Bad textbook bill clears a hurdle

http://www.flascience.org/?p=3161

The bad instructional materials bill currently before the Florida House (HB 827 — see our issues page about it) cleared its first hurdle, getting a favorable vote at the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee meeting yesterday.

From the Tampa Bay Times story, Florida lawmakers advance bills on textbooks, education funding, restraint and seclusion:

A bill to give Florida school district residents even more say in the selection of textbooks and instructional materials easily passed its first House committee on Wednesday, with just one member opposed.

The proposal … already has drawn concerns from organizations that worry it aims to generate attacks on science and social studies books. They’ve noted that science book challenges have arisen already because of the 2017 law.

The only speaker on the bill in the PreK-12 Quality subcommittee was from the conservative Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in favor of the initiative.

No one was there to speak in opposition.

We can’t stop this bill without your help. Contact your representatives now.

Meanwhile in Clay County: the teaching of evolution is “intellectually deceptive”

http://www.flascience.org/?p=3153

Evolution fires suddenly seem to be popping up everywhere. The latest controversy over the teaching of evolution in public schools just happened in Clay County, which is nestled between Jacksonville to the northeast and Gainesville to the southwest.

The Clay County school board at their Jan. 4 regular meeting took up a mundane item: “Permission to publish an advertisement for K-12 science textbook adoption.” I invite to follow along for yourself at this video recording of the proceedings. It starts at about 59:40.

Board member Ashley Gilhousen had an issue with the agenda item. When given the floor, she had this to say:

The guidelines and the standards that are given to us by the state I know kind of tie our hands because obviously we want our kids to do well on the exam. So those standards and benchmarks are important that our kids meet those items and are exposed to that information in order for them to do well on those exams.

But my difficulty lies in the narrow scope as it relates to the theory of human and species origin in that the only theory mentioned is evolution. And all that is expected for students to know is its supporting evidence and none of its flaws. At best, this limited level of exposure for students to the highly contested views on the origin of life and species is negligent. At the worst it’s intellectually deceptive.

While evolution is indeed the most widely accepted theory among the majority of scientists it’s not now nor has it ever been accepted by the majority of Americans. Gallup cited in a poll done in 2017 that roughly two-thirds of Americans do not hold to the theory of evolution in its strictest sense. Our students are a part of our society and we’re shortchanging them by failing to provide a full and complete science education that will allow them to have all of the evidence, facts, and opinions in order that they may grow to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners who make well-informed decisions about the world around them.

What I would like to see at the district level is that we set additional benchmarks and curriculum guides that go above and beyond what the state is requiring. By explicitly stating that each theory we teach is taught in its entirety presenting both supporting evidence as well as the gaps and flaws. Origin of life and species is far from a settled science and we shortchange our students when we teach it as though it were. Ask them to think critically and examine each theory. Allow room for discussion giving rise to a more inclusive classroom setting where ideas are thoroughly explored and discussed. When we ask students to master both sides of an issue it fosters a higher level of learning and a more rigorous education. This applies to theories on the age of the earth and climate change as well. And in many of the current benchmarks those things are mentioned as though they were settled science instead of highly contested and debated issues that they are.

She also touched on her apprehension about the reproductive system being included in some textbooks for young children. But before I move on, I need to point out something incredibly important. Look at this specific point she made: “What I would like to see at the district level is that we set additional benchmarks and curriculum guides that go above and beyond what the state is requiring.” Allowing school districts to adopt standards that are more rigorous than the state standards is exactly what two bills currently pending in the state legislature propose. (See our issues page about these “Controversial Theories/Academic Freedom” bills that we at Florida Citizens for Science oppose.) Now you can see exactly how the bills are intended to be applied should they become law, albeit a bit premature.

In response, Superintendent Addison Davis said that families have the option of opting out of anything they find “contentious” and “we will always provide an alternative alternative assignment.”

Gilhousen persisted, saying: “I have a list of the specific benchmarks and standards that are set forth by the state and I don’t think we need to alter or remove those. My question, I guess, is before we move forward on this, can we add more specific guidelines about studying all of scientific theory on human origin and origin of species.”

Davis clarified that the decision before the board was whether to advertise to the public about the science textbook adoption process. Trying to change the curriculum didn’t really belong in this discussion.

