Archive for the 'Instructional Materials bills ’17' Category

Lots of news

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

There’s all sorts of interesting news items related to science education lately! I’ll list them here by general topic …

Instructional Materials Law

From the Gainesville Sun
Carl Ramey: State continues assault on public schools

Equally problematic are the amendments enacted this year to Florida’s education code; specifically, the section that permits challenges to “instructional materials” used by public schools. Previously, challenges were limited to parents with children in the school district. Now, any resident of the county with an axe to grind can challenge the appropriateness of anything (textbooks, videos, software, etc.) having “intellectual content” and used as a “major tool” for instruction.

In short, a limited, parent-centric complaint procedure has been turned into an open-ended, highly accessible platform for sectarian pressure groups — more interested in advancing a particular belief than how certain material might impact a particular child. It opens up the possibility of coordinated campaigns by groups seeking to ban material deemed objectionable on religious or political grounds (such as evolution and global warming).

From the journal Bioscience, published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences
Evolution Education and State Politics

A bill passed by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott makes it easier to remove evolution education or any other “controversial” subject from a district’s curriculum. Any taxpayer who lives in the school district can file a complaint to the school board and will have the opportunity to argue why instructional materials are not “objective, balanced, noninflammatory, current,” or “free of pornography.”

Although Florida House Bill 989 did not specifically mention evolution, advocates cited the testimony of some supporters as evidence of the bill’s intentions. Some advocates for the measure wrote, “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact of creation rather than a theory,” and “I have witnessed children being taught that global warming is a reality.”

From New Scientist
Feedback: Florida turns to crowdsourcing science classes

The US has long been pioneering efforts to rejoin church and state. A recent innovation is found in Florida, where state governor Rick Scott signed into law legislation allowing any resident to challenge educational material used in public schools. Passed under the auspices of empowering parents, critics warn that the bill will allow people to target the teaching of evolution and climate change in classrooms.

Feedback can only assume that the Sunshine State’s mathematics professors will soon have to find a way to make pi equal 3, sex educators teach the controversy over stork deliveries, and rockets blasting off from Cape Canaveral recalibrate for a geocentric model of the cosmos.

From the Daytona Beach News-Journal
Textbook case: New law lets public challenge school materials

“Our concern is that school boards across the state will be forced to give a lot of time and effort and perhaps even some finances to field complaints from citizens that don’t know a lot about science themselves,” he said.

Though his area of expertise is science, Haught expressed disappointment that educators in other disciplines haven’t spoken out against the law.

“Where are the history folks?” he asked. “Where are the civics defenders?”

From NPR’s Morning Edition
New Florida Law Lets Residents Challenge School Textbooks

Members of Florida Citizens’ Alliance have other concerns, including how some textbooks discuss Islam. Others take issue with science textbooks and how they deal with two topics in particular: evolution and climate change.

Flaugh says the law, which was signed by the governor on June 26, is intended to make sure scientific theories are presented in a balanced way.

“There will be people out there that argue that creationism versus Darwinism are facts. They’re both theories,” he says.

From the Washington Post
Florida’s education system — the one Betsy DeVos cites as a model — is in chaos

Gov. Scott also recently signed a new law that has alarmed people who care about science education. Known as H.B. 989 and targeted at the teaching of climate change and evolution, it empowers those who want to object to the use of specific instructional materials in public schools. Now, any resident can file a complaint about instructional material; it used to be limited to parents with a child in the schools.

Recruiting Teachers

From the Orlando Sentinel
Commentary: School districts tasked with filling math, science teacher shortage

The numbers of first-time test-takers for high-school teaching certifications in biology, chemistry and Earth/space science stayed constant or declined a bit during the same three-year period. In physics, that number dropped by one-third.

The Colleges of Education at the state’s universities aren’t even coming close to meeting the demand. According to an estimate in the Critical Teacher Shortage Area report for 2017-18 prepared by the Florida Department of Education, there were 214 vacancies for chemistry and physics teachers in Florida’s public schools in 2016-17.

