Archive for February, 2008

Do state science standards matter?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

With the fight over including evolution in the state science standards here in Florida now over the hump, we now need to ask ourselves: what did we win? As several news articles have pointed out, in many school districts across the state evolution was already being taught anyway. So, does have a stronger set of science standards actually mean anything?

A timely study was recently published that at least in part addresses that very question. The paper detailing the study is “The evolution battles in high-school science classes: who is teaching what?” by Kristi L Bowman. It’s an attempt to determine whether evolution is actually being taught to high school students by asking college students to describe the quantity and quality of the subject’s instruction back in their high school days. I’ll let you read through it for yourself and let others, like PZ, give their takes on the bigger picture. But what I’m focusing on is how much of a role state science standards might have played in the results.

The study used students from eight universities scattered across the country (Florida wasn’t one of them). The states these universities are in were carefully chosen based on a variety of criteria. One category was the states’ science standard’s handling of evolution. Four were considered strong and four were considered weak. Of course, other factors played a role in the results — for instance, consider why the state might have strong or weak standards — but here they are for your consideration:

Of all recent public high-school graduates in strong standards states, 93% reported evolution instruction, but only 72% reported being taught that evolution is a credible scientific theory. By comparison, 89% of recent public high school graduates in weak standards states reported evolution instruction, but only 60% reported being taught that evolution is a credible scientific theory.

Wow! Only 60% were taught it is a credible scientific theory! That makes me itch to know what has been going on here in the Sunshine State the past decade. The study reflected a bit deeper, though. There is always more to the story (emphasis mine):

However, when evolution is taught, it can also be presented as a concept lacking scientific credibility. Applying a logit regression analysis and holding constant states’ partisan political preference and geographic location, the estimated odds were that respondents in weak standards states are three times as likely as those in strong standards states to receive instruction that evolution is not scientifically credible (P = 0.01). The frequency-based statistics account for much of this disparity, with 4% of strong states’ respondents reporting that evolution was taught, but presented as a concept lacking scientific credibility, compared to 9% in weak states.

Here’s the message I take away from that: We should be proud of what we did here in Florida! We definitely jumped from a set of weak standards to very strong ones. That increases the chances that our students will be exposed to sound science in the correct context.

Now, ummmmm, could someone tell me what “logit regression analysis” means? 😉

I’m sooooo tired of the word theory

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

I’ve been sitting here for a while now trying to sort out how I feel about this story in the Ocala Star-Banner. I’m fine with the sentiments of the quoted science teachers, but I have this nagging heartburn over how the word theory seems to be trampled on in the process. The point of the story, despite its misleading headline, is that there are starkly contrasting views within the overall religious community concerning evolution. I just wish that the whole “it’s just a theory … don’t worry about it” meme would go the way of the dodo.

On a separate subject, Florida Board of Education member Donna Callaway is one very confused individual. Read her ramblings at the Florida Baptist Witness. How in the world can she say with a straight face that she’s not bringing religion into her stance on the science standards? She’s writing in the Florida Baptist Witness! And look at how her justification bounces back and forth between “religion,” “not religion,” “religion,” “not religion.” I got whiplash reading that twisted logic.

Still here

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I just wanted to write a quick post saying I’m still around. Florida Citizens for Science activities swamped me the past month or so, taking away from other work, family and college responsibilities. So, I am now taking a short time out from FCS to catch up on everything else in life. For instance, I just finished up a paper for literature class comparing and contrasting moral themes in the plays Hamlet and Dr. Faustus. Yuck.

Meanwhile, for your reading pleasure:

Liam Julian of the Fordham Foundation wrote a guest column for the St. Petersburg Times.

Let’s first dispense with the thought that adolescents should debate the merits of evolution in their science classes. This is silliness, akin to asking them to hash out the germ theory or the atomic theory. Until Florida’s students are taught the basics of science, it’s folly to demand they critically evaluate its finer points.

A Tallahassee Democrat columnist also talks about the state science standards approval fallout.

The standards refer persistently to the scientific theory of evolution, so should they not at least touch upon the implied nonscientific theories of evolution? Surely we should ask, “Are there any such theories?” No. Not for any serious scientific or any other educational purpose.

