Archive for June, 2017

The fight will now be won or lost where you live.

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Unfortunately, the devious Instructional Materials bill, which creationists and climate change deniers absolutely love, is now signed into law by Governor Rick Scott. This means our fight is only just now beginning. Each and every one of us has to be on alert. You must keep an eye on your local school board and everyone who brings forth a complaint about textbooks. If you don’t, we truly lose. At this point the fight is at the local level. If you’re not there and willing to stand up for sound science education, then we’re done.

Are you ready?

Edited to add: If you’re not familiar with this new law, please read through our Instructional Materials bill blog category. In a nutshell, the new law will allow any resident, not just parents, to protest against what’s found in textbooks, including coverage of evolution, climate change, vaccines, etc. On top of that, school districts must appoint a hearing officer to consider such complaints. It’s bad news all around.

To make things worse, a separate bill was signed into law earlier concerning Religious Liberties in schools. Part of that new law states: “A school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.” We already know for a fact that at least one organization will combine both laws in their crusade against what they view as in balanced inaccuracies in Florida textbooks. The group’s leaders have gone on the record with their intentions.

“[Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith] Flaugh said his group will use it in conjunction with the instructional materials bill to contest textbooks that demonstrate ‘bias toward Islam and seldom mention Christianity,’ and promote those that push for a Christian view of the origins of life. ‘Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,’ he said.”

Your last chance to stop bill loved by creationists is now!

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

GovernorThis is it, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve been hearing about it from us for months now. The bill that would empower creationists, climate change deniers, anti-vaccine proponents, and other factual science education foes to challenge the textbooks and other instructional materials in school districts across the state is on the governor’s desk. This is your last chance to influence its fate. Contact Gov. Rick Scott and voice your opposition to HB 989 Instructional Materials now. Call (850) 717-9337. Use the email form. Don’t wait.

For all the gory details about this bill and our opposition, see our Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category.

Eight years later: Are Florida’s students still losing out on a solid science education?

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

stand-up-for-science-180In June 2009, a full eight years ago, I wrote a column published in the Gainesville Sun with the pointed headline: Is science education important to Florida?

Is science education important to Florida? That is a relevant question to ask after analyzing the 2009 science FCAT results released last week.

There were minimal gains of one or two percent in the lower grades, but a disappointing 63 percent of 11th graders failed, scoring below a level three. There are bright spots in a few counties, but overall we are either mired in the tar pit of an inadequate testing system for science, or our students have a shockingly poor understanding of basic science concepts. Quite likely, both explanations are equally valid.

There have been a few changes in the testing system since then. The FCAT has been re-branded as the Statewide Science Assessment. The 11th grade FCAT was eliminated, replaced with the Biology End of Course exam. But some things remain the same. Students are still doing poorly. I wrote a column that was published today in the Orlando Sentinel. I would have loved to give it the same headline as the 2009 piece, but I have no control over what the editors decide. The online version is Spur a love for science that spans a lifetime. The print version is different: Give science education attention it deserves for productive future. Nonetheless, my message was essentially the same as eight years ago.

Unfortunately, I worry that Florida’s decision makers and leaders are not up to the task of preparing our students for the science-infused future they face. The Florida Department of Education recently released the results of several standardized exams our students took this past year. The FDOE’s press release highlighted praiseworthy improvements in English Language Arts and mathematics assessments.

But what about science? Here’s what the press release had to say: “Science performance remained consistent.” That’s it.

Unlike the other tested subjects, there wasn’t anything positive to say about the science assessments. Consistent is a horrible word to use in association with the results. Students in fifth and eighth grades took tests the FDOE calls Statewide Science Assessments. Not once in the past six years have more than half of all eighth-grade test takers passed the exam.

To make that loud and clear: More than half the students taking that exam failed every year since at least 2012. This year’s results showed that 52 percent failed. In fifth grade, 49 percent failed the exam, which is the same as the previous year. That’s stagnant, not consistent.

