Archive for February, 2014

Your State Needs You

Monday, February 24th, 2014

The 59th Annual Florida State Science Fair is to be held at the Lakeland Civic Center during the week of April 8th to the 10th 2014. The organizers are in need of qualified judges to judge the various age groups and categories. Wednesday, April 9th, is the day reserved for judging. If you feel that you have the ability and the motivation to give up one day of your time to support these young scientists I would encourage you to do so. Several of our board members have already registered to attend the fair. Not only will you be promoting science education in our state you  will have the opportunity to keep Florida Citizens for Science in the public eye.

Another columnist takes apart Hays’ textbook bill

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Orlando Sentinel columnist Lauren Ritchie wrote a good analysis of the bad bill about textbook selection currently in the state legislature: Florida Sen. Alan Hays’ bill to have school districts to choose own textbooks unworkable.

Hays’ proposal would require each school board to create a committee made up of half teachers, half residents to choose the textbooks. Apparently, that’s because residents are somehow uniquely qualified to know what’s accurate in textbooks, which ones are appropriate for which grade levels and which will help students pass tests on the new standards, called Common Core. And teachers, of course, know all about fields other than their own.

Nothing could go wrong in this scenario, right?

These committee members would have to spend literally thousands of hours reading multiple textbooks for the hundreds of classes offered across every level from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The bill has lengthy Web-posting and public-hearing requirements. And just for good measure, it would prohibit pornography in school textbooks. Thanks, Alan! That’s been a terrible worry for so long now. Every time those kids open their math books, out pop photos of breasts! Nekid ones! It’s been such a chore to keep the boys’ minds on fractions.

“Special interest pie fight”

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

We’ll be tracking the bills filed in the state legislature that, if passed, would change the way textbooks are selected here in Florida. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Get up to date here and here and here.

Senate Bill 864, filed by Sen. Alan Hays, has been assigned to two committees: Education and Governmental Oversight and Accountability. There has been no other activity. The actual legislative session doesn’t start until March 4.

House Bill 921, filed by Rep. Matt Gaetz, has been assigned to three committees: K-12 Subcommittee, Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and Education Committee. There has been no other activity.

And here’s a bonus read for you. Tampa Bay Times columnist Daniel Ruth demolishes Hay’s bill: Book ’em, Danno, on Ignorance 101

“If Hays is able to jam his proposal through the Florida Legislature, the state’s 67 school boards would be confronted with a special interest pie fight as groups lobby to have their religious and cultural biases reflected in the materials provided to students.

“There could well be regions of the state where students will be taught that evolution is merely a passing fancy. They will be taught man rode on dinosaurs, or Earth was formed a mere 6,000 years ago. They will be taught there is no such thing as climate change or the Holocaust. They will be taught that fluoride will turn you into a newt. And it’s entirely possible they might be taught that Glenn Beck is a noted historian.”

The whole column is worth your time. Go check it out.

Editorial against textbook bill

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

A Tampa Bay Times editorial today says: No room for political games on textbooks. The editorial notes that the new bill filed in the state legislature that would completely take the state government out of textbook selections was motivated by “unsuccessful culture warriors.” I had discussed this issue in previous posts here and here. The editorial goes on to say:

Now Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has filed legislation to eliminate the state’s role in textbook selection, saying that task should be left up to each county school board. As a House member six years ago, Hays pushed efforts to expand Florida’s science standards to include teachings other than evolution when it came to humanity’s origins. Now he may be able to exploit the unease with the state’s changing standards for public schools. The state’s shift to Common Core State Standards and digital publishing has other legislators questioning if the state process for selecting textbooks still makes sense.

This bill needs to be defeated. The sooner the better.

Folks worried about Tuck

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Two letters to the editor were printed in today’s Daytona Beach News Journal about the appointment of Andy Tuck to the Florida Board of Education.

First one:

Religion, not science

Should Gov. Rick Scott’s appointment of Andy Tuck, who so virulently opposes the teaching of evolution in our state’s schools, be taken as an indication of the governor’s own regard for pseudo-science? Tuck is highly regarded among those who wish to undermine sound science education in our schools and tear down what President Thomas Jefferson called “the wall of separation of church and state.” The creationism Tuck wishes to have taught in place of evolution is a religious doctrine, not science! Education board members need to support academic integrity. Tuck seems to be at war with academic integrity.

