Oklahoma’s Senate Education Committee will consider yet another “science education” bill introduced by Senator Josh Brecheen. Below, I make it easy to contact members of the committee. You can learn about the history of Senator Brecheen and the ancestry of Senate Bill 758 here. The Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education provide an analysis, "Why SB 758 by Brecheen is a Bad Bill."
Synopsis of SB 758
The science curriculum addresses "scientific controversies." All school boards and administrators must
- try to help teachers find effective ways to teach about scientific controversies;
- try to encourage science students not only to engage in traditional learning, but also to "respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues;" and
- permit teachers to instruct pupils in "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."
The phrases "scientific controversies" and "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course" appear in adjacent sentences, but the bill actually does not connect the two. The restriction in scope of "strengths and weaknesses" does not apply to "scientific controversies." Thus a teacher might regard "intelligent design vs. Darwinism" as a scientific controversy, even though intelligent design is not a theory covered in the course. There is no "scientific" qualifier of the "controversial issues" on which students have "differences of opinion." A teacher might feel compelled to allow debate after a student brings up creationism.
The bill neither defines nor identifies "scientific controversies," but asserts that the science curriculum already addresses them, and requires that administrators help teachers present them effectively. This shrewdly establishes that teaching effectiveness is an issue. Administrators may evaluate teachers on their handling of "scientific controversies," as well as their moderation of student debate. Thus administrators have the power to identify controversies that an effective teacher should address, and also the power to specify that effective teaching of them requires presentation of certain "strengths and weaknesses" of theories.
Teachers are free to impose nonstandard "strengths and weaknesses" instruction on students, even in cases where administrators do not recommend it. Although a principal might respond legitimately by assigning a low performance rating to a teacher, the legal risk in doing so would be high. Then again, the teacher might also place the local school district at risk of lawsuit. If enacted, the bill would put some school administrators between rocks and hard places.
The guts of the bill
The five paragraphs of Section 2 contain the substance of the bill. I have quoted them here, and added emphasis.
A. The State Board of Education, school district boards of education, school district superintendents and school principals shall endeavor to create an environment within public school districts that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.Start by requiring public schools to do what they already are required to do, and in fact do. Then indicate that civil debate of "controversial issues" belongs in science class. The omission of scientific here must be intentional, as repetitiously as it is used elsewhere.
B. The State Board of Education, school district boards of education, school district superintendents and school principals shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies. Teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.Posit that the curriculum already addresses "scientific controversies," without making it clear what they are. Open up opportunity for school boards and administrators to change instruction top-down, and for individual teachers to make radical changes at the classroom level.
C. Neither the State Board of Education, nor any school district board of education, school district superintendent or school principal shall prohibit any teacher in a public school district in this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."This means you!"
D. This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion."Ignore that creationist behind the curtain. We are the mighty Legislature!"
E. By no later than the start of the 2013-2014 school year, the State Department of Education shall notify school district boards of education and school district superintendents of public schools in the state of the provisions of this act. Each school district board of education and school district superintendent shall notify all employees within the school district of the provisions of this act.
"Glad tidings to all — nurses, cooks, and janitors!"
Senate Education Committee
Clicking on one of the links below creates an email note that begins with a personalized salutation, e.g., "Dear Senator Ford." (Contact Senator Brecheen only if you live in his district.) You need only paste in the rest of the note, and then send it. Please be brief and respectful. Include your full name and street address.
Thanks to Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education for supplying the contact information.
|Gary Stanislawski||Vice Chair||R||427Afirstname.lastname@example.org|