Commissioner Stewart’s SBOE meeting comments prove that science still isn’t a priority for the State of Florida

I am generally a Pam Stewart fan.

When I think of Pam, I think of the Elastic Commissioner, one of her hands holding Governor Scott’s hand and being pulled one way, while the Commissioner’s other hand is holding the hand of the K-12 establishment and being pulled the other way.  In the process, she is stretched like an elastic superhero and somehow survives the experience.

I think of the Commissioner who presided with patience and apparent empathy over the Governor Scott-mandated Cirque du Common Core hearings around the state during which emotional fears seemed to overwhelm thoughtful reasoning among most attendees.

But in listening to the Commissioner’s evasive and confusing comments during Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting about this year’s results on the Science FCAT and Biology end-of-course exams, I couldn’t escape the conclusion that she wishes science would just go away.

The Commissioner was responding to concerns expressed by Board Vice Chair John Padget during the “Member Comments” segment of the meeting about the science exam results, which are certainly not improving and in fact declined this year over last year (see the School Zone report on Padget’s comments here).  In her comments, the Commissioner danced around Padget’s concerns skillfully, first detouring into an upbeat-sounding discussion of the few middle school students who take the high school Biology 1 course (and its end-of-course exam).  The 8th graders who take the Biology 1 exam are prohibited from taking the 8th grade Science FCAT, and so there is no accountability for their meeting the state’s middle grades benchmarks in the physical and Earth/space sciences (which they therefore probably don’t learn very well).  So no – taking Biology 1 in 8th grade is actually NOT a good thing.

Then the Commissioner talked about making sure that district officials and science teachers know about the instructional resources that already exist, such as they are.

But what Commissioner Stewart didn’t say was this:  “Florida’s poor achievement in science is a serious concern for us, and we will do whatever it takes to improve student learning in this subject.”  That’s what she will say about reading if the FSA results turn out to be disappointing when they are released later this year.

To be sure, there are Florida school districts where the leadership has decided to make science a priority, and there are science teachers in some of the state’s schools doing world-class work with their students.  But as long as the State of Florida refuses to make science a high priority, students in many of the state’s schools will be deprived of opportunities to pursue careers in our society’s most lucrative professions.

That’s what is at stake when Commissioner Stewart just wishes science would go away.

(A hat tip to Brandon Haught at the Florida Citizens for Science blog for linking to the recording of the SBOE meeting and pinpointing the time at which the Commissioner made her science remarks)

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