From the Sun Sentinel
South Florida schools search for new ways to find teachers

Palm Beach County schools are also considering some less obvious candidates: athletes.

The school district has been attending job fairs that colleges host for student athletes. Their dreams may be to play in the NFL or NBA, but until that happens, they may want to teach in Palm Beach County, La Cava said.

“A lot of them have degrees in math and science and we can help them get certified,” La Cava said. “There are opportunities for them to teach and be coaches.”

Good News about Science Education

From the Panama City News Herald
Rockettes and CSI: FSU PC camps foster love of physics

Across a walkway in the Holley Center, Sonya Livingston Smith, a retired Rockette, and Denise Newsome, a teacher at Deane Bozeman School, were working to convincingly disguise a physics lesson as a dance class. While dancers practiced their turns and pliés, Newsome used motion sensors to track how their arm motions increased or decreased the velocity of their spins.

“It’s a great way to help the students not be scared of physics,” said Newsome, who describes herself as a science nerd with a dancing background.

This is the first year FSU PC has held a Physics of Dance camp, and Newsome hopes to grow the two-day offering into a full week in the future.

And let’s not forget we here at Florida Citizens for Science are running a fundraising campaign to help teachers obtain needed science supplies.
4th Annual science education fundraiser LAUNCH!

FCS launched its 4th annual fundraising campaign today by creating a Giving Page at Donors Choose. On that page you can choose from several projects across the state to help fund. FCS will match dollar for dollar total donations up to $700, essentially doubling your gift. This is on top of similar offers from corporations like Orkin and Tom’s of Maine highlighted on some of our chosen projects’ pages.

A few donations have come in these first few days of the campaign, which is awesome! But we need a lot more if we hope to get all of the selected classroom projects funded before students start walking in the classroom doors. Please help us out.

If the above items sound familiar to you, then it’s probably because you follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We’re posting the newest news items there nearly every day. It’s well worth liking and following us!

 

This is not “needless fretting”

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

An editorial was published in a few papers recently, including the Gainesville Sun, opining that Florida’s new instructional materials law isn’t something to get all worked up about: Needless fretting over textbook law.

The doomsdayers among us believe Scott and the measure’s supporters have thrust open an educational Pandora’s box, exposing school districts to the “anti-science” whims of flat-earthers and climate-change deniers.

To them we reply: Deep breaths, folks, deep breaths.

There are some elements of the editorial I agree with. I agree that this law won’t wipe science subjects like evolution and climate change out of the state’s public schools. I agree that a lot of the news coverage, especially the headlines attached to the stories, are overblown and sensationalist. I believe trouble will likely only pop up in a few spots around the state where small yet vocal groups are already causing headaches.

But I disagree with the overall tone of the editorial, which is essentially saying don’t worry, this is no big deal.

This law probably isn’t a big deal when you look at it from a statewide perspective. But it’s a huge deal when you look at it from the local school district perspective. Even if only one school district decides to allow anti-science instructional materials into their school (due to a sympathetic school board majority or relentless pressure that eventually forces a school board into compromise), that’s going to potentially impact the education of hundreds or thousands of students for years. This is not just alarmist hype. I wrote the book on this topic. It’s happened before here in the Sunshine State and the chances of it happening again are now very high with the passage into law of the instructional materials bill and the religious liberties in schools bill.

Keep in mind that the group mentioned in the editorial, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, took credit for writing the bill. They took credit for recruiting legislators to sponsor the bill. They took credit for helping to successfully navigate the bill through all of its committee stops and votes. They took credit for helping it become law.

Why in the world would they go through all of that effort?

The law’s authors and supporters said:

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith Flaugh] said.

And that goal was repeated:

“The science here is not proven on either side,” Flaugh said. “There are lots of scientists on both sides of that equation: Creationism versus the theory of evolution. They’re both theories. And all we’re asking for is both sides of the discussion in a balanced way be put in front of the students.”

And it was repeated yet again:

“We’re not trying to ban books,” said Keith Flaugh, founder of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which pushed for that state’s bill.

He said his group is seeking balance in school instruction, including teaching both evolution and creationism and the various arguments about climate change.