Gilhousen wasn’t going to give up, though. She said, “Frankly for me, I could adopt these textbooks with the caveat that we had the guidelines that go with it because I know that’s the expectation is that our teachers will … their teaching will reflect the guidelines not necessarily the textbook. The textbooks are the most aligned to the standards that they’ve ever been. That was part of the goal for this process. So, I knowing that and knowing what the standards are, I can’t in good conscience support that if we’re not going to go the extra measure to ensure that we’re giving a fair shake to all theories and not such a one-sided view of science.”

Board member Carol Studdard then spoke up, saying: “Years and years ago this came up. Evolution raised its ugly head. And I remember a teacher at Ridge View, David Campbell I believe was his name, he spoke very eloquently that night at the board meeting and I honestly don’t remember how many years ago it was but it seems to be cycling and coming back. But it’s my understanding that we teach a balanced approach. That we are not promoting evolution. We’re not promoting anything. We are just presenting a balanced approach of this theory, that theory, whatever. Am I wrong?”

Terri Stahlman, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction jumped in, saying: “That is correct. Based on the standard. One of the misconceptions is that the theory of evolution is introduced in the seventh grade as a science standard and it is coupled with a second standard that teaches students to discern between theory and fact and that’s how it’s been addressed in the past.”

If you watch the video, you can probably see in the way Stahlman refers to “theory” that she’s thinking of the wrong definition of the word, not the scientific definition.

Studdard replied: “I haven’t heard anything about it in years and years and years. I haven’t had any complaints over the years from parents and I thought if it’s different than I thought it was but my understanding is that we teach a balanced approach that we’re not going to push one thing over another.”

Gilhousen asked Stahlman if evolution was being taught in an earlier grade than it been previously. Stahlman answered:

It has always been a seventh-grade standard that they introduced the theory of evolution. And it’s introduced as a theory of practice and then it’s coupled in the instructional process with a second standard that is in seventh grade as well differentiating between theories and facts and how to discern that information. So it’s the teachers responsibility through professional development to make sure that students know that it is a theory and that there is certain information you have to glean from your reading to discern what is fact and what is theory. Does it present the other another position? It does not in the Florida standards. As Ms. Gilhousen is speaking about, to have us address that in our curriculum would be a process that we would have to spend some time looking at. We’d have to look at research-based positions, how many positions do we present, and do we present the Christian side of it versus another side of it? So it would just take us some time to look at that if that was your pleasure.

Once again, if you watch the video, you can get the clear sense that she’s got the wrong definition of theory in mind.

Gilhousen responded:

That’s all I’m asking. I’m not asking that we don’t teach evolution. I’m not asking …  all I’m asking is that we present every theory. And every theory in its entirety. That we discussed the flaws and we discuss the strengths. And I have with me if you want them the standards themselves. I wrote down the ones that to me were questionable. I mean I can quote them if you like.

In seventh grade there’s one that says explore the scientific theory of evolution by relating how the inability of a species to adapt within a changing environment may contribute to the extinction of that species.

Another one is explain and give examples of how physical evidence supports scientific theories that the earth has evolved over geologic time due to natural processes.

Explore the scientific theory of evolution by recognizing and explaining ways in which genetic variation and environmental factors contribute to evolution by natural selection and diversity of organisms.

Recognize that fossil evidence is consistent with the scientific theory of evolution.

I mean these are very one-sided arguments and I don’t think we’re giving our kids a thorough education if we only expose them to the strengths of one side. So, that’s all I’m going to say. I’m not here to debate one side or the other I just want, um, I think that debate needs to take place in the classroom.

The board finally wrapped up this bit of business with a vote on the “Permission to publish an advertisement for K-12 science textbook adoption” agenda item. Gilhousen was the only no vote.

To the residents of Clay County, this conversation should not have come as a surprise. Gilhousen answered a 2014 survey from The Clay Family Policy Forum with an oppose check for “Evolution should be taught as a fact” and a support check for “Both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution should be taught.” She also supports voucher schools that likely “offer Creationism as a scientific alternative to evolution.”

A letter to the editor was published in the local newspaper scorching Gilhousen’s position.

The suggestion was that we teach all the theories and/or that we teach the controversy.