I posted links to today’s story on social media and I’ve had responses asking, “What can I do about this?” My answer is simple: be loud. My newspaper columns are obviously not loud enough. I’m just one person spitting in the wind. Remember that awesome March for Science? (See my blog post Marching for Science across Florida.) If all those marchers — and I mean every single one — would copy both of my columns and send them (email, postal mail, hand deliver) to decision makers (elected officials, appointed officials) with an attached note bold and highlighted “What are YOU going to do about this?” then maybe they would realize something is wrong.

Be loud.

Look up the results for your local schools. If the results are good — fortunately, there are some really good ones out there — then take the time and effort to let your school board members, superintendent, principals and teachers know. Give them the praise they deserve. But if your local schools didn’t perform so hot, then be loud. Ask them what’s going on and demand an answer. Don’t let them ignore you.

Be loud.

Spread the word. There were a lot of March for Science participants. Hopefully, they’ll get this message and they’ll all speak up. But there are plenty of other folks out there who value science education but aren’t aware of Florida’s plight. Tell them. Prod them into action. No one is going to take us seriously if we’re not loud. That means we need a lot of people willing to be vocal. Find those people and recruit them.

Be loud.

Did you know that the Florida Department of Education had planned on updating our state science standards in 2016? (See our old post about this: Science Standards revision schedule and you can view the standards here.) The process was even started in 2015 when the FDOE recruited people to be on the standards review committee. We know that because some of our members and associates were asked to participate. But then the process was abruptly halted and abandoned a few months after it started. There is no official explanation for why. (We have unconfirmed information that it was because politicians didn’t want evolution and climate change in the news during election season.) It’s now June 2017 and the process hasn’t restarted. Florida Citizens for Science president Jonathan Smith hounded the FDOE about this and finally got a response. The standards will not be revised in the next two years at least and perhaps longer.

I think you know what to do now.

Be loud.

Governor signs Religious Liberties bill into law

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

The Florida legislature presented Governor Rick Scott with the Religious Liberties bill on Monday and on Friday he signed it into law. There are two sections of the bill (link to pdf) that concern us here at Florida Citizens for Science. One of them is:

A school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.

open-your-text-books-2There is no further explanation of that sentence. News stories have pointed out that the law says school personnel can participate in student-led religious activities, which is true. But that provision is in a separate section of the law as written. So, the above statement, taken at face value, says that a teacher who expresses a religious view will not be discriminated against. How far can that be taken? Will a creationist teacher be allowed to counter evolution lessons with creationist statements and then claim it’s permitted under this Florida law if confronted?

It appears that is how others are interpreting the law. The Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which is actively fighting against evolution and climate change in textbooks, has boldly stated their intention to use this law:

The group [Florida Citizens’ Alliance] supported legislation that also passed Friday to protect students and educators who wish to express their religious beliefs in school from discrimination. If signed by the governor, Flaugh said his group will use it in conjunction with the instructional materials bill to contest textbooks that demonstrate “bias toward Islam and seldom mention Christianity,” and promote those that push for a Christian view of the origins of life.

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” he said.

The other section of the new law that has us worried is:

A student may express his or her religious beliefs in coursework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination. A student’s homework and classroom assignments shall be evaluated, regardless of their religious content, based on expected academic standards relating to the course curriculum and requirements. A student may not be penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of his or her work if the coursework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments require a student’s viewpoint to be expressed.

Let’s say that a student is given an assignment related to evolution. A student parrots the correct evolution explanation (in compliance with what the law says about evaluating assignments) but then adds creationist views. Can the teacher do anything? Teachers typically get to know their students throughout the year and it may be clear to the teacher that this student doesn’t actually understand evolution. Would it be considered “discrimination” if the teacher wants to do remediation with the student in an effort to help the student learn and understand the science?

The bill is signed into law. What now? If this new law concerns you, then it’s up to you to do something at the local level. Simply liking and sharing on social media doesn’t get the job done. You have to be an active participant in the business of your local school board and local schools. If you don’t stand up for science education where you live, who will?

Science assessment scores “remained consistent”? Seriously?

Friday, June 9th, 2017

The results are in for the many mandatory statewide tests Florida’s students take every year. Headlines in newspapers across the state emphasized language arts and math scores, which overall improved over last year’s results. That’s good news.