Those quotes lead me to the next point I want to make. The editorial questions why nearly every news story focuses primarily on science education.

The whole reason why the media is fixated on the science aspect of this law is because we here at Florida Citizens for Science — who specialize in science education, of course — were vigilant and aggressive. We brought the pitfalls of this law to the media’s attention and we made it incredibly easy for them to report on it, having done most of their work for them.

I’ve lamented to a few reporters that no one has stepped up to defend the other academic subjects under attack. There apparently is no Citizens for Civics organization out there, for instance. And many reporters should shoulder some blame for not bothering to do their own digging and questioning about those other academic subjects. The Alliance is much more focused on civics and history and religion than they are on science.

But science became the media’s focal point because evolution and climate change lessons in schools are hot button topics and we constantly monitor those topics and immediately take action, such as alerting the media, when problems pop up. Florida Citizens for Science would likely have never been involved in this fight if the Alliance hadn’t included science topics in their long list of “objectionable materials.”

Whereas I agree that many news stories have gotten some facts wrong and over hyped the impact of the instructional materials law, I disagree that we’re engaging in “needless fretting.” I appreciate that the news coverage has highlighted this issue because now citizen science advocates across the state are aware of the laws and are ready to act if needed. We’ve been flooded with correspondence, membership requests, and social media followers.

And the interest has led to yet more calls from reporters (I know that a few more stories are currently in the works). I make sure to emphasize to those reporters the facts of this issue, not the hype. We want reality-based awareness of this issue, not the-sky-is-falling screaming.

This is not “needless fretting.” This is citizen activism provoked by very real attacks on science education.

U.S. Senator from Florida blasts instructional materials law

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Bill_NelsonU.S. Senator from Florida Bill Nelson seized upon all of the press generated by his state’s new instructional materials law to stand up for science on Monday and accuse Gov. Rick Scott of being anti-science: In Senate floor speech, Bill Nelson takes aim at Rick Scott and GOP’s ‘war on science’

Nelson took aim at a bill sponsored by Naples House Republican Bryon Donald that will allow anyone in the state to challenge and possibly change what kids are learning in public schools. The senator said he feared that could chill discussion on climate change in Florida schools.

“Sea-level rise in South Florida is a fact,” he began.

Unfortunately, Nelson makes a mistake here:

“But if there are some who object to that climate science, then, under this new law just signed by the governor, they are going to be able to object to that subject being taught in our public schools and a single hearing officer will determine — a single hearing officer – will determine — lord only knows who that officer is appointed by — that single person will determine under the new law if the objection is justified and they can force a local public school to remove the subject from its curriculum.”

He’s right to be worried about who that hearing officer could be. But the hearing officer doesn’t make any final decisions. He or she only makes a recommendation to the school board, which makes the final decision. Read the final version of the law here (pdf file). Also, it’s unlikely that this law will be used to remove subjects from the curriculum. The curriculum is mainly driven by the state science standards. Instead, school boards could alter what’s in instructional materials, such as textbooks, online materials, workbooks, etc. In other words, evolution and climate change won’t be erased. Rather, those subjects might be watered down or “balanced” with other unscientific ideas (intelligent design or climate change denial arguments).

For instance, the law’s authors and supporters said:

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith Flaugh] said.

And that goal was repeated:

“The science here is not proven on either side,” Flaugh said. “There are lots of scientists on both sides of that equation: Creationism versus the theory of evolution. They’re both theories. And all we’re asking for is both sides of the discussion in a balanced way be put in front of the students.”

And it was repeated yet again:

“We’re not trying to ban books,” said Keith Flaugh, founder of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which pushed for that state’s bill.

He said his group is seeking balance in school instruction, including teaching both evolution and creationism and the various arguments about climate change.

Despite Sen. Nelson’s error, we appreciate that he is aware of the law and its potential negative impact on science education. Thank you, sir.

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.”

Live on the radio tomorrow (Wednesday)

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

GCLfull600FYI: I’ll be on radio station WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live show tomorrow (Wednesday July 12) from 1-1:30 p.m. You should be able to listen live online. We’ll be discussing Florida’s new instructional materials law. The sponsor of that bill as it worked its way through the Florida House was Rep. Byron Donalds and he is also expected to be a guest on the show.

