Truth in Textbooks?

TextbooksBefore I do a news roundup of all the articles published about the horrible new Florida instructional materials law, it’s important to note that this issue will only get more heated throughout the year. The Department of Education will soon launch its science instructional materials review and selection process. I encourage you to read the materials currently posted at the DoE instructional materials website. The website currently announces that the “Reviewer portal is now closed for the 2016-17 state adoption.” But that was for last year’s social studies materials review. The portal will eventually reopen when the science materials review kicks off. If you open the pdf document there “2017-18 Instructional Materials Adoption Announcement” you’ll see that the final deadline for publishers to submit materials is:

Publishers must provide FDOE with access to sample copies of the major tool, which includes the Student Edition and the Teacher Edition, in an electronic or digital format, no later than 5 p.m., EDT, Friday, July 14, 2017.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any documents on the site that outline the review schedule, such as when guest reviewer applications will be accepted. If you find the information, please let us know. In the meantime, we need to constantly monitor that website and any announcements issued by the DoE.

The group that wrote and promoted the bad instructional materials law, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, is getting ready. Their latest post asks for folks to take a survey and then sign up for training in reviewing textbooks hosted by an organization called Truth in Textbooks. The Truth’s website is apparently down (I tried to access it several times July 18 and kept getting error messages). But the group made a name for itself when it was known as Truth in Texas Textbooks. Here’s a story about them from back in 2014: A New Conservative Watchdog’s Big Textbook War Debut.

The group’s comments on each text are posted online as Word documents, plus a 52-page summary of their findings. They include grammar fixes and corrected dates, but dwell mostly on the usual questions of patriotism, religion, global warming and evolution—all the usual battlegrounds the State Board of Education is known for.
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The Texas Freedom Network’s review of the new group’s reviews called its complaints “peculiar” and questioned whether the group’s reviewers were qualified for the job. A note on one Truth in Texas Textbooks’ review, TFN notes, suggests including information on Young Earth Creationism sourced to Conservapedia.com.

In other words, we need to be ready. We here at Florida Citizens for Science recently had an informal board meeting, spending three hours discussing a wide range of current event topics. We’re in the process of contacting the DoE to try to pry more detailed information out of them about their instructional materials review and selection process. We’re networking with individuals and groups all across the state with the goal of establishing activists in every county to monitor and participate in local textbook selection efforts. If you want to join in our efforts, please contact us ASAP. Don’t wait!

Now let’s move on to the news roundup. First is a link to the interview I did on radio station WGCU’s radio show Gulf Coast Live: Naples Rep’s New Law Lets Any Resident Challenge Classroom Materials. The main guest was the instructional materials law sponsor in the state House, Rep. Byron Donalds. I was the other guest, but I was on the phone instead of in the studio with Donalds and the show host. That resulted in my not getting much speaking time. I actually think the host forgot I was a guest for a while. In my opinion, the host could have done a much better job of including me. For instance, she asked Donalds to explain how the new law would work if someone came forward with a complaint about how Cuba is portrayed in some material. That was puzzling. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to use a science-related example so that I could then be part of the conversation? The rare couple of times I got to speak I think I made the most of. However, the host’s question to me about how people incorrectly use the scientific meaning of the word “theory” was completely out of context from the ongoing conversation. It was as if maybe her producer reminded her that I was on the phone and she just picked a random question that her producer had prepared for her ahead of time. It was a frustrating experience but still worth the time getting Donalds’ thoughts on the record.

The Florida Keys News published a story: New law allows anyone to question what’s taught in school.

Florida Keys Schools Superintendent Mark Porter said he doesn’t expect any flurry of activity in response to the new law but said the district will have to develop a new policy to match the new law. As for who the hearing officer should be, Porter said that is up to interpretation.

“We have a very thorough process for the adoption of materials, that’s what really makes the most sense,” Porter said. “This opens up the opportunity for after adoption for materials to be evaluated.”

Since he was hired in 2012, Porter said he hasn’t had a phone call questioning such materials on science or any other subject.

Reconsidering textbooks once they’ve been purchased could lead to costly changes, Porter said.

The Humanist interviewed our very own Florida Citizens for Science president Jonathan Smith: Classroom Politics: Florida’s New Law on Education.

Florida’s dystopian turn is a worrisome reality for local and national science advocacy groups that have been fighting for proper science education for years. Florida Citizens for Science (FCS) President Jonathan Smith lamented the law in an email response to me: “This has the potential to undermine all the work we have done in the last eight years and again impose a minority’s religious convictions on the rest of us.”

The Tampa Bay Times has an editorial: Florida’s micromanaging of public schools.

Think of the mayhem this could create. Don’t believe in evolution? Challenge the science teacher. Don’t believe high schoolers should learn about sex education? Challenge the health teacher. Don’t believe the Holocaust actually happened? Challenge the history teacher. Don’t like the language in The Catcher in the Rye? Challenge the American lit teacher.
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For a state that has gone to great lengths to ensure that teachers are held accountable and curriculum adheres strictly to Florida’s testing standards, how on Earth does it make sense to permit anyone with time on their hands and an ax to grind to throw a classroom into chaos?

And our final news item for now is from The Ledger: Polk schools expect easy transition to new state process for challenging instructional materials.

School Board member Billy Townsend said there might not be any impact at all. “Like so much of what came out of this legislative session, it’s a horribly vague and unhelpful piece of legislation… and I’m not sure what kind of problem it’s trying to solve,” Townsend said. “Looking at the entire legislative package that was sent out, it’s one big statement of bad intent and how that bad intent manifests itself on the ground in reality — we don’t know yet.”
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“Sometimes it’s a double-headed coin: Some may say they don’t like the materials you’re currently using and want you to use materials that most people in the community are not in favor of,” [School Board member Lynn] Wilson said. “We’ll just have to see.”

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