But science? Here’s what the Florida Department of Education’s press release announcing all of the results says about science:

Compared to 2016, a higher percentage of Florida’s students passed the statewide, standardized assessments in Civics and U.S. History while Science performance remained consistent.

f-school-letter-gradeThat’s all, folks. The press release has a lot of analysis and stats about all of the other exams but a mere “remained consistent” statement about science. Of course, an official press release is going to put as positive a spin as possible on bad news. You have to expect that. But not one single newspaper or other media outlet that I could find said much more about science in their stories than the press release did. Unfortunately, that same pattern of ignoring science results has been going on for years. Let’s look at the numbers.

Biology End of Course
Statewide Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
Spring 2016-2017: 63
Spring 2015-2016: 64
Spring 2014-2015: 65
Spring 2013-2014: 68
Spring 2012-2013: 67
Spring 2011-2012: 59

5th Grade Science Statewide Science Assessment (formally know as the science FCAT)
Statewide Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2017: 51
2016: 51
2015: 53
2014: 54
2013: 53
2012: 52

8th Grade Science Statewide Science Assessment (formally know as the science FCAT)
Statewide Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2017: 48*
2016: 48*
2015: 48
2014: 49
2013: 47
2012: 47

In 8th grade, 48 percent of students taking the exam passed it. That means a full 52 percent — yes, more than half of all test takers — did not pass it this year. And that is the same result as the previous year. In 5th grade it’s not any better: 51 percent passed, meaning that nearly half did not pass. And the Biology end of course results have been slipping downward a bit year after year after year.

No, I do not believe the science scores “remained consistent”! They remained dismal. They’re stagnant or falling. And everyone needs to stop sweeping that dirt under the rug.

Does anyone care about Florida science education?

(*FDOE started a year or two ago combining the 8th grade science assessment results with the results of 8th graders who instead took the Biology EOC. The combined statistic reported on most of the FDOE’s documents is 50 percent passing in 8th grade. But the pure Statewide Science Assessment results show a passing percentage of only 48. I highlighted this when I first noticed it in last year’s assessment results post.)

Give the Devil his Due

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

All has been very quiet concerning the odious instructional materials bill lately. The bill would allow any resident, not just parents, to protest against what’s found in textbooks, including coverage of evolution, climate change, vaccines, etc. On top of that, school districts must appoint a hearing officer to consider such complaints. It’s bad news all around. But the bill has yet to be delivered to the governor for his signature. I’ve been searching high and low and asking many different people but I have yet to get answers concerning this part of the lawmaking process. Is waiting this long to give a bill to the governor normal? How long can legislators wait? Is there a deadline? I have no idea but I would love to know. Any help would be appreciated.

On the other hand, the religious liberties bill has been plopped onto the governor’s desk. He has until June 20 to take action on it. So, NOW would be a good time to contact his office and urge a veto. This bill would give teachers and school staff the right to express religious views in school and would allow students to express religious views in coursework without discrimination. For us here at Florida Citizens for Science, this is a concern because of the possibility of creationism and other religious views being inserted into science classrooms.

satanologyAnd we’re not alone. Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino doesn’t pull any punches in his latest piece: Banner flap at Boca High ought to be lesson for Florida lawmakers. Some excerpts:

The Palm Beach County School Board has had a practice of allowing religious groups to advertise their brand of salvation at county public schools. At least that was the practice until Stevens asked Boca Raton High School to display his banner, which said, “The Church of Satanology” and “Give the Devil his due.”

There’s nothing like tossing a Satanist in the punch bowl to get public organizations to shake themselves awake to the Constitutional dictates regarding the separation of church and state.

This session, our state lawmakers passed The Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act, a bill that encourages more religious proselytizing in public schools.

Its two main proponents have been Rep. Kim Daniels, a Democrat from Jacksonville. She’s a self-described apostle who came to the legislature as a Christian evangelical preacher. Daniels believes that witches are trying to take over the country, and may be working extra hard on President Donald Trump. Seriously.

In the Florida Senate, her partner in this quest is State Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who owns a string of funeral homes and was the former executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.

Baxley’s not a fan of evolution, and thinks it’s unfair that Florida’s public school children are being exposed to a science curriculum that doesn’t allow that the earth is just 6,000 years old.