I invite you to listen and call in with questions if you are able. But I imagine that half hour will fly by!

“It’s such a joke. It’s like, what is this, 1940?”

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

There’s quite a bit to discuss today, so let’s get right to it.

There are a lot of links in this post to various news articles and opinion pieces. If you only click on one link, though, then click on this one. This is a thorough news piece in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: New law expected to prompt more school curricula challenges

According to the law, the only qualification a hearing officer needs is that he or she “may not be an employee or agent of the school district.”

“I don’t mind that any community member can bring forward a complaint; we listen to those a lot. But how many complaints do we have to hear about every library book that somebody doesn’t like?” said Charlie Kennedy, chairman of the Manatee County School Board and a former teacher and coach at Manatee High School. “They’re going to be coming after Harry Potter because of witchcraft — it’s a Pandora’s box that nobody thought about.

“It’s just another unfunded mandate from Tallahassee whipped up by anti-science people. It’s going to waste so much time, and it’s embarrassing.”

Many other news articles and opinion pieces I’ve read got the hearing officer part of this law wrong. They incorrectly state that the hearing officer makes the final decision. The Herald-Tribune got it right, though. The hearing officer just makes a recommendation to the school board, which then makes the final decision.

Here’s an important segment of the news story that we need to be mindful of going forward in our dealings with this law. Can you spot what I’m referring to?

The legislation was sponsored by state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, whose Collier County constituents include a four-year-old group of activists called the Florida Citizens’ Alliance (FLCA). On its website, the FLCA lists six categories where it has identified “specific objectionable materials” in public schools: “English language arts, pornography, reconstructed history and advanced placement US history, religious indoctrination, political indoctrination, and Common Core math methodologies.”

FLCA co-founder Rick Stevens, pastor at Diplomat Wesleyan Church in Cape Coral, says objections to the new law based on fears of triggering anti-science zealotry are red herrings.

“I’m always amused that this climate change stuff comes up. Because that wasn’t us and I’ve been involved in this since the beginning of our initiative. We have never advocated for specific things so much as we’ve said there is a flaw in the process,” he said. “And what we take issue with the most is the inability of parents in Florida to be heard about their concerns.”

liarI can’t believe the reporter let Stevens get away with this. Stevens flat out told a whopper of a lie. “Because that wasn’t us …” Really? You can read all of the proof that he’s lying for yourself in my long, detailed post outlining the history of this law. For specifics, scroll down in that post to the section “Why does Florida Citizens for Science care about this bill?” As we fight back against the Alliance, we need to loudly and forcefully shine a bright spotlight on this lie.

Fortunately, there are other folks out there who see this law for what it is:

Kennedy, the Manatee School Board chairman, said all he can do now is wait for the Florida Department of Education to write rules that comply with the statute.

“So we’ve got a couple of people in Collier County who think climate change is a myth and they turn it into a statewide issue,” he said. “It’s such a joke. It’s like, what is this, 1940?”

OK, let’s lighten the mood here with a few humorous columns.

Word of our horrible new instructional materials law has reached North Carolina. Columnist Scott Hollifield feels left out of our textbook challenging game: Demanding our say in Florida education

I agree with the Florida Citizens for Science that it’s a bad law, but only for this reason: It does not go far enough. Let me repeat the last part in capital letters adding exclamation points, which is what nut jobs — er, I mean concerned citizens — do when they are making a point. Also, I am standing on a soapbox and shaking my fist angrily while I type this, which is difficult but not impossible.

IT DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH!!

If people who do not have kids in schools in Florida can complain about what kids are taught in schools in Florida, why can’t anyone who has ever been to Florida complain about what kids are taught in schools in Florida?

It only seems fair, if not wildly ridiculous like the new law itself.

Meanwhile, back here in Florida, TC Palm columnist Gil Smart takes a turn at slamming the instructional materials law: Don’t like a school’s curriculum? Now you can challenge it

Yes, the new law might spark challenges to evolution and climate change.

