Archive for June, 2006

Can our teachers rely on the science standards?

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Florida’s public school science standards are not in need of a tweak or pretty makeover. They need to be overhauled. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Florida an ugly ol’ F for its science standards. In part, the review says:

Life sciences and evolution are given shorter shrift than any of the others. The E-word is sedulously avoided. Here, there are some loose, if not incorrect, generalities offered as standards: “… knows that the fossil record provides evidence that changes in the kinds of plants and animals in the environment have been occurring over time.” There is little in the way of useful guidance for teachers or others toward appropriate content in the biological sciences and especially in the history of life and the basic mechanisms of change.

And that’s just one portion. Read the report for more bad news if you haven’t read it all yet.
So, what’s the big deal? Who cares about this little ol’ science standards thing? Fluff up the words a bit and it will look like new, right?
No. Absolutely not! Go to this New York Times article, print it out and make copies. Send it to everyone in the state and rub their noses in it. Make sure everyone knows just how important this issue really is!
The article starts off relating how difficult a veteran teacher named Pat New had it when evolution was mentioned in the classroom, which happened to be all the time.

She isn’t sure how many questioned her teaching of evolution — perhaps a dozen parents, teachers and administrators and several students in her seventh-grade life science class. They sent e-mail messages and letters, stopped her in the hall, called board members, demanded meetings, requested copies of the PBS videos that she showed in class.

On April 25, 2005, during a meeting about parent complaints with her principal, Rick Conner, she recalled: “He took a Bible off the bookshelf behind him and said, ‘Patty I believe in everything in this book, do you?’ I told him, ‘I really feel uncomfortable about your asking that question.’ He wouldn’t let it go.’ ” The next day, she said, in the lunchroom, “he reached across the table, took my hand and said: ‘I accept evolution in most things but if they ever say God wasn’t involved I couldn’t accept that. I want you to say that, Pat.’ ”
Asked to comment during an interview here, Mr. Conner would say only, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Four days after her encounter with the principal, Ms. New was summoned to a meeting with the superintendent, Dewey Moye, as well as the principal and two parents upset about her teaching evolution. “We have to let parents ask questions,” Mr. Moye told her. “It’s a public school. In a democracy people can ask questions.”
Ms. New said the parents, “badgered, got loud and sarcastic and there was no support from administrators.”

But Ms. New finally found a way to deflect the distracting, demoralizing assault on her classroom instruction: cite the state standards.

“It takes a lot to stand up and be willing to have people angry at you,” she said. But Ms. New did. She repeatedly urged her supervisors to read Georgia’s science standards, particularly S7L5, which calls for teaching evolution.

On May 5, 2005, she filled out a complaint to initiate a grievance under state law, writing that she was being “threatened and harassed” though “I am following approved curriculum.”

And parents’ rights? “I explained to parents that we’re following the state standards,” Mr. Moye said. “I said, ‘You can believe what you want, but we have to teach the standards.’ If they’re upset, they can take it up on the state level.”

Ms. New said that from then on, including the entire 2005-06 school year, she had no problem teaching evolution. “What saved me, was I didn’t have to argue evolution with these people. All I had to say was, ‘I’m following state standards.’ “

Can Florida teachers fall back on the standards?

Academies of Sciences statement on evolution

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Here’s a very well-stated, clear declaration about evolution (pdf) from 67 national acadamies of science. Bottom line: teach it, it’s science, it’s important.

We, the undersigned Academies of Sciences, have learned that in various parts of the world,within science courses taught in certain public systems of education, scientific evidence, data,and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed,denied, or confused with theories not testable by science. We urge decision makers, teachers, and parents to educate all children about the methods and discoveries of science and to foster an understanding of the science of nature. Knowledge of the natural world in which they live empowers people to meet human needs and protect the planet.

We agree that the following evidence-based facts about the origins and evolution of the Earth and of life on this planet have been established by numerous observations and independently derived experimental results from a multitude of scientific disciplines. Even if there are still many open questions about the precise details of evolutionary change, scientific evidence has never contradicted these results:

1. In a universe that has evolved towards its present configuration for some 11 to 15 billion years, our Earth formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago.

2. Since its formation, the Earth – its geology and its environments – has changed under the effect of numerous physical and chemical forces and continues to do so.

3. Life appeared on Earth at least 2.5 billion years ago. The evolution, soon after, of photosynthetic organisms enabled, from at least 2 billion years ago, the slow transformation of the atmosphere to one containing substantial quantities of oxygen. In addition to the release of the oxygen that we breathe, the process of photosynthesis is the ultimate source of fixed energy and food upon which human life on the planet depends.

4. Since its first appearance on Earth, life has taken many forms, all of which continue to evolve, in ways which palaeontology and the modern biological and biochemical sciences are describing and independently confirming with increasing precision. Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their common primordial origin.

Alert: Conference we need to be aware of.

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

Over at Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity (I posted about this group before), they’re putting on a show in September:

Save the Date!
Darwin or Design?
Resolving the Conflict
University of South Florida’s Sun Dome, Sept. 29th, 2006 at 7:00 p.m

Sponsored by Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity


Dr. Michael Behe
Biologist and author of Darwin’s Black Box

Dr. Jonathan Wells
Biochemist and author of Icons of Evolution

Dr. Tom Woodward
Author of Doubts About Darwin

* High school and college faculty and students with an appropriate school ID
will be admitted to the event free of charge. The admission fee for all others
is only $5.

* Each high school or college student attending the event will receive a free
copy of the powerful DVD Unlocking the Mystery of Life.

The USF Sun Dome website confirms that a conference is going on that day:

Event Information
Title: Physicians & Surgeons Conference
Category: Conferences
Date: Friday, September 29, 2006
Time: Unspecified
Calendar: USF Sun Dome Events
Contact: sglaser
Location: Sun Dome Arena
Phone Number: 974-3111

We here at Florida Citizens for Science just found out about it, but it’s plenty of advance notice. We’re going to brainstorm some ideas about what we might want to do. If you want to join in on this bit of potential activism, let us know!