What then, pray, is the point of belaboring, with the pompous prefix “scientific theory of,” the following: evolution, cells, geology, atoms? “The scientific theory of cells!” Is there any other kind of cell theory worthy of consideration? I know of none.

The compromise is a political sop to a large and concerned population of Florida voters who believe that, on the core issues of science, some other way of knowing (religion, perhaps; surely not art or philosophy) is equal or superior to science itself.

How do we calm the fears?

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

As we continue to defend science here in Florida and across the country, it’s important to keep in mind what, exactly, we are up against. These folks are not anti-science just because they kinda don’t like science or find it generally offensive. It truly and completely scares them. Have a look at what Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio has to say in the Florida Baptist Witness.

The “crux” of the disagreement, according Rubio, is “whether what a parent teaches their children at home should be mocked and derided and undone at the public school level. It goes to the fundamental core of who is ultimately, primarily responsible for the upbringing of children. Is it your public education system or is it your parents?”

Rubio added, “And for me, personally, I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.”

Rubio, a Cuban-American, made a comparison to the strategy employed by the Communist Party in Cuba where schools encouraged children to turn in parents who criticized Fidel Castro.

“Of course, I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro,” he quickly added, while noting that undermining the family and the church were key means the Communist Party used to gain control in Cuba.

“In order to impose their totalitarian regime, they destroyed the family; they destroyed the faith links that existed in that society,” he said.

Mocked. Derided. Communism. If you think I’m reading that wrong, and it’s not fear, then please tell me what your take on it is. How do we handle people like Rubio, who I sincerely doubt are going to be swayed by, well, any argument we can come up with.

Florida won!

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Florida won! Science education won! Teachers, students, Florida’s future economy, etc. all won! No, it wasn’t a clean victory, but it was a victory nonetheless.

On a vote of 4 to 3 the new state science standards passed, with modifications. Those modifications include the insertion of “scientific theory of” and “law of” throughout the document. We would prefer that there were no edits to the outstanding document created by and reviewed by subject matter experts, but we can definitely live with it.

Votes yes were: Taylor, Raulerson, Fair and Shanahan. Votes no were: Martinez, Callaway and Desai. (Please correct me if I’m wrong on any of these.) However, keep in mind that Martinez voted no because he wanted the standards passed without edits.

Here are a few tidbits for you to chew over:

A group of us stood outside the capitol doors for about an hour waiting to be let in. When we finally got in out of the cold and went downstairs to the meeting room, there was a line of our opposition already there. They had been there for about half an hour! How did they get in? We asked them, and not a single person would give us a straight answer. They would just mumble something about “I was just following him in,” “I don’t know; We just kinda came in” and other nonsense.

Our opposition certainly had a plan. It started when they cried and screamed to have a hearing before the Board. As soon as that was granted, they kicked into full gear. Their 10 speakers all got on board with the “academic freedom” battle cry. They had also obviously worked closely with Board member Callaway ahead of time. When the public comments were over, Callaway continued the “academic freedom” battle cry. I have to tip my hat to them. They had an organized plan. Fortunately, it didn’t work. The whole “academic freedom” junk didn’t get off the ground with the Board and so died a glorious death on the battlefield.

The Discovery Institute, the organization that was obviously behind this “academic freedom” dog and pony show, is whining and crying about their loss. I am usually loath to link to them, but this one was too funny to pass up.

Several of our opposition’s speakers, and some members of the Board tried to make a big point about this not being about religion. What’s funny is that a FCS member sat in the audience in front of woman who, no joke, said amen every single time someone said this wasn’t about religion. Our guy eventually turned to her and said, “I thought this wasn’t about religion.” She didn’t answer him, but did stop saying her amens.

FCS sends out a sincere thanks to all who spoke today before the Board in favor of the standards. You did great! Thanks go out to everyone who supported us in this fight: the National Center for Science Education expertise, other Citizens for Science groups who gave us advice and courage, the FCS membership statewide, and everyone else who wrote letters and such. This was a team effort.

Another very heartfelt thank you goes out to Mr. Martinez. He was definitely fighting the good fight today on the Board. After the meeting I went up to him and gave him a firm handshake and a sincere thank. It looked to me like he needed to hear that encouragement.