But the challenges won’t be limited to science; the law permits any resident to challenge anything.

And some school officials are bracing for the deluge.

“This is a way for people to completely halt the progress of schools,” said Tina McSoley, who chairs the Martin County School Board and is a member of the Florida School Boards Association’s Legislative Committee. “They can come in and say, ‘No more Tom Sawyer’ because they don’t like the use of curse words.”

History, civics, English language arts — it could all be up for grabs in every district, McSoley said, depending on the complaints and how the hearing officers decide.

And yet another columnist, Tom Lyons of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, focuses on one of the most troubling aspects of the new law: The unbiased hearing officer will hear your nutty complaint now, sir.

The thing is, the notion that anyone chosen for that role could be unbiased is absurd. To find someone without opinions on such matters we would pretty much have to find someone who is dysfunctionally oblivious.

The hearing officers will only make recommendations to school boards. The governor and our lawmakers have not yet gone totally nuts and handed all power to this imagined, unbiased decider. But the idea that every gripe no matter how silly about any sentence in any textbook deserves a hearing is, at best, incredibly cumbersome.

I should not complain. This will no doubt create column fodder by providing lots of chances for people to argue.

Those who think their preferred religious text is the only book anyone really needs, and who insist the earth is 6,000 years old and that a “Flintstones” cartoon is more accurate than a public school biology text book, will inspire reactions from amused to outraged. As a columnist, I should be delighted.

And the final link for today is to the Orlando Sentinel. They do a quick rundown of several of this year’s new laws affecting education: Florida gets new school rules on testing, books, bonuses

Books

Residents — and not just parents — who dislike books, textbooks or other “instructional materials” used in public schools should find it easier to challenge those items.

Backers say the measure will give those who find certain books inappropriate a better way to voice their objections. Critics say the new law could lead to censorship of important literary works or hurt science education, by opening the door to challenges to controversial topics, such as evolution.

“Unfortunately, the devious Instructional Materials bill, which creationists and climate change deniers absolutely love, is now signed into law,” wrote Brandon Haught, a Volusia County biology teacher, on the Florida Citizens for Science blog.

[…]

Religious expression

Students can express their religious views in classwork, in clothing and jewelry worn to school and by praying during free time under a new law.

Critics say the measure was unnecessary as state and federal laws already guarantee such freedoms. Those who pushed the new “religious liberties” measure said students need the new protections because some school administrators fear allowing such expression because it will look like they are endorsing religion.

“Students should not have to surrender their constitutional rights or their religious beliefs at the schoolhouse door. Neither should teachers, administrators or parents,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, one of the bill’s sponsors, in a statement after it became law.

 

Dear Unbiased and Qualified Hearing Officer …

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Florida’s horrible new Instructional Materials and Religious Liberties in Schools laws are continuing to garner all sorts of news coverage. The latest pieces are great takes on the laws by popular columnists.

First we have Fred Grimm’s thoughts in the Miami Herald, New education law allows anti-science mob to go after evolution and climate change:

Check the calendar: 2017, the year Florida relegated evolution to a tenuous supposition.

Some 92 years after a substitute high school teacher named John T. Snopes stood trial for exposing students to Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, Florida intends to force local school boards to re-litigate the old conflict between religious fundamentalism and modern science.

Last month, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that will allow any county resident to challenge public school teaching materials they personally find unsuitable, inappropriate or pornographic. The law requires school boards to hire hearing officers to deal with complaints.

The Palm Beach Posts’s Frank Cerabino clearly had fun when he wrote what he imagines could be citizen complaint letters to the hearing officers, Florida’s evolution to complainer’s paradise for public schools:

Dear Unbiased and Qualified Hearing Officer:

So my cousin’s nephew’s best friend’s daughter tells me there’s nothing about Noah’s Ark in her public school textbook for Earth Science. How can this be?

Instead of filling these kids’ minds with nonsense about sedimentary rocks from billions of years ago (when we know the earth is only 6,000 years old!) they should be taught how they’re all here today because the 600-year-old Noah loaded all the animals two-by-two on his big ark, and thereby preserved life on Earth.

