Getting ready for another wild ride in Tallahassee

The state legislative session kicks off Tuesday. We here at Florida Citizens for Science are as busy as can be as we monitor several bad bills filed in the legislature that can negatively impact science education. Additionally, the review of all academic standards directed by Gov. Ron DeSantis has a new plot twist that we need to keep our eye on.

In this post I’ll summarize and provide updates on:

  • Instructional Materials Bills (that contain references to “controversial issues”)
  • Academic Standards Bill (that contain references to “controversial theories”)
  • Alternative High School Diploma Bills (that allow students to graduate having taken only one science course)
  • Revision of the state’s academic standards (including science standards)

Instructional Materials Bills

We told you about HB855, which would, among many things, require all instructional materials used in public schools to be “accurate and factual; provide, objective, balanced, and noninflammatory viewpoints on controversial issues.” We’re worried about the use of the words balanced, noninflammatory and controversial issues. They sound reasonable but we know what they’re really referring to. The organization that wrote this bill, the Florida Citizens Alliance, considers evolution and global warming to be controversial issues that need to be balanced with other “theories.” They already tried several times to make that happen when new science textbooks were purchased last year. In just one county, the Alliance submitted 220 objections to the science texts!

Now we have an update: the house bill has a companion in the senate: SB1454. It’s an exact duplicate of the house bill. The fact that there are identical bills in both legislative chambers is a bad sign.

Other than the problem of evolution and global warming being targeted as “controversial issues” there are several other problems with the bills.

  • It gives a school board power to “proactively remove the material regardless of whether a parent or resident has objected to the material.”
  • It gives citizens who object to a school board’s decision to keep certain instructional materials the authority to “sue in circuit court for an injunction to remove such materials and may recover reasonable attorney fees and costs.”
  • When a hearing about instructional materials is scheduled due to a citizen complaint, the “district school board may not appoint its own hearing officer.”
  • It requires that the hearing officer respond in writing to every complaint filed by a citizen. “Failure of the hearing officer to provide written findings on each objection voids the adoption process.”
  • It prohibits the school board and school district attorney from direct participation in hearing proceedings. “Members of the district school board, the district school superintendent, and any attorney for the school district may attend a hearing as part of the audience, but may not participate in the hearing. An attorney for the school district may not have been involved in designing or establishing the rules of operation for the hearing.”
  • Citizens dissatisfied with the school board decisions about instructional materials can not only sue, but can also go over the school board’s heads. “Decisions regarding such instructional materials by the school board may be appealed by the petitioner to the State Board of Education.”

There are quite a few other problems with the bills, specifically the large chunks focused on pornography. I don’t think there is a single redeeming thing about this pair of bills. This bill is all about the Alliance letting loose its wrath on school boards that have rebuffed them after the Alliance took their new instructional materials law passed in 2017 out for a test drive. They recently stated:

HB 989 was passed in 2017 and was a good start, but unfortunately it lacked the means to hold school districts accountable. Most of Florida’s School Districts ignored the law, and 3 districts (Collier, Charlotte and Martin County) actually made a mockery of it by willfully and blatantly violating the key elements of HB 989.

So, they want a new law passed that will force school boards to bend their knees to the Alliance.

Academic Standards Bill

SB330 could impact the standards for all academic subjects, especially science. The bill proposes allowing school districts to adopt their own sets of educational standards if they are “equal to or more rigorous” than the state’s educational standards. The bill specifically targets science standards with the following directive from lines 62 to 66.

62 (b) Science standards must establish specific curricular
63 content for, at a minimum, the nature of science, earth and
64 space science, physical science, and life science. Controversial
65 theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective,
66 and balanced manner.

As of today, March 2, there is no update on this bill. No companion bill has been filed in the house yet. The senate bill has been referred to four committees. For more background in this bill, see our issues page for it. And see our post about the backlash the bill’s sponsor is getting.

Alternative High School Diploma Bills

SB770 and HB661 have very serious implications for science and math education: Proposed bill would allow Florida students to ditch advanced math for industry certifications

State Senator Travis Hutson (R-St. Johns) introduced a bill last week that, if passed, would dramatically change traditional four-year graduation requirements for high school students by doing away with the requirement to pass some advanced math and science courses.

An op-ed I wrote opposing this bill appeared Feb. 24 in the Tallahassee Democrat: Florida students need more science and math education, not less.

Science and math are just too darn hard. That’s a message now coming from the Florida Legislature. Bills filed in Florida’s House and Senate aim to give students a way to avoid those difficult subjects.

Hutson’s idea allows students to earn a high school diploma having taken only one science and two math classes. That does a gross disservice to our students.

I understand the desire to give students who don’t currently see college in their future a relevant pathway through high school. I didn’t go to college until two decades after graduating high school. But science and math courses shouldn’t be seen as obstacles to be removed. They open doors to future life choices and careers today’s students don’t even know are there yet.

And the Daytona Beach News-Journal agrees with my assessment of the bills: Students deserve high standards

It’s a good thing that Hutson and other lawmakers are looking to the futures of all Florida students, not just those who are university-bound. That will benefit students and the state’s business sector, where employers will need armies of skilled workers to keep air conditioners chilling, tapwater flowing and car engines humming. Certainly, lawmakers should consider investing in a wider array of options for students, and look for industry partnerships that will allow corporate underwriting of programs crafted to deliver work-ready students into good-paying jobs.

But they shouldn’t chip away at the standards Florida has set for all students — particularly in science, writing and math. The trade isn’t worth it, and it isn’t needed to advance career education.

Revisions of the state’s academic standards

Gov. Ron DeSantis is making good on a campaign promise he made to launch a revision of the state’s education standards. The headlines have been making a big deal out of his targeting of Common Core, such as this one: “Florida governor Ron DeSantis orders state to get rid of Common Core standards.” The only Common Core standards Florida has are for language arts and math. But the governor’s executive order clearly says all standards, not just Common Core, will be reviewed. This means the science standards, too!

By January 1, 2020, the Commissioner of Education shall comprehensively review Florida’s Kindergarten through grade twelve academic standards and provide recommended revisions to the Governor.

I posted about this already. But the new tidbit is that Eric Hall was appointed to be Florida’s first chancellor for innovation.

In Florida, Eric will report directly to Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and will focus on implementation of top education priorities such as workforce and computer science education, expanding school choice, K-12 standards and more.

I highlighted in bold the interesting part. Will Hall have a role in the governor’s standards review? What are Hall’s views on “controversial” science topics?

I’ll reemphasize: the legislative session starts Tuesday. Are your seat belts buckled?

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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