The Bible and religious instruction have important positions in our lives, but do not belong in taxpayer supported schools and certainly can’t be called science! We need state Board of Education members who will never attempt to use yesterday’s answers, like creationism, to answer tomorrow’s problems — foremost among them, the maintenance of the highest quality educational standards in the 21st century!

Rabbi Merrill Shapiro

Palm Coast

Shapiro is president of the board of trustees of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Second one:

Appointment is troubling

With the stroke of his pen, Gov. Rick Scott, a few days ago, brought Florida into the 16th century! The man who refers to himself as an “education governor” appointed Andy Tuck, a citrus grower from Highlands County, to the Florida Board of Education. I, for one, am deeply disturbed by this selection because Andy Tuck has stated clearly that he does not believe that evolution should be taught in the public schools.

He said, “I strongly oppose any study of evolution being taught at all. I’m purely in favor of it staying a theory and only a theory. I won’t support evolution being taught as a fact in any of our schools.” That statement troubles me.

Mr. Tuck’s quote seems to show that he doesn’t know, or accept the accepted definition of “theory” as used by scientists. Despite Gov. Scott’s often-stated belief that Florida needs an outstanding public school system, by pandering to the religious right he surrenders all claim of the honored title as an education governor.

Larry Babitts

Ormond Beach

Babitts is president of the Democratic Club of Northeast Volusia County.

Surprising survey results

Friday, February 14th, 2014

The Orlando Sentinel has a “Friday Back Talk” section on the opinion page. The paper poses a question online, offers some multiple choice answers and then on Friday announces the results along with a handful of readers’ comments.

This week the main question was: Should FL schools teach evolution?

Surprisingly, the results were positive: 74% yes versus 26% no.

Here are some comments from those in the 26%:

Evolution, and the study it encompasses, is a theory, by definition. Some will even go so far as to say it is pure speculation.
Pictures: Orange County Jail mug shots

That said, it would not be prudent to present such heavy information as fact to young minds. However, this might be a topic for college-level students.

And this one:

There are good reasons not to teach evolution as fact. One is that you would really be teaching atheism under the title of science.

The theory of evolution proposes that life began in the water (never observed and not proved) and that life has evolved upward in many different species by random chance (not proved and cannot be demonstrated). This is, in effect, telling children that God has no part in it.

The complexity of DNA itself should cause someone to think twice before teaching mega-evolution as fact. Scientists have no explanation of the origin and complex design of the encoded instructions in living cells. To believe that all this just happened by chance is blind faith, not science.

Fair educational systems promote thinking by allowing questioning and other points of view.

Details emerge about textbook bill

Friday, February 14th, 2014

As I’ve noted before, there is a bill in the state legislature that proposes to turn review and selection of all public school textbooks over to local school districts, removing state-level government from the process completely.

In today’s Tampa Bay Times there is now a more in-depth story: Bill aims to end state control of textbook selection. The article reveals that Sen. Alan Hays, who filed the bill, was responding to a protest that flared up in Volusia County late last year over a history textbook.

I live in Volusia County, and so I’m familiar with what happened. Some citizens felt that “World History” published by Prentice Hall promoted Islam while neglecting Christianity and Judaism. The protesters took their complaints to the school board and got folks so stirred up that one school board meeting was postponed at the last minute due to security concerns. When the board finally met at a later date, they resisted the pressure and approved the textbook. The protesters had failed to take the entire curriculum into account. Christianity and Judaism are in fact fully covered in sixth grade. Islam is in the high school portion of the curriculum and therefore was featured in the challenged “World History” book. Nonetheless, the protesters are still brainstorming ideas about how to overcome their defeat.

Earlier reports about Hays’ bill said that it was filed in response to “complaints from Florida school district leaders” and that “constituents and school board members have made clear their desire.” But today’s story casts doubt on those assertions.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Pinellas School Board chairwoman Carol Cook said of Hays’ proposal.

Just last year, lawmakers gave districts the option of ignoring the state textbook adoption system in favor of a local one. None have done so.

“The problem that I see with it is, we’re going to have all of the textbook companies and publishers going to each of the districts and taking a lot of time away from our staff, and putting a lot of pressure on them,” Cook said.

