooms next fall.

Along with factual errors, flaws and omissions, the parents said in the court filing, the board selects books and reviews the materials “behind closed doors to the exclusion of the public.”

[…]

They have identified 222 words and passages they think are problematic in the incoming textbooks, from upper-level law and history books to elementary social studies materials.

School Board attorneys declined to comment because they haven’t had time to read through the lawsuit.

But board member Eric Carter said most of the issues parents have flagged are either easily vetted or inherently subjective.

He cited one complaint a parent made, arguing that women did not fight in the Revolutionary War. Carter quickly referred to the night of Nov. 16, 1776, when Margaret Corbin took a bullet to the shoulder while she was stuffing cannons for colonial residents.

“That took three minutes on Google,” he said.

There’s also a story on a Collier TV station: Parents suing Collier school board over textbook purchases

A handful of parents will be given 10 minutes each to explain what they found wrong with each book at Thursday’s special school board hearing, but they said that’s not enough time.

“To give a parent who spent 20 hours with a textbook finding these kinds of problems 10 minutes to educate our school board members on it is just a travesty,” [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith] Flaugh said.

But there’s a voice of reason in the letters to the editor section of the newspaper:

Textbooks have already been scrutinized and approved for adoption by subject level experts at the state Department of Education before they are reviewed locally. Local level review committees also are selected on the basis of their knowledge and experience in the subject area that they are reviewing.

After months of work, the selected texts are now being challenged at the local level because the review committees did not have the “correct” political makeup. Seven “concerned citizens” with ties to ultra-conservative organizations founded by School Board member Erika Donalds are now moving their objections to a public hearing at a special board meeting Thursday.

All of these “concerned citizens” had the opportunity to volunteer their time to serve as members of the review committees of the textbooks that they object to, but none of them submitted a corresponding application.

These citizens would be better off spending their time volunteering in classrooms than spending their time analyzing the members of the review committees and comparing them with voting records. Is that the mentality we want in our school district?

You can see the long list of complaints the Alliance has about the textbooks here. They stuck with law and U.S. history books, so there are no mentions of evolution or climate change … this time.

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 …