Archive for January, 2016

Good news from Tallahassee

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Good news: it looks like the horrible instructional materials bills filed in the state legislature are stuck in the mud. Insiders who are much more knowledgeable about the inner workings of Tallahassee told me that the bills have several committees to get through. Because they have yet to be put on the meeting schedule in any of them this late in the session, the bills’ chances of passage are slim.

And another good sign is that the bills’ main supporter, Florida Citizens Alliance, has angrily reported that the bills are being blocked.

However, victory can’t be declared until the session is over. There are plenty of sneaky tactics for resurrecting dead bills, such as adding them to other successful bills as amendments.

A little press about “instructional materials” bills

Monday, January 25th, 2016

An Orlando Sentinel columnist takes apart several bills that Sen. Alan Hays has filed this year in the state legislature: Hays files wild bills in Senate. His bill about school instructional materials, which Florida Citizens for Science opposes, gets a mention:

Hays wants parents to be able to inspect all “instructional materials” and to opt their children out of any they don’t happen to like. Talk about a recipe for chaos. The bill also would require districts to adopt “non-inflammatory” books and materials. What does that even mean? The bill is unneeded because the state already has a solution for this problem. It is called home schooling.

On the flip side is a letter to the editor from one of the main authors and supporters of Hays’ bill, Keith Flaugh. Part of his letter says:

Today, materials are laced with revisionist history, religious and political indoctrination, pornography and even math methodologies that boggle common sense.

Parents and grandparents from 11 counties recently went to Tallahassee to urge support for these cleanup bills. We found overwhelming support for “local curriculum control” and repulsion to the age-inappropriate, factually distorted materials being subjected upon our children.

For Florida Citizens for Science’s take on this bill, click on the category in the right column labeled “Instructional Materials bills ’16.”

Celebrating a decade of promoting and defending science education!

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

10-Year-AnniversaryWay back in 2006 Florida Citizens for Science members held their first official meeting, kicking off what would become an exciting, action-packed decade of promoting and defending science education in the Sunshine State. We’ve been in the middle of many battles, big and small, usually because the integrity of evolution instruction was under fire. You can relive some of those experiences by perusing this blog’s archives as well as catching the highlights on our Projects and Events page.

Today Florida Citizens for Science board members gathered for our annual meeting and included in our packed agenda a celebration of our tenth birthday. There was delicious cake and cookies! The meeting then turned to the business of troublesome bills currently filed in the Florida legislature and the release of a new set of state science standards that we anticipate will happen later this year. We’re activating our network of partners so that together we can stave off the mischief that’s sure to come. If you want to help out, please let us know. The help is always welcome!

Here is a picture of the attending board members after today’s meeting. Congratulations to all of our new and longtime members on ten years of friendship and success. Let’s keep up the great work!

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Pictured from left to right are Florida Citizens for Science board members Henry Neufeld, David Campbell (secretary), Mary Bahr, Pete Dunkelberg, Joe Wolf (vice president), Pierce Butler, Wesley Elsberry, Brandon Haught (treasurer) and Marta Robertson. Also present but not pictured because he had to leave a bit early was Jonathan Smith (president).

Update on instructional materials bills

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Two companion bills have been filed in the Florida Senate and House that have a lot of potential for disrupting education in Florida schools. These instructional materials bills have more than one focus, but the one most concerning to us at Florida Citizens for Science is the back door it opens for inserting creationism in science classes. Please see our previous posts on this issue: Time to talk about textbooksTracking Textbook billsNCSE takes note of Sunshine State billsNational Coalition Against Censorship takes an interestYet more examples of what we’re up against, and Florida Citizens for Science News Release.

TextbooksSo far, the bills have been assigned to committees for hearings and votes, but the bills have not been put on any committee’s calendar yet. However, groups that support the bills haven’t been idle. They visited Tallahassee in person last week and spoke with several lawmakers in person. They also distributed materials to all of the lawmakers. This work has resulted in more than a dozen lawmakers adding themselves as co-sponsors of the House bill, giving it support.

We know that Florida Citizens for Science members and friends are strong advocates for science education. Now is the time to put action to your words. Use the information in our press release to write to and talk with lawmakers. Write newspaper op-eds and letters to the editor. Contact us to volunteer your services in whatever capacity you are able. It’s time to get to work.

Florida Citizens for Science News Release

Monday, January 11th, 2016

News Release
Lawmakers’ Instructional Materials Proposal: Costly Headache for School Boards

Jan 11, 2016
Florida Citizens for Science

Florida Citizens for Science opposes companion bills filed in the Florida House and Senate, HB899 and SB1018, both entitled “Instructional Materials for K-12 Public Education.” We assert that these bills are in conflict with Article IX of the Florida Constitution that requires “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” These bills would allow those with no relevant qualifications to change local school districts’ curricula based on personal beliefs and ideology, in opposition to the concepts of “uniform” and “high quality.” The bills would also clash with “efficient … public schools” by potentially subjecting school districts to damaging, lengthy and costly court challenges. Furthermore, taxpayers currently have avenues available for their voices to be heard when it comes to instructional materials. In a misguided attempt to give citizens more power, the bills erode the authority and efficiency of education experts who are trained and experienced at evaluating and selecting appropriate instructional materials as well as subject area content experts who ensure the materials’ accuracy.