I believe without the ark, your explanation of the world fails being “balanced and noninflammatory.”

Which is why me and the others in the prayer circle are planning to show up for the public hearing we are entitled to under the new Instructional Materials Act passed by legislature.

Just say when.

And speaking of funny yet sad, I have a quick story to tell you. I’ve been invited to appear on radio station WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live show next Wednesday. The instructional materials law sponsor Rep. Byron Donalds is also supposed to be a guest. The show’s producer tweeted about it and I responded, mentioning the fine folks at the Florida Citizens’ Alliance. (If you don’t know, the Alliance are the ones who wrote the law, recruited Donalds to sponsor the law, spoke at all of the committee hearings for the law and are now drinking champagne after their success.)

tweet1

That was the one and only time I’ve ever mentioned the Alliance on Twitter. Minutes later I went back to check on something and I’ll be darned; the Alliance blocked me. Think they’re sensitive about something? I hadn’t mention anything specific in my tame tweet, but I sure as heck am going to now. Have a look at some of the Alliance’s greatest hits (I have more than one Twitter account, so I can still see their stuff):

tweet2

tweet3

I want to leave you with this final thought: these folks WON. They got their law passed.

I’m sorry … this isn’t funny … it’s just plain sad.

 

Be informed. Be active.

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

awarenessThere are two new laws here in Florida that will potentially impact science education in detrimental ways. I’m, of course, talking about the Instructional Materials law and the Religious Expression in Schools law. Florida Citizens for Science has been in the trenches fighting these harmful laws for quite a while. However, with the governor’s signature they’re in full effect as laws as of July 1.

So, now what? Tell people about them! That’s the phase we’re in now.

We’ve certainly been very loud nonstop for several days and it’s been amazingly effective. Followers on social media have skyrocketed and requests to join Florida Citizens for Science are flooding our email. The majority of that response has come from the great media coverage we’ve received lately. And more stories are coming.

The more informed people we have across the state, the greater the chances of keeping ideological crusaders from poisoning quality science education. Citizens need to be aware of what’s going on at their school board meetings. Citizens need to participate in local textbook selection committees. Citizens need to be ACTIVE! And the first step in accomplishing these things is making citizens aware of the new laws. Will you help us?

Here’s a sample of the laws’ media coverage:

The Washington Post published New Florida law lets any resident challenge what’s taught in science classes:

But Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Council (sic) for Science Education, said that affidavits filed by supporters of the bill suggest that science instruction will be a focus of challenges. One affidavit from a Collier County resident complained that evolution and global warming were taught as “reality.” Another criticized her child’s sixth-grade science curriculum, writing that “the two main theories on the origin of man are the theory of evolution and creationism,” and that her daughter had only been taught about evolution.

“It’s just the candor with which the backers of the bill have been saying, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go after evolution, we’re going to go after climate change,'” that has him worried, Branch said.

Forbes published Two Sad Ironies In Florida Passing Its ‘Anti-Science’ Law:

As I reflect on this new Florida law, it is almost a slap in the face to a state that so many associate with scientific greatness and the space program. It is also now hosts several private enterprises like Space X, which are pushing the boundaries of science and technology. These companies will need a scientifically literate workforce not students spewing fringe theories. This Florida law sends a dangerous message about sound science and would make me nervous if I was a parent sending a child into this type of situation.

CNN published Now anyone in Florida can challenge what’s taught in schools:

Florida Citizens for Science, a group of parents and teachers promoting science education, has been a vocal opponent of the legislation. The organization has complained on its website that anyone with “an ideological agenda,” not just parents, will be able to challenge material.

“People who crusade against basic, established science concepts such as evolution and climate change will have the green light to bog down the textbook selection process on the local level and bully school boards into compromises that will negatively impact science education,” the group wrote in a blog post.

Mashable published Oh boy, Florida residents can now challenge the science taught in public schools:

Proponents of Florida’s measure have argued that state-approved textbooks are “too liberal,” and that some books in school libraries are inappropriate.

