Archive for the 'Our Science Standards' Category

Voices for reason

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

A new member of the Pinellas County School Board, Nina Hayden, was quized by the St. Petersburg Times. One particular answer made me smile:

Question: It appears the state Board of Education may have to adopt new academic standards by the end of 2011, including a new set of science standards, even though we recently went through a science standard adoption. If Florida has another crack at this, do you think the standards should be worded to include equal time for the teaching of intelligent design alongside the teaching of evolution?

Answer: No. I’ve been very clear about that. I do not believe that the science curriculum should include intelligent design.

I heard some of the other candidates say, “You have religion courses,” but those are more on a college level.

I heard some of the candidates, even board members, say it could be an elective. I can’t give you a definite answer on whether I would support that, but I definitely would not offer it in science class.

Obviously it’s an issue of separation of church and state and bringing faith-based principles into the public school system. Our country was founded by individuals who had religious beliefs, but they also looked at when government should not support religion. Intelligent design has its place in faith-based organizations, not in our public school system. I stand pretty firm on that issue.

Orlando Sentinel on our standards

Friday, November 7th, 2008

The Orlando Sentinel noticed the issue concerning our science standards, but just on their School Zone blog. I don’t think it made it into the actual paper.

The Florida Department of Education says it is still researching the issue but stands by its new standards and does not expect it will have to rehash the entire issue again. The state also adopted new reading and math standards before the “next generation” law was on the books.

St. Petersburg Times on our standards

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

The St. Petersburg Times had already noticed the potential problem with state science standards in a post on their Gradebook blog Nov. 3. Today the newspaper published a full story on the issue: Could science standards devolve into new battle?

The response from one critic: “Hallelujah,” said Terry Kemple, a Christian activist in Brandon.

Kemple, who helped lead the fight against the standards, said opponents would relish another chance for input. “This is an opportunity for both sides to step back and let this be a fairer endeavor,” he said.

Scientists give the standards top ratings for accuracy and depth, but Christian conservatives say they’re dogmatic.

“Maybe the legislators simply overlooked this and there’s a simple solution,” said Brandon Haught, spokesman for Florida Citizens for Science, which strongly supports the new standards. But until then, the group would “hope for the best but plan for the worst,” he said.

The new law says the education board must adopt a review schedule for new standards by Dec. 31, 2008. The board next meets Dec. 2 in Orlando.

Another Department of Education spokesperson said it was not clear when the science standards would be revisited, or how intensely they’d be reviewed. “They’re going to take a look and see if there’s anything new in the science world that they need to put in,” the spokesperson said.

Every Board of Education member is up for reappointment by 2011.

Education Week on our standards

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Education Week reporter Sean Cavanagh has an article up about the newest twist in our state science standards epic.

I spoke with Moore, who made it clear that he wasn’t making any judgment about the scientific merits of the new standards. His only interest is what the law requires, and in this case, it appears that the new science standards are out of compliance, given the requirement that such documents be approved as “Next Generation” standards. So they’d have to be approved with this designation by 2011.

It’s unclear what happens next. It’s possible, Moore explained, that Florida’s commissioner of education could seek to have various experts certify that the recently approved science standards comply with the Next Generation law. But it appears likely that new standards would have to be re-approved in some form by the state board of education.

I am still trying to track down more information on this issue. I’m currently focused on the fact that the Department of Education was under the impression that the new science standards would be considered Next Generation. You can see evidence of that on the Department of Education website. This page is titled “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.” A 2008 Legislative Update presentation (pdf) is even more clear on page 3:

Math and reading standards adopted in 2007 and science standards adopted in 2008 are considered Next Generation.

So, my first question is: who told the Department of Education this? Then the second question is: who dropped the ball and why? Anyone who wishes to help me research this is welcome to contact me.

Word about standards’ problem is getting out

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

The St. Petersburg Times education blog picked up on the news I broke concerning Next Generation standards (see last Friday’s post).

For what it’s worth, the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee includes Rep. D. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, the lead House sponsor of the “academic freedom” bill pushed by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon. Moore said neither Hays nor any other committee members had any input into his opinion. But he also said members would be consulted if DOE ignored it.

A DOE spokesperson told the Gradebook last week that it was not clear when, before 2011, the science standards would be revisited, or how intensely they’d be reviewed. “They’re going to take a look and see if there’s anything new in the science world that they need to put in,” the spokesperson said.

Also of note, is that Representative Greg Evers is an “alternating chair” of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, and he was a co-sponsor of Hays’ “academic freedom” bill.

