It looks like preparations are being made for the Wednesday afternoon Florida Senate Education Pre-K – 12 committee meeting. At this meeting Senator Storms’ so-called “academic freedom” act will be considered. A check of the bill’s page on the Senate website shows a couple of new documents have been created. First is a Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement. This document was prepared by the “Professional Staff of the Education Pre-K – 12 Committee”, with the specific person who is the analyst only being listed by last name: Carrouth. Whoever Carrouth is, I want to give that person a pat on the back. The analysis is pretty darn good.
It first points out that the new state science standards already provide for free inquiry in the science classroom. The Nature of Science section of the standards address this quite nicely. The bill analysis states: “Taken as a whole, the science standards encourage teachers and students to discuss the full range of scientific evidence related to all science, including evolution.”
The analysis goes on to say that the curriculum standards must be taught, and that those standards now in place provide for addressing “controversial subject matter … albeit in a professional and objective manner …” The analysis then points out that no Florida teacher or student has ever claimed to be discriminated against in science class.
There is some ambiguity in the bill, according to the analysis. Some terms are not defined, which could lead to misinterpretation and eventual lawsuits. The analysis says: “Additionally, the bill is silent on who defines the objectivity of the scientific information presented. The administration and the teacher may have quite different views on the objectiveness of the information presented.”
On page three, there are a number of good points brought up concerning teacher discipline and student expectations. Some pertinent quotes:
The bill is silent on the school district’s or principal’s authority to discipline a teacher for failing to teach the standards.
The bill provides that public school students may be evaluated based on their understanding of course materials (emphasis added). This provision appears to allow school districts the discretion in evaluating a student on his or her knowledge of the standards.
The bill provides a protection for a student’s views on chemical or biological evolution. This provision is unnecessary and may have an unintended consequence.
The next page makes it quite clear, based on past court cases such as Epperson, Mozert and Kitzmiller that there is nothing wrong with teaching evolution, any law passed of this nature needs to be purely secular, and that intelligent design is not permissible because of its religious nature.
Overall, a very good analysis that I hope all the committee members read closely.
I’m guessing that in response to this analysis, a committee amendment was created, tweaking the language of the original bill. Note that it now says that instead of being entitled “academic freedom act” it should now be called the “evolution academic freedom act.” How interesting!
Also note that there is a new paragraph (2) that explicitly defines the term “scientific information.” With this very clear paragraph inserted, it makes me wonder if anyone knows what the heck they’re talking about. The paragraph is accurate as far as I’m concerned, but it also completely neuters the bill. Seeing as how there is literally no scientific information, as defined, that conflicts with evolution, what is the secular purpose of this bill?
There are a few other spots in the amendment that were changed, most likely based on the analysis. One thing that was left intact, though, is the line about the legislature finding that “in many instances” educators felt threatened when presenting the “full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution.” And yet the analysis makes it quite clear that no such cases are known.
Here’s to hoping that there are enough sane lawmakers on the committee who will see this act as a waste of time and energy. We’ll find out tomorrow.
[edited to add: We’ve gotten word that the senators on the committee have been flooded with phone calls about this bill. You can be sure that those in support of the bill are burning up the phone lines. It’s important that you get on the phone as soon as you can Wednesday morning to counter them. Remember: those who tried to change the state science standards flooded the board of education with correspondence, which turned out to be influential with varying degrees of success. The board had no intention of holding a public hearing during their February meeting, but did because of the overwhelming pressure. What kind of pressure is being exerted now on the senators? Click on each senator’s name on this list to get their contact information and then call!]