Archive for May, 2011

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?

Louisiana repeal efforts fail

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

There has been a big push in Louisiana to repeal a law that essentially invites the teaching of creationism in that state’s public schools. Unfortunately, despite an admirable campaign mounted by high school student Zack Kopplin, the repeal effort failed. Several Nobel Prize-winning scientists joined Kopplin, including Florida’s own Harold Kroto:

“The lawmakers of Louisiana are a laughing stock as far as the scientific community is concerned,” Harold Kroto, a Florida State University scientist who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1996, said in an email to The Associated Press. He added, “The present situation should be likened to requiring Louisiana school texts to include the claim that the Sun goes round the Earth.”

Another textbook selection process article

Friday, May 20th, 2011

There is another article today about the proposed radical changes to the state’s textbook selection process.

School bill removes citizens from textbook reviews

Average citizens may lose what limited role they have now in the state’s adoption of public school textbooks — a proposal from the GOP-controlled Legislature that has infuriated conservative activists already accusing the state of selecting biased instructional materials.

The law change appears in the middle of a 77-page bill which contains myriad proposals affecting Florida’s public schools, from increasing virtual education to loosening the rules for class-size compliance. Scott received the bill from lawmakers on Tuesday and has until June 1 to act on it.

That overhaul has outraged some activists in the Tea Party and related groups, which last year helped propel more Republicans into the GOP-controlled Legislature, and Scott into the governor’s mansion.

“‘We the People’ should have a say on what textbooks OUR CHILDREN read,” Tea Party activist Shari Krass wrote recently in a letter to Scott.

Krass and activists like her believe some texts used by Florida schools are slanted to favor Islam over Judaism and Christianity.

The ACLU of Florida, which has battled conservative activists in the past over the teaching of evolution, was less concerned about the change in textbook adoption.

“So long as the people choosing the texts can honor the principles of academic merit over a political cause, it should not matter if they are experts, parents or members of the community at large,” ACLU spokesman Derek Newton said.

Café Scientifique / Science Cafe — Orlando

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The members of science cafe in Orlando must be “gluttons for punishment” as they have, perhaps misguidedly,ask me to speak at their meeting on Wednesday June 1st. I would welcome all FCS and those associates who live in the Orlando area to attend,it seems there is good food and drink and perhaps a chance to harass the speaker,providing you can stay awake. Full details can be found here.  I will be talking about the misconceptions of evolution based on longer talks that I presented to science teacher organizations in Colorado,Arizona and California.

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.

What’s going on?

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

I wanted to do a quick search around the Internet in relation to my previous post about a very weak florida science education plan. Is it possible we’re just missing something? I was surprised to discover that the old Office of Mathematics & Science website no longer exists. It was http://www.fldoestem.org. The new page is just part of the Bureau of Curriculum and Instruction site at http://www.fldoe.org/bii/oms.asp, and this new page lacks all of the tons of information that was at the old site. Another interesting thing to note is at the top of this page it says:

Position Vacant
Director
325 West Gaines Street, Suite 432
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0400

What’s going on up there in Tallahassee?

Florida Science Ed Plan is weak

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

The Florida Department of Education has produced “Florida’s K-12 Science Education Plan” (pdf). Paul Cottle has taken a look at it and writes at his Bridge to Tomorrow blog that it leaves a lot to be desired.

The plan, which is decidedly not ambitious, demonstrates clearly that Florida is not yet dedicated to increasing student achievement in science – it just isn’t a priority.

Paul then offers his own version of a plan.

Elementary school teachers need more science

Friday, May 6th, 2011

The Center for American Progress issued a report recently entitled Slow Off the Mark: Elementary School Teachers and the Crisis in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education. The main point of the report is that elementary school teachers are ill prepared to effectively teach their students math and science. From the report:

In order to improve STEM learning, we must strengthen the selection, preparation, and licensure of elementary school teachers. We need higher standards for selection into teacher preparation programs—standards that include demonstrated proficiency in math and science at a level that is far higher than our current pool of teacher candidates. Elementary grade teacher preparation programs must include more—and more rigorous—math and science courses in both content and pedagogy, and teacher candidates must perform in these courses at the high levels that we would expect of our students.

Furthermore, states must strengthen their licensure requirements so that teachers cannot obtain a license without passing the math and science sections of the exams. Finally, alternative certification programs should continue to recruit candidates who were STEM majors in college or are STEM professionals, and their licensure should be streamlined in order to get them into classrooms as soon as they are ready.

Of particular interest is this tidbit:

Similarly, science education in the United States suffers the distracting intrusion of religious preferences. Courts have consistently ruled that creationism has no place in public school science classrooms and the scientific community has made clear that evolutionary biology should play a central role in science curricula. Yet the cultural and political undertow keeps many science teachers from fully embracing the knowledge and norms of science.

Although evolution is not usually taught at the elementary school level, its treatment in higher grades illustrates the extent of the problem. According to a recent national survey of high school biology teachers, 28 percent introduce evidence that evolution has occurred, 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design, and 60 percent are neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor do they explicitly endorse nonscientific alternatives.

I have to admit that including this in the report was gratuitous since the authors didn’t make any effort to more directly link it to elementary schools. Here in Florida, evolution is covered to some degree in the lower grades. For example, here is one of the standards for 5th grade:

Number: SC.5.L.15
Title: Diversity and Evolution of Living Organisms
Description:
A. Earth is home to a great diversity of living things, but changes in the environment can affect their survival.
B. Individuals of the same kind often differ in their characteristics and sometimes the differences give individuals an advantage in surviving and reproducing.

So, I do believe the authors could have made an even stronger case for why they mentioned evolution in their report. Knowing and understanding basic concepts of evolution is important for elementary school teachers in the Sunshine State. Better training in the subject in college would certainly help.