Archive for October, 2017

Another barrel of rotten apples

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

The Orlando Sentinel is publishing a three part series about Florida private schools raking in voucher money from the state despite some incredibly ugly problems at those schools. The first part ran today: Schools Without Rules: An Orlando Sentinel Investigation (Florida private schools rake in nearly $1 billion in state scholarships with little oversight.)

There’s plenty of problems highlighted in just this first article. I cringe while imagining what’s in the subsequent articles. But the main issue that attracts my attention is, of course, this:

Nor do private schools need to follow the state’s academic standards. One curriculum, called Accelerated Christian Education or ACE, is popular in some private schools and requires students to sit at partitioned desks and fill out worksheets on their own for most of the day, with little instruction from teachers or interaction with classmates.

Like many of the Christian schools that take state scholarships, [TDR Learning Academy in Orlando] uses one of a handful of popular curricula that, as one administrator explained, teach “traditional” math and reading but Bible-based history and science, including creationism.

At Harvest Baptist Academy in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood, parents choose the 20-year-old school for its academics, Bible-based lessons and no-nonsense discipline that includes spanking children, said Harry Amos, recently retired principal.

About 78 percent of Florida’s scholarship students are enrolled in religious schools. Most are Christian schools, though some Jewish and Muslim schools take part, too.

Way back in 2012 I got into an online debate with the Assistant Director for Policy & Public Affairs at Step Up for Students, the organization that administers Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. You can read our arguments at this old post: Rotten Apples. (Be sure to read the comments on that post.) For instance, I told him:

Teaching creationism as if it’s real science most certainly should not be supported by public tax dollars. My focus when I wrote my first response to your post and now this response is very narrow. Your argument is (correct me if I’m wrong) that if kids are getting great reading, writing and math education at a private school, then it’s OK to overlook bad science education. My counter-argument is that the science instructors in this narrow subset of creationism-promoting private schools are not just teaching science poorly but are actually teaching the very opposite of science! I also argue that if blatant creationism is being taught in biology classes in these particular schools then I guarantee that other unscientific concepts based on faith rather than science can be found in the geology, chemistry and physics classes. Not only do some of these schools teach creationism, they go a step further and actively teach that evolution is wrong. That way of teaching doesn’t just affect students’ thinking about the one subject of evolution; it gives students a grossly warped view of what science is and how it is done overall! You can have your own opinions, but in science you can’t have your own facts.

I also noted this creationism-in-private-schools issue in 2013: Creationist Voucher Schools.

A website called Say No to Creationist Vouchers lists schools that use questionable (and that’s a charitable word) curriculum and materials in the science classroom or blatantly teach anti-science. The site identifies and links to 163 voucher accepting public schools in Florida that use creationist materials or boldly state that they teach anti-science.

My point now is that this crazy scheme has been around for several years. I appreciate that the Orlando Sentinel is once again exposing it, but let’s be honest. Is anything going to change?

David against the state’s Goliath

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Florida’s new Instructional Materials law is now featured in an article in the AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) Explorer: Science Curricula Under Threat?

The problem, according to those who think there is one, is in the first sentence of Florida House Bill 989.

“…allowing a resident of a county to challenge the use or adoption of instructional materials …”

This bill – and Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law – will allow any adult, in any school district, even if he or she doesn’t have a child attending school in district – or, for that matter, any school district in the state – to lodge a complaint over the teaching methods or materials in Florida’s public schools.

And while it could potentially pertain to any subject – Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” for instance, has been called pornographic by some Florida parents who want it removed from public school curricula – the intent, critics contend, has to do with curtailing scientific inquiry, namely with regard to evolution and global climate change.

Sponsored by the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, whose website construes the fight in nothing less than biblical proportions, casting itself as David against the state’s Goliath, the organization purports to “advance a rebirth of liberty in Florida” and claims the bill is simply about choice and academic freedom.

Not all agree.

Jonathan P. Smith, president of Florida Citizens for Science, an advocacy group opposed to the measure, said HB 989 has ominous implications for education in the state.

“This bill will allow anyone – and I mean anyone – to object for any reason to current text books used in the state,” he said.

Make sure to go read the whole thing.

Dixie County’s “inappropriate subject matter” book ban

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

On the Gulf Coast of Florida, west of Gainesville, is Dixie County, which recently attracted attention from the National Coalition Against Censorship. According to the NCAC, the school district’s superintendent, Mike Thomas, issued a directive “which prohibits the school district from purchasing and/or using ‘instructional materials (textbooks, library books, classroom novels, etc.)’ that ‘contain any profanity, cursing, or inappropriate subject matter …’

The NCAC notes:

Excluding material because it may be subjectively considered “inappropriate” and “questionable” potentially affects a wide range of materials that address race, gender, religion, sex, political violence, history, science, politics, the environment, or any other issue on which people may disagree.