Some watchdogs worry that book battles like Volusia’s could become more common if the process falls to the districts.

“If the responsibility shifts fully to individual school boards, how do we know if anything questionable makes it into the classroom?” Florida Citizens for Science wrote on its blog.

That potential also troubled FSBA president Hightower.

“I’m a little concerned about individuals in local districts trying to hijack the process,” she said. “As we’re moving toward higher standards, we want to make sure all our materials reflect that higher standard.”

Lobbyists for Florida’s school boards and superintendents said they did not ask for Hays’ bill.

I’m glad the reporter included this, too:

Textbook adoptions in other states also face criticism because of how they get politicized. In 2013, the Texas Board of Education filled its science textbook review panel with creationists, who aimed to add disclaimers on evolution.

That type of controversy has not dogged Florida, where the process has been viewed as fair. The state has convened committees to vet books against standards and recommend options to districts, which then do another review before making selections.

That directly relates to some points I made in my previous post:

Sen. Hays was a sponsor of anti-evolution legislation back in 2008. Second, a few school boards back then revealed themselves to be dominated by anti-evolution advocates when they passed resolutions asking evolution to be downplayed in the state science standards. Will a creationist-leaning school board consider textbooks or supplemental materials from A Beka Book, for example. Would that be allowed under Hays’ bill?

What’s being done?

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
There’s a disconnect somewhere. As I’ve monitored the ups and downs of science education over the past several years, I’ve seen quite a few programs meant to capture students’ interest in pursuing science as a career. Here’s a recent example: Girls Who Code Launches In Miami, Tries To Close STEM Gender Gap
Now, a national nonprofit called Girls Who Code is working to grow the next generation of STEM–science, technology, engineering and math–stars in South Florida. The organization is rolling out its computer science immersion program for the first time in Miami this summer.

One of the organization’s goals is to get more local residents into STEM. In the last decade, the number of jobs in STEM fields have tripled. STEM employees are less likely to get laid off, they earn higher wages and work more flexible schedules.
There’s also this: Florida’s top science students to be honored in Orlando
The annual Sunshine State Scholars program kicks off this evening in Orlando, honoring Florida high school juniors who’ve excelled in science. The program celebrates students with an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)  — and aims to encourage them to stay in Florida for college and beyond.
And this: Science students crack a few eggs at Northwest Florida Regional Science Olympiad
“We really want to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in a fun way,” Northwest Florida Regional Science Olympiad Director Paige Livermore said. “This is competitive, but it’s also fun.”

Parents and team coaches loved the event.

“It gets them more energized and excited about science,” said Penny Moore, the mother of Josh Moore and one of Avalon’s team coaches.

Jason’s mother, Michelle Barlow, chimed in: “It’s a wonderful opportunity to advance in science and math and make good contacts that could help them with scholarships and beyond.”
Programs and event like these have been going on for years and years. So, why do we then see this: When it comes to science, Florida lags the country
Despite a huge public investment aimed at creating a high-tech economy, Florida continues to lag the nation in many measures of scientific prowess, the National Science Foundation said Thursday.

The federal agency’s biannual National Science and Engineering Indicators study shows Florida trailing the nation in a variety of measures of education and investment. Floridians are less educated than Americans as a whole, and Florida companies are far less likely to attract venture capital.

In one telling statistic, Florida students earned fewer science and engineering degrees than their national counterparts over the past decade.
There is clearly desire and commitment on the “ground level” as local organizations, residents and teachers all try to do what they can. Unfortunately, there is only so much they can do. Higher up the food chain are the politicians who have control of funding and standards.
Public school teacher salaries: Florida’s average was $46,479 in 2011, well below the national average of $55,418.

School spending: Florida spent 3.21 percent of state gross domestic product on public schools in 2010, below the national average of 3.65 percent. Florida spent $8,863 per pupil in 2010, compared to a national average of $10,652.
A focus on “struggling students” in our public schools is admirable, but not when it means leaving other students without the extra support they need.
Bloody fights over Common Core don’t help.
Neglecting all science other than biology doesn’t help.
It’s frustrating. The term “STEM” is thrown around all the time in Tallahassee. There’s plenty of talk, but who is actually going to walk the walk? What’s being done to recruit the best science and math teachers? What’s being done to truly prepare high school students for rigorous college work in the sciences? What’s being done?