I would suggest that this is a direct challenge to teacher autonomy and an unnecessary action that could confuse students as well as being a possible violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The fact that there are literally thousands of creation myths, the fact that teaching mythology in science is absurd. All that aside, requiring teachers to address even a small amount of creation myths challenges the autonomy of science teachers in their classrooms.

It would also put teachers in the precarious position of attempting to balance the secular teachings of science with the mysticism of multiple cultures and religious traditions if not inadvertently promoting particular religious beliefs – a clear violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution.

This suggestion also chances our students of being confused. Being exposed to extraneous information for no other reason than the religious beliefs of a single board member seems a high price to pay.

This Clay County issue may seem like a minor blip on the radar. But it touches on many topics that are becoming a significant theme already in 2018: evolution, climate change, textbooks, curriculum and local politics. We saw it crop up in a shocking way in Nassau County when the chief of legal services and the superintendent expressed personal opinions supporting creationism.

The creationists and climate change deniers are coming alive this year. What are you doing to defend quality science education?

And the sausage-making begins

http://www.flascience.org/?p=3151

We’re tracking several bills in the Florida legislature that have a high potential to be bad news for science education (see our issues page for the whole list of projects we’re tracking). The legislative session officially kicks off tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 9) but already one of the bills we’re concerned about is jumping out of the gate. HB 827 — Instructional Materials is scheduled for its first hearing in the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee this Wednesday, Jan. 10 at 1 p.m. If you’ve been sitting back waiting for something to do (Why in the world are you waiting?! Sheesh!), now is the time for action. Contact every member of that committee and educate them on why this bill is a bad idea. Refer to our issues page specific to this bill for talking points.

Also, the National Center for Science Education has noted that the House Bill now has a Senate companion. Our many thanks for their constant support!

Writing about HB 827, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel (December 5, 2017) connected the dots: “Last session they passed a law to empower activists who want certain books out of classrooms. And now, a new bill would allow activists to suggest new books students read instead — and require school boards to solicit bids for the book, no matter how nutty it is.” The result, he argued, would be a waste of time.

The Florida House’s bad textbook bill now has a Senate companion

http://www.flascience.org/?p=3147

Florida House Bill 827 (Instructional Materials), filed in November by Rep. Byron Donalds in preparation for the 2018 state legislative session proposes changes to several of our laws that govern the review and selection of instructional materials used in our public schools. It didn’t have a Senate companion bill for more than a month, but then on Jan. 5, Florida Senate Bill 1644 (Instructional Materials) was filed by Senator Tom Lee.

Overview:

Florida’s House Bill 827 and Senate Bill 1644 would, if enacted, revise the procedures for adopting instructional materials to permit members of the public to recommend instructional materials for consideration by the state or their district school board, which would then be required to get in touch with the publisher of those materials and allow it to submit a bid for evaluation. The bills also propose multiple opportunities for the public to have access to instructional materials under review and to submit comments about them.

House Bill 827: Instructional Materials

Link to bill here. Introduced by: Rep. Byron Donalds.

On Dec. 8 the bill was referred to three committees: PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee, PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, and Education Committee. It looks like the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee will be the first to consider the bill but it has not been scheduled for a meeting yet. It should be noted that the person who filed this bill, Rep. Byron Donalds, is on this committee.

Senate Bill 1644: Instructional Materials

Link to bill here. Introduced by: Sen. Tom Lee.

The bill has not been referred to any committees at this time.

What follows is a quick analysis of these bills from a science education perspective. Educators with a focus on other academic subjects may have their own take on these bills, but lacking their expertise, I’ll stick with science. Additionally, we know that the Florida Citizens’ Alliance is a big supporter and possible originator of these instructional materials bills, just as the group was for the instructional materials bill that became law last year. We know that the Alliance’s leaders are creationists and climate change deniers, as demonstrated by their published textbook reviews and statements to the media. That needs to be kept in mind when analyzing these bills, which is why I frequently bring up creationism and climate change denial throughout. And the lawmakers who filed the bills this year were the sponsors of last year’s successful bills, so I am confident that both Donalds and Lee are working closely with the Alliance again this year.

Bills’ proposed changes to Florida statute 1006.283 — District school board instructional materials review process.

House Bill 827, Lines 109-116:

(District school boards must …) Establish the process by which parents and residents of the county, as defined in s. 1006.28(1)(b), can recommend instructional materials for consideration by district instructional materials reviewers. The district school board shall contact the publisher of any instructional material recommended for consideration and provide the publisher with the opportunity to submit a bid for evaluation in accordance with this section.