Tallahassee, we have a problem

Friday, October 31st, 2008

A bruising, exhausting fight centered on the subject of evolution wrapped up Feb. 19 when the State Board of Education (BoE) finally approved Florida’s new science standards for the public school system. Shortly thereafter the fight reignited in the state legislature when deceptively-named “academic freedom” bills were introduced. But once again the science standards survived the dustup. There is a good chance the academic freedom bills will arise from the dead to haunt us once more, but other than that we can get down to business using our shiny new standards, right?

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. During the last legislative session, a bill that affects all school subject standards was passed: Senate Bill 1908 – Education. The bill summary states:

Requires that the State Board of Education replace the Sunshine State Standards with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. Revises the type of assessment tests reported to the Governor and the Legislature relating to the deregulated public schools pilot program. Revises provisions governing application of testing requirements for high school graduation. Revises the exceptions for a school to receive a school grade, etc.

Among other things, the bill wants the state standards in all subjects to be replaced by “Next Generation” standards. What does that mean? To find out, read through Florida Statute 1003.41, which is the new law that came out of SB 1908. There’s a very ugly glitch in there.

It came to light recently when folks at the Department of Education (DoE) coordinated with the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC) concerning some in-house rules revision. The relationship between these two agencies is at least partly as follows: The DoE is a government agency that is governed by state law. When a law is passed affecting the DoE (or any other state department), the Department must then translate that law into specific governing instructions called rules. The DoE works hand-in-hand with JAPC. The DoE drafts a proposed rule, and folks at the JAPC provide guidance as to whether the rule fits in with the applicable Florida Statutes. (That explanation of mine is very simplified; the process is quite a bit more involved than that.)  In this particular case, the DoE had asked for an opinion on a rough draft of a revised rule concerning “student performance standards.” A representative of JAPC (a reviewing attorney) took a look at the draft and compared it to Florida Statute 1003.41. Part of the representative’s response opined that the standards that were revised and approved prior to the passage of SB 1908 are not “Next Generation” as required by the new law.

Keep in mind that this determination is the professional opinion of one person and is only advisory in nature. This JAPC representative doesn’t have the authority to give a definitive thumb up or thumb down. The DoE could reject the JAPC representative’s opinion if they wish. If the DoE does so, the JAPC representative can recommend that the full JAPC committee (composed of six state legislators) vote to object to the rule. The committee can agree with the representative’s opinion that the proposed rule doesn’t fit the law. Once again, though, this opinion is only advisory and can be rejected by the DoE. But rejecting it means sailing into choppy waters since the Department has been told that the rule is essentially illegal.

So, what do we have so far? The DoE asked the JAPC to look over a rough draft of a rule revision. A JAPC representative said that some recently approved standards aren’t “Next Generation” as required by the new state law. Why?

The science standards were approved before SB 1908 was passed and became law. So, technically the standards didn’t go through the process described in Florida Statute 1003.41. However, I’m told that when the science standards were in the revision process it was understood that they and the math standards would be good-to-go as far as Next Generation. This Power Point presentation from the DoE Office of Math and Science was given back in June and indicates that the standards were thought to be Next Generation at that time. However, the JAPC representative reviewed the new law and also looked at the Next Generation bill analysis to get a feel for the intent of the law. Based on this research, the representative advised that the standards revised and passed before the law’s implementation are not in compliance with the law.

It needs to be noted that the JAPC representative is not in any way passing judgment on the content of the already approved standards. The standards could be the best in the nation, but that’s not what the representative is concerned about. Here’s the problem that JAPC points out from Florida Statute 1003.41:

(2)  By December 31, 2008, the State Board of Education shall establish an expedited schedule for adoption of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards and shall establish by rule a schedule for the periodic review and revision of the standards. The state board shall adopt the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for each subject by December 31, 2011.

Broken down point by point, here is what that paragraph of the law requires:
— Create a schedule for adoption of Next Generation standards.
— Create another schedule that outlines the reviewing and revising of the adopted Next Generation standards.
— The deadline for adopting initial Next Generation standards is by the end of 2011.

This law took effect on July 1, 2008. And so if one sticks to the strict interpretation of the new law, as the JAPC representative did, then that means that all academic subjects’ standards need to be revised as Next Generation standards between July 2008 and Dec. 2011. It’s presumed that the legislature knew about the recent revision and adoption of the science, math and reading/language arts standards. Unfortunately, the legislators neglected to make any exceptions for them. According to the new law, all standards (including science, math and reading/language arts) need to go through the Next Generation revision process. Period. What is that process?