They were the guiding hands that successfully passed a bill that would expand the role of religion in Florida’s public schools to levels that have alarmed the American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida Citizens for Science and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

I suspect that state lawmakers will do what the Palm Beach County School District is doing — remembering that promoting religious expression in public schools means promoting all forms of religious expression. Something that’s suddenly not such a great idea.

And the next county on the terrible textbook tour is …

Monday, June 5th, 2017

lee countyI’ve already pointed out that Collier County is the main hotbed of textbook unrest in Florida. That’s the home of Florida Citizens’ Alliance, the group that authored and supported the passage through our state legislature of the instructional materials bill that is much loved by creationists and climate change deniers. The Alliance has been protesting about what’s in various textbooks to their school board for quite a while now and they’ve even resorted to filing a lawsuit. But we need to keep in mind that the Alliance has friends in other counties.

The next target could be Lee County in southwest Florida. Someone there has compiled a laundry list of complaints against three social studies textbooks. You can see the complaint documents here. Of special interest to us here at Florida Citizens for Science are these two points:

First is “HMH Social Studies: Civics In Practice Integrated: Civics, Econ, & Geography Florida: Student Edition 2018”

The Geography Handbook contains maps with instructions for interpretation. Two maps in particular call into question bias and slant. Pg 441 includes maps of the west coast of Florida that Project the Impact of Global Warming on Charlotte Harbor. “Maps can be used to predict future conditions. This pair of maps shows how predicted sea-level rise due to global warming might affect the Charlotte Harbor area on Florida’s Gulf coast.” This takes the perspective that global warming is a known fact, introduces it as fact and an accurate prediction and does not allow for discussion regarding the possibility or denial of global warming. BUT the bullet uses “predicted” and “might” in the same sentence. The Skills box asks questions of the students about elimination of landforms, increase of vegetation and changes in wildlife, fisheries and economies as if global warming is an indisputable fact. FACT: Global warming is argued for and against on many levels by some of the best scientific minds and still there is no conclusive evidence that warrants instruction in the classroom where ‘predicted” is considered the correct approach.

Next, we have “HMH Social Studies American History: Reconstruction To The Present Student Edition” ~ 2018

Page 966-967 A Global Concern: States without any scientific fact or resource that “extreme weather events are occurring more often” and “the greenhouse effect has led to global warming and climate change.” They conclude that fossil fuels in the atmosphere have caused this. This is purely political diatribe used to gain power and money. Read the book, Global Warming every 1500 Years by S. Fred Singer, or go to or for scientific links and political problems pursuant to the global warming “crisis” promoted by supporters of this debunked theory.

I invite you to check out the links given in these complaints, review them and report back on their claims so as to help the folks in Lee County who might need to fight back against this nonsense.

Yes, there is hope

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Most of my blog posts lately have been quite the downers as I report on bad bills approved by our legislature and the fallout we’re already starting to see around the state. But every now and then there are some bright spots to enjoy.

roarThe Roar is a student paper produced by the students at West Shore Jr./Sr. High School in Melbourne. The paper published an editorial blasting the passage of the instructional materials bill. It’s a thoughtful, well reasoned piece that really gives me hope. Students are, in fact, not blind to what’s going on around them. Seeing them engaged in legislation that can truly impact their education gives me hope for our future.

Florida House bill 989 designed to curtail broad education:

Some parents, along with legislators in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate, have decided that certain parts of the curriculum being taught in school are too controversial and that they deserve the right to determine how or whether or not these subjects can or should be taught.

The problem with this bill is that even though the sponsors claimed that it helps parents get more involved with their students and there are limitations on what can be objected to, the legislation can easily create a situation in which someone can object to a subject being taught in school because it offends them. Groups that don’t believe in certain parts of a scientific curriculum, such as evolution or immunization, for example, can now successfully argue that their children are too young to be learning about a topic that they really just don’t want their students to hear about because it goes against their own personal beliefs.

Instead of claiming that everything is inappropriate for their precious kids, parents should want their children to learn about these so-called “controversial” topics in an environment that is controlled and honest conversation can be facilitated.

In order to be a truly educated society, students need to be learning important issues without censorship.