Senate Bill 1644, Lines 101-108:

(District school boards must …) Establish the process by which parents and residents of the county, as defined in s. 1006.28(1)(b), may recommend instructional materials for consideration by district instructional materials reviewers. The district school board must notify the publisher of any instructional material that is recommended for consideration and provide the publisher with the Florida Instructional Materials Adoption Schedule for the current adoption cycle.

What in the world is the purpose of this? I can easily envision this being used to force a school board to solicit bids from creationist and climate change denier publishers. And note the difference in wording between the second line of each version.

Bill’s proposed changes to Florida statute 1006.30 Affidavit of state instructional materials reviewers.

House Bill 827, Lines 123 to 127:

(… each state instructional materials reviewer shall make an affidavit, to be filed with the department, that:) To the best of the reviewer’s knowledge, any instructional materials recommended for adoption are, at a minimum, aligned to the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards under s. 1003.41 and meet all of the requirements under ss. 1006.31(2) and 1006.34(2)(c).

FYI, one of those listed statutes, ss. 1006.31(2), in part, states: “Instructional materials recommended by each reviewer shall be, to the satisfaction of each reviewer, accurate, objective, balanced, noninflammatory, current, free of pornography and material prohibited under s. 847.012, and suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.”

The desire here is to claim science books that contain evolution and climate change are not “objective, balanced, noninflammatory”. The Senate Bill does not propose any changes to statute 1006.30.

Bills’ proposed changes to Florida statute 1006.31 — Duties of the Department of Education and school district instructional materials reviewer.

Now that statute 1006.31(2) has been referenced, the bill then goes on to make a change to that statute:

House Bill 827, Lines 136 to 140:

… recommend for adoption only those instructional materials that are, at a minimum, aligned with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards provided for in s. 1003.41. However, such instructional materials may be more rigorous than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.

This is meant to dovetail with SB 966 and HB 825 currently under consideration. In other words, the lawmakers responsible for the textbooks and “controversial theories” bills are all working together to some degree and working with the Florida Citizens’ Alliance to some degree. It’s a team effort. The Senate Bill does not include this proposed change.

House Bill 827, Lines 172 to 185

PUBLIC ACCESS AND INPUT.—Members of the public must be provided access to, and the opportunity to submit comments on, instructional materials recommended for adoption by state instructional materials reviewers. Any submitted comment related to a specific recommended instructional material must be provided to the State Board of Education as part of its consideration of the instructional material pursuant to s. 1006.34(2)(a). Members of the public must also be permitted to recommend instructional materials for consideration by state instructional materials reviewers. The Department of Education shall contact the publisher of any instructional material recommended for consideration and provide the publisher with the opportunity to submit a bid for evaluation in accordance with this section and s. 1006.34.

Senate Bill 1644, Lines 150 to 166

PUBLIC ACCESS AND INPUT.—Members of the public must be provided access to, and be given an opportunity to submit comments on, instructional materials recommended for adoption by state instructional materials reviewers. Any submitted comment related to a specific recommended instructional material must be provided to the commissioner as part of his or her consideration of the instructional material pursuant to s. 1006.34(2)(a). Any virtual presentation provided by a bidding instructional material publisher or manufacturer must be posted on the department’s website for public access until the adoption period closes. Members of the public must also be allowed to recommend any instructional material for consideration by state instructional materials reviewers. The Department of Education must notify the publisher of any instructional material that is recommended for consideration and provide the publisher with the Florida Instructional Materials Adoption Schedule for the current adoption cycle.

Here is an attempt to add to statute 1006.31 a stronger voice for citizens and force the DoE to solicit bids for citizen-recommended materials, such as, perhaps, ones that include creationist or climate change denial. And note the differences in wording between the two versions.

Bills’ proposed changes to Florida Statute 1006.34 — Powers and duties of the commissioner, and the department, and State Board of Education in selecting and adopting instructional materials.

One change is to the title of this statute adding the “State Board of Education.”

House Bill 827, Lines 219 to 224:

The state board must adopt instructional materials at a regularly scheduled meeting no later than July 1 of the year before the adoption period is scheduled to begin pursuant to s. 1006.36. The state board shall allow public comment on instructional materials at any meeting in which an adoption is considered.