— The commissioner submits the proposed standards for review and comment by Florida educators, school administrators, community college and state university representatives, and leaders in business and industry.
— The commissioner submits the proposed standards, as revised based on any comments received, to the renowned curricular and content experts for a written evaluation.
— The commissioner finalizes the proposed standards and submits the standards and the experts’ written evaluations to the Governor and Legislature at least 21 days before the state board’s consideration of the standards.

In an effort to summarize all of the above, I’ll do a little question and answer thing here:

Do the science standards adopted by the State Board of Education in February 2008 comply with the new state law that requires Next Generation standards? Probably not. I need to emphasize here that there has not been any official proclamation saying the science standards are not in compliance with current law. On the other hand, the professional opinion of a JAPC representative says no, because the new law stipulates a new revision schedule that includes all subjects has to be created and all standards have to go through a specific review process. The JAPC representative doesn’t think that the new law allows the DoE or BoE to bless the new science standards as “Next Generation” simply because they’ve been adopted so recently. Right now DoE representatives are taking that professional opinion seriously.

Will the science standards have to be re-approved/re-adopted? If the JAPC representative’s professional opinion is accurate, then probably yes. Experts will have to provide written evaluations of the standards. The standards would have to be presented to the governor and legislature, and then brought before the BoE for re-adoption.

Are we going to have to endure all of that evolution drama again? I have no idea. There are way too many things we don’t know right now. If the standards do have to be re-adopted, then perhaps all the affected standards (science, math, and reading/language arts) will be presented in one package and the re-adoption will just be a formality. We can only hope!

What’s up with the governor and legislature needing see the standards before the State Board of Education; would the governor and legislature be able to make changes? Good question and one worth looking into some more. Right now I haven’t been able to find anything that explains the purpose or intent of this step in the standards approval process.

If the standards do need to be re-adopted, when will it happen? Not anytime soon. The DoE has until Dec. 31, 2011 to make all standards Next Generation. In the meantime, the good folks at the DoE are neck deep in the social studies and physical education standards revision process. They’ll figure out what to do with the science, math, and reading/language arts standards in due time.

If there are so many “I don’t knows” and “maybes” and “what ifs” right now, then what are you worried about? I’m not worried. I am, however, cautious. The long evolution fight that dominated the science standards revision process, and then all the showboating over the “academic freedom” bills taught me to be vigilant. I’m going to sum up this post with my guiding philosophy: hope for the best, but plan for the worst. I hope that all of the time and effort I spent researching this was much ado about nothing. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to be aware of what is going on and to keep an eye on things.

How “scientific theory” got into the standards

Friday, March 21st, 2008

The St. Petersburg Times posted a story this evening outlining what was found in e-mails the newspaper obtained via public records requests from the Florida Department of Education. The purpose of the public records request? To find out where the last minute new state science standards option that featured the inclusion of the words “scientific theory” came from and why it was done.

The e-mails shed light on several developments in the still-simmering evolution debate that were never fully reported.

In the days leading up to the Feb. 19 vote, Smith and other DOE officials were scrambling to find a compromise, the e-mails show. And while they did not want to undermine the integrity of the standards, they were willing to push a politically driven alternative — or were themselves driven into pushing one — over the passionate objections of those who crafted them.

The urgent tone of many of the e-mails also sheds more light on just how close the Board of Education came to rejecting scientifically acclaimed science standards, and how key the compromise may have been to saving them.

The committee, dominated by scientists and science teachers, had spent months crafting the standards, using national and international models as guides. Many of its members were not happy with the turn of the events — and said so in a barrage of e-mails to DOE officials over the weekend.

“By caving in now, we are basically allowing majority vote to override facts, observation and evidence,” wrote University of South Florida chemistry professor Gerry Meisels. “We will never win a fight if we don’t fight. We may not win, but we owe it to our children and Florida’s future at least to try.”

Meisels signed off, “Gerry, a.k.a. Don Quixote.”

Sweeping up the crumbs

Friday, March 14th, 2008

The Tallahassee Democrat quite rightly praises lawmakers who passed up seeing the Expelled movie. I have yet to see an official count of how many lawmakers actually went to the movie, but I have heard from sources that the number is in single digits.

But the evening at downtown’s IMAX Theater, which was rented out to Mr. Stein’s group for $940, was a bust, with only about 100 people attending the movie. And most of those weren’t lawmakers who were (tiptoeing out on that limb now) apparently not really interested in wading into a dispute that exacerbates two controversies.