In a Feb. 1 affidavit to lawmakers, one supporter asked to remove books about Cuba from elementary school libraries, complaining that they “glorified” Fidel Castro’s Communist ideals. As a certified teacher, she said she’s witnessed “children being taught that Global Warming is a reality.” Yet when “parents question these theories, they are ignored,” she wrote.

Another woman lamented in an affidavit that evolution is “presented as fact,” when she believes it’s fiction.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook blog posted a podcast Textbook challenges, new laws, school grades and more:

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law HB 989, expanding county residents’ ability to challenge public school textbooks and instructional materials. The bill arose from Collier County, where book battles often arise. Parent Michelle Groenings, who has served on the district’s instructional materials review committee, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about her concerns with the new law, and how things have played out in her home district.

Salon published Florida law allows any parent to challenge how evolution, climate change are taught in schools:

Less than a week after satellite temperature data was revised and the full extent of global warming became even clearer, Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that will make it easier for any Florida resident to object to science-based education in the classroom.

The Palm Beach Post published New state law will put Florida science teaching under attack:

Opening the floodgates for ideological fights over classroom content, a new Florida law is about to give climate change-deniers and evolution skeptics a fresh round of weapons to heave against science in the state’s classrooms.

In fact, it will help all kinds of people with axes to grind about what’s taught in the public schools.

PBS’s Frontline published A New Wave of Bills Takes Aim at Science in the Classroom:

The bill has plenty of critics, including the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Florida School Boards Association. The National Science Teachers Association’s executive director, David Evans, described it as “a way of banning books by folks who basically don’t like the results of science.”

Science teacher Brandon Haught, a spokesman for Florida Citizens for Science and author of “Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom,” worries the bill could be used “as a bludgeon” by “people with an anti-science agenda.”

“Creationists, climate change deniers, anti-vaccine people — it gives them a much stronger voice in deciding what our students learn,” Haught said.

Haught says he’s worried that financially strapped districts, reluctant to pay for a hearing officer, may cave to objections, regardless of their merits.

But Flaugh, of Florida Citizens Alliance, waved off the concern, saying members of his group would volunteer to be hearing officers.

The Tampa Bay Times published School districts gird for impact of Florida’s new ‘religious expression’ law:

David Barkey, religious freedom counsel and southeastern area counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, suggested the Legislature took one step beyond the Constitution in requiring school districts to establish a policy that provides a forum for student religious expression. Districts were given the option to do so five years ago with an “inspirational messages” law, and none acted.

Barkey also observed that the law could open the door to unfettered religious commentary in the public schools. He pointed to the first line of the law after the section name: “A school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.”

If a school cannot discriminate against any type of religious expression, he said, it could result in a classroom teacher who ad libs controversial views into a lesson to children who have no recourse but to listen.

Brandon Haught, a Volusia County high school science teacher who runs the Florida Citizens for Science blog, had big concerns.

“There are teachers who do teach science but who don’t believe in evolution,” Haught said. “This could embolden them to say, ‘The law is on my side’ ” and start covering topics such as creationism or intelligent design in their classes.

The law does not speak directly to that issue.

Second Nexus published Florida Approves “Anti-Science” Legislation in Victory for Religious Right:

An affidavit from Mary Ellen Cash, a Collier County resident, charges that evolution and global warming were taught as “reality.” Still another affidavit––this one from Collier County resident David P. Bolduc––complains that an 8th-grade U.S. History textbook “teaches the children to glorify 13th century Muslim Kings of West Africa” and that it “teaches the children to be subservient to a despotic U.S. president” by teaching them about the president’s ability to issue executive orders.

In a blog post, Brandon Haught, of Florida Citizens for Science, a group of parents and teachers advocating for science education, condemns the new legislation. “This means our fight is only just now beginning,” he wrote. “Each and every one of us has to be on alert. You must keep an eye on your local school board and everyone who brings forth a complaint about textbooks. If you don’t, we truly lose. At this point the fight is at the local level. If you’re not there and willing to stand up for sound science education, then we’re done.”

Stay tuned. There is more media coverage to come.