The purpose here is to provide yet another opportunity for citizens to have their say. I’m not sure if setting a specific date for adoptions is a good thing or a bad thing. The Senate Bill does not include this proposed change.

House Bill 827, Lines 248 to 257:

Instructional materials are not subject to public review procedures under s. 1006.40(4)(b) if the materials are found by the State Board of Education to fully meet or be more rigorous than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards under s. 1003.41 and comply with the adoption criteria and standards of s. 1006.31(2) and paragraph (c). However, a district school board member may initiate the public review procedures before the instructional materials are adopted by the state board if he or she has evidence that the instructional materials do not meet the criteria and standards provided in this paragraph.

Senate Bill 1644, Lines 174-184:

Instructional materials are not subject to public review procedures under s. 1006.40(4)(b) if the materials are found by the commissioner to fully meet or be more rigorous than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards under s. 1003.41 and are found to comply with the adoption criteria and standards of paragraph (c) and s. 1003.42 and are not prohibited by ss. 847.012 and 1002.206. However, a district school board member may initiate the public review procedures before the instructional materials are adopted by the commissioner if he or she has evidence that the instructional materials do not meet the criteria required by this paragraph.

In other words, if the creationists can’t stop a book at the state level, here’s a chance for an ally on a school board to claim a book is not “objective, balanced, noninflammatory”.

Bill’s proposed changes to Florida Statute 1006.40 Use of instructional materials allocation; instructional materials, library books, and reference books; repair of books.

House Bill 827, Lines 326 to 332:

… each district school board shall use the annual allocation only for the purchase of instructional materials that align with state standards, and are included on the state-adopted list, except as otherwise authorized in paragraphs (b) and (c), and include professional development and supplemental materials to support high-quality accurate instruction.

Could this be used to introduce anti-science supplementary materials? The Senate Bill does not include this proposed change.

Other voices:

The National Center for Science Education notes:

The sole sponsor of HB 827, Byron Donalds (R-District 80), was the main sponsor of HB 989 in 2017, which, as NCSE previously reported, was intended to make it easier for creationists and climate change deniers to pester their local school districts. Supporters of the bill complained, “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as fact … rather than theory … I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality.”

HB 989 was passed and enacted in 2017. According to the Associated Press (November 18, 2017), there have already been at least seven complaints filed, including a complaint in Brevard County that elementary school social studies textbooks are engaged in “blatant indoctrination” by asserting that global warming is caused by human activity, and a complaint in Nassau County challenging the teaching of evolution there.

The chief of legal services for the Nassau County School District told the Sentinel that the passage of HB 827 could be burdensome for districts, adding, “It’s troubling to me, for example, the notion that we’re going to throw out to the general public … this option of challenging books. … What expertise do I have to challenge some high school calculus book? … Don’t we have experts?”

Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell wrote a piece about the new instructional materials law we have in Florida as well as the prefiled bill that’s waiting for the next legislative session: Book-banning — a crusade for Florida’s simplest minds.

And now, a new bill would allow activists to suggest new books students read instead — and require school boards to solicit bids for the book, no matter how nutty it is.

You want kids to read a book about why the earth is flat? Or how to plan a school shooting? It doesn’t matter. Under this new bill, any request would require districts to solicit bids.

[…]

Schools used to be meant for education. Now, they are battlefields for political gamesmanship. Children are merely the pawns.

It started last year when Republican legislators, with help from some Democrats, wanted to embolden the book-banning set.

Responding to the anti-evolution crowd, they passed a law making it easier for citizens — even those who don’t even have children in public schools — to challenge books they find offensive.

[…]

And once again, even though [Naples Republican Byron] Donalds said his bill was designed to empower taxpayers who fund schools, his bill wouldn’t allow the same book-meddling at taxpayer-funded voucher schools.

His resume, by the way, lists him as “a founding board member” of a charter school in Naples.

What you can do:

The legislative session officially starts Jan. 8. You need to contact your local lawmakers before then, preferably in person if possible. And continue applying pressure throughout the session through phone calls and emails. Spread the word to friends, family, and associates through social media and word of mouth. Encourage others to contact lawmakers. Write letters to the editor or op-eds for your local newspaper.

Go to our issues section for updates and follow our blog and social media for the latest news.