Of course, the subjects I perk up at are “science” and “the environment.” I’m not aware of science materials being directly targeted in Dixie County, but I also don’t know much about what’s going on there as information about this issue is scarce on the Internet. However, I am concerned when I see in the NCAC letter that the superintendent tells teachers to make instructional materials choices based on “community standards.” NCAC says:

The vague notion of “community standards” offers educators no clear guidance and impermissibly imposes the viewpoints of some community members on every student in the District.

Why am I concerned? Because the argument for matching textbooks with local community standards was used by proponents of Florida’s new instructional materials law. (See our Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category for more on the law.) Can you imagine the argument that “we didn’t come from no monkey” being used as a community standard to ditch certain science materials? I can.

The president of the Florida Library Association is also concerned:

School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to discriminate against unpopular or controversial ideas. The U.S. Supreme Court has cautioned that, ‘Local school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books …’ Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982).

Brevard County asking for help with science materials selection

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Thanks to an alert Florida Citizens for Science friend, we now know that Brevard County is looking for the public’s input about what science instructional materials to adopt for their school district.

Read this pdf listing the dates and events: Community Involvement Opportunity.

Brevard Public Schools (BPS) is inviting parents/community members to provide input for the selection of Next Generation Sunshine State Standards aligned instructional materials. There are four opportunities for parent/community input.

Brevard Public Schools (BPS) is committed to fostering high-quality learning experiences we know students need to ensure they have a solid K-12 science education. The upcoming instructional materials adoption cycle for science is an opportunity to select high-quality instructional materials for the beginning of the 2018 – 2019 school year. Participating in the instructional materials review process is a powerful opportunity for teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.

October 12, 2017 6pm – 8pm Parent/Community Information Night
October 12 – November 9, 2017 Parent/Community Input Survey
October 23, 2017 8am – 12pm Parent/Community Information Day
November 13 – 14, 2017 8am – 4pm Brevard Instructional Materials Selection Committee Meeting

It’s definitely time for everyone to monitor your own school district for events like these! Let us know about them and we’ll post information for all to see.

 

Eugenie Scott, Brandon Haught, Bertha Vazquez in Orlando this month

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

I’m reproducing here an edited notice that the National Center for Science Education sent out recently about a central Florida event coming up:

NCSE’s founding executive director Eugenie C. Scott will be speaking on “Race, Science, and Society” at 4:30 p.m. on October 21, at the FREEFLO Freethought Florida Conference, held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Orlando Airport, 5555 Hazeltine National Drive in Orlando.

A description of her talk: “The concept of race in biology or anthropology refers to groups of populations in a geographic region that share some characteristics. As such, races, as open genetic systems, are neither permanent, stable, pure, nor are they discrete units. The concept of race to most Americans, however, includes most of this list, and thus has no scientific foundation. Yet socially, race is extraordinarily important in American society, and misunderstanding biology and genetics can have serious consequences for our society. How should we approach this subject to both reflect science as well as our social needs?”

Among the other speakers at the conference will be high school science teacher, author, and Florida Citizens for Science communications director Brandon Haught, speaking on “Evolution and Climate Change and Schools, Oh My!” at 3:05 p.m. on October 21.

A description of his talk: “Attempts to influence science education, especially lessons on evolution, have been ongoing since the 1920s here in Florida. Amazingly, the fight rages on even today. Two new state laws are the latest salvo in this never-ending battle. One law changes the way textbooks and instructional materials can be reviewed and challenged by citizens. The other law allows students and all school personnel to express religious viewpoints free from discrimination. Proponents of these laws have gone on the record to boldly state that they will both be used to attack the teaching of evolution and climate change at the local school board level. Additionally, the Florida Department of Education started the process of reviewing and approving new science textbooks that will be used in classrooms for several years to come. This talk will focus on the origins of the new laws, their potential impact, and what concerned citizens can do to defend quality science education here in the Sunshine State.”

Also speaking is Bertha Vazquez, a science teacher in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools and director of the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, which holds workshops around the nation for middle-school teachers. She will be speaking on “What Is It Like to Teach Evolution in the United States?” at 3:35 p.m. on October 21.

Conference registration starts at $120 ($45 for students). For further details, visit: http://www.freeflo.org/