Florida Citizens for Science has the following specific concerns about HB899 and SB1018:

Costly Court Challenges
These bills can expose school districts to costly and time-consuming litigation. The terms “inflammatory” and “controversial” contained in the bills are ill-defined and subject to interpretation, allowing anyone to challenge instructional materials with the claim that they’re inflammatory or controversial to Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, Satanists or any special interest group. This is not an idle point. Consider how a Satanist group successfully lobbied for a holiday display in the Florida Capitol.(1) School boards will risk frivolous legal action every time they turn down a complaint, leaving them exposed to potential damages, injunctive relief, attorney fees and court costs. Furthermore, school districts who willingly submit to challenges from creationists concerning how evolution and related topics are presented in instructional materials will certainly face immediate court challenges that could cost the district a million dollars or more.(2) For the school boards, this legislation creates a minefield of no-win scenarios.

Unqualified vs. Experts
These bills are akin to legalized extortion: any individual muckraker can object to instructional materials and have their protest treated as a show-stopper. Currently, Florida parents unhappy with instructional materials are entitled to complain to their local school board, whose decision is final. These bills extend standing to challenge from parents to any taxpayer. These bills also give additional weight in reviewing instructional materials to unqualified taxpayers, which dilutes and devalues the input of qualified experts.

Targeting Science
These bills would empower taxpayers to object to the use of specific instructional materials in the public schools, for example on the grounds that they fail to provide “a noninflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues.” As it applies to Florida Citizens for Science’s field of expertise, science education, we have noted that the organizations with whom these bills originated have documented their complaints against established factual science. They wish to balance scientific evidence for evolutionary biology with blatantly religious creation stories.(3) If acted upon by any school district, this would be a clear violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment to the Constitution as repeatedly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Better” Standards?
Currently, instructional materials used in Florida’s schools must be consistent with the state science standards. The bills state that instructional materials may alternatively be consistent with “standards that are equivalent to or better than the applicable state standards.” No criteria for assessing the relative quality of standards are provided. Who will determine if a set of presented standards are “better” than the current standards? Furthermore, a revised set of state science standards are due to be completed later this year after two years of hard work. These bills could make the new standards, forged by subject matter experts, irrelevant. Why have expertly crafted state standards if any unqualified person can claim that some other un-vetted set of standards is equivalent or better?

# # #

Notes:
1. “Satanic Temple display comes to Florida Capitol,” Tallahassee Democrat, Dec 22, 2014:
http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2014/12/22/satanic-temple-display-comes-florida-capitol/20764841/

2. In the federal court case Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, the school board had inserted an alternative to evolution in the curriculum, was challenged in court, and lost. The small school district had to pay legal fees in excess of $1 million. See: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/intelligent-design-trial.html

3. See National Center for Science Education: http://ncse.com/news/2015/12/antiscience-bills-florida-0016838 and Florida Citizens for Science: http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=2378
Contacts:
• Brandon Haught, Florida Citizens for Science Communications Director and author of Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom: bhaught@flascience.org.
• Jonathan Smith, Florida Citizens for Science President: cyjonolds@aol.com.
Florida Citizens for Science is a statewide organization formed in 2005 with the goal of promoting and defending sound science education in Florida: www.flascience.org

Yet more examples of what we’re up against

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

We here at Florida Citizens for Science are tracking two instructional materials bills filed in the Florida legislature that could have wide-ranging negative impacts on textbooks in our state’s classrooms, especially science classes. Please see our previous post for the details about the bills (Time to talk about textbooks).

millerlevineOne of the main forces behind the bills is the group Florida Citizens’ Alliance based in Collier County. They’ve recently added a post on their website detailing some problems they have with two textbooks. First, they have complaints about World History Ancient Civilizations that shows yet again their strongly anti-science, creationist viewpoint. They take issue with the famous “Lucy” fossil being called a human ancestor and they question fossil dating methods. They then take a shot at Miller & Levine’s Biology textbook used in 9th grade. The reviewer doesn’t like the textbook’s claim that evolution has been proven valid by many tests in many different fields of discipline. The reviewer writes a long rant about how many scientists find fault in evolution. But, of course, the rant is packed with creationist talking points.

For those of you who like such exercises, I invite you to read the textbook reviews at Florida Citizens’ Alliance I linked to and write your rebuttals in the comments here.

This is a clear example of why the instructional materials bills are dangerous to education. Everyone concerned about quality science education needs to take action to oppose these bills. Contact your local lawmakers and ask them to deep six this awful legislation.

National Coalition Against Censorship takes an interest

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

The National Coalition Against Censorship has noticed the instructional materials bills filed in the Florida legislature that we here at Florida Citizens for Science are also tracking: Florida Bills Threaten Science Instruction and Freedom to Read

In the end, these bills seem designed to empower ideologically-driven activists to shape what is taught in Florida’s classrooms. Those decisions are best left to professional educators.

Florida Citizens for Science AGM

Friday, January 8th, 2016

We are now confirmed for the FCS 8th AGM to be held on January 23rd inside the Hollis Center Classroom at Stetson University, Deland, 10am to noon. The purpose is to consider the organizations plans for the coming year. In light of the current situations with the looming text books issue and the introduction of the “new” Florida Science Standards (which contain evolution and global warming) I am sure our opposition will be just as intense and organized as it was in 2008. We need to be ready. If you would like to be more involved in our work, please consider becoming an active member or even serve on the board.  You can contact one of our current board members or just make it to the meeting.