We’re not done yet, though. We heard our opposition tell reporters that they might take their “academic freedom” battle cry to the state legislature. We also need to keep in mind all of those people and county school boards that didn’t like having evolution in the science standards. Will they do anything, whether overtly or covertly?

Help us keep an eye out, will ya?

edited to add some news stories:

Bradenton Herald: Pfeilsticker critical of new science standards

The Florida Board of Education’s narrow approval of the state’s new science standards – which includes “scientific theory of evolution” – was a political maneuver meant to appease critics of evolution, said Manatee County School Board Member Jane Pfeilsticker.

Pfeilsticker was one of the 40 science experts and teachers who helped revamp the standards.

“I think it was inappropriate,” Pfeilsticker said today, just hours after the state board approved it. “If there were any revisions to be made, it should come back to writers to be revised. The best I can see it’s a political move to appease some population of constituents.”

Florida Baptist Witness: Board approves science standards with ‘theory’ compromise

Regarding claims by several Board members that the “Nature of Science” section of the standards already provides the opportunity for scientific criticisms of evolution to be considered, [BoE member Donna] Callaway said “good teachers” will do that.

She encouraged teachers to know the standards well and parent organizations should work to ensure students will be exposed to all sides of the debate about evolution.

Kendall told the Witness a legislative remedy will be sought to explicitly provide academic freedom for teachers, noting that none of the teachers, superintendents and school boards she consulted had confidence the “Nature of Science” section of the standards would provide adequate academic freedom.

Sun-Sentinel: Evolution to be taught in state’s public schools

Evolution supporters, including mainstream scientists and clergy, told the board before the 4-3 vote the academic freedom proposal was a wedge designed to open the door for injecting religious arguments into science studies.

“We know what’s going on here,” said board member Roberto “Bobby” Martinez, a Miami lawyer. “What we have here is an effort by people to water down our standards.”

That brought shouts of “no” from the audience. Opponents, including some scientists, denied they have a religious motive. Instead, they argued there are flaws in the theory of evolution and that students should be allowed to explore them.

Jackson County Floridan: Coley pleased with evolution vote

State Rep. Marti Coley (R- Marianna) applauded the decision by the Florida Board of Education Tuesday to approve new science standards that will teach evolution as a scientific theory, not as scientific fact as had been earlier proposed.

Tallahassee Democrat: Divided board approves teaching of evolution as ‘theory’

Board member Roberto Martinez said members were caving in to pressure from fundamentalists who, however they phrased it, wanted to get “creationism” and “intelligent design” into the public schools. But board members Kathleen Shanahan and Linda Taylor said there were other theories – not just religious ones – that students should explore in addition to evolution.

The Gradebook: And the decision is …

What’s next is unclear.

Both sides have threatened lawsuits. And at least three lawmakers – Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park and Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville – have said they may file legislation if the board approves the proposed standards without significant changes.

Lawsuits? What in the heck is that all about? There are tons more stories out there. I don’t have time to link to them all. Feel free to post your favorite ones in the comments.


Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

callaway–this is not religion. standards stifle freedom.

martinez–earth revolves around sun. do we question that?

things are getting hairy. martinez is getting beat up. martinez says evolution is fact.

martinez gets loud applause and fair tells everyone to quiet down.

raulerson still on that cell theory thing.

fair asks for any new info.

4 yes 3 no with theory but no academic freedom thing.


Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

raulerson is focused on cell theory vs evolution in the standards. science slams doors shut then someone prys them open. will only support insertion of theory.

callaway–looking at both theory and academic freedom.

shannahan–academic freedom is ALREADY in the standards. nature of science.

academic freedom is now offifially on table. moved and seconded.

taylor–we are not dilutting the expert work. but we have the authority to implement as we would like.

martinez–freedom ALREADY THERE!

Taylor–science is a pyrocess.

martinez–you are singling out evolution what other theory is there? concerns against evolution are cloaked. email to me called me a monkey. he knows what is up.

academic frfeedom

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

callaway is in cahoots with all the speakers who advocated academic freedom.

desai–biotech future. well educated stdents. high skilled high paying jobs. these standards are good. I support them. talking about academic freedom!

shannahan–benefit children. compete! I taught science and did research. theory is different in science. evolution theory not fact?! she seems confused.

this is not looking good.