State education board meets in Tampa

12/11/07 Seán Kinane
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Today Florida’s Board of Education met at the Tampa Airport Marriott. It was the first meeting for newly appointed Commissioner of Education Eric Smith.

Florida’s economic crash, fueled in part by a disastrous housing market, has resulted in lower tax revenues. In his Commissioner’s Report, Smith said that the state’s schools should expect declining funds.

“During the last 3 months, general revenue collection for the ’07-’08 school year has failed to reach expectations and there are concerns regarding the collection for ’08-’09, next fiscal year, as well. As a result, the general revenue estimating conference met on November 14th and adjusted projections for ’07-’08 and ’08-’09 downward. This current fiscal year are expected to be 1 billion dollars or 3.9 percent less than the August estimating conference and ’08-’09 have been adjusted downward by 1.4 billion [dollars] or 5.2 percent.”

While some districts and schools are still having trouble complying with the requirements of the class-size amendment, Smith said overall there is "a fair amount of good news."

“Since the Act was passed, the reduction in class size has been, in my view, fairly significant. We find that grades K-3 have been reduced by an average of 6.82 students, grades 4 through 8 have been reduced by an average of 5.42 students, and grades 9 through 12 have been reduced by an average of 2.55 students.”

Carrie Fraser is the director of the Florida Department of Education’s Governmental Relations Office. She presented the department’s four legislative priorities for the 2008 session. They include enhancing Florida law relating to the ethical duties of educators, updating terminology regarding exceptional student education, and strengthening student transition from secondary to post-secondary education, such as through dual enrollment. The fourth legislative priority is to establish what are called "World Class Education Standards" for Florida’s students.

“The curriculum standards by subject area and/or grade level that require critical thinking and problem solving skills, foster creativity and innovation and cultivate the acquisition of communication skills and information through the use of contextual and applied learning strategies that promote civic engagement and global competitiveness.”

Last session, the Legislature passed the Career and Professional Education Act with the goal of enhancing vocational and professional education for students, especially though career academies. Lucy Hadi is the chancellor for Workforce Education.

“Accountability for career and professional education is significantly increased by this act. It requires that our career education programs actually produce certified graduates and that those graduates not only leave school with one or more industry-recognized credentials, with a standard high school diploma, a clear pathway to post-secondary education and whenever possible with a ready-to-work credential. All of those things are embodied in what we mean as career success for our students.”

A controversy the Board will face in January involves the new Sunshine State Standards for teaching science. As WMNF reported last week, many scientists and educators have applauded the proposed standards because they emphasize the concept of evolution in the life sciences, including the statement, “Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.”

People who want intelligent design taught in science classrooms have vowed to fight the proposed standards. That group includes Board of Education member Donna Callaway who told the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper “she will vote against the new standards in January.”

Callaway declined WMNF’s request for an interview, but emailed the Florida Baptist Witness: “I agree completely that evolution should be taught with all of the research and study that has occurred. However, I believe it should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origin of life.”

Fellow board member Akshay Desai told WMNF that he understands the passion involved, but as a physician and scientist he recognizes the importance of teaching evolution in science classes.

“Yes, we will obviously support the science standard. At the same time, I would be looking to listen to some of the other arguments and then see if they are concrete based on some facts; and we would be open to review all other hypotheses if they are based on facts.”

WMNF asked Desai if the theory of intelligent design, which claims that certain aspects of living things are so complex that they could only have been formed by an intelligent cause rather than by natural selection, might be added to the Sunshine state standards in science.

In other action, the board unanimously approved the appointments of two nominees to the Schools of Excellence Commission, which is the charter school authorizing entity. They are Wade Dyke, who was recommended by Gov. Charlie Crist, and Ricardo Moreno, who was recommended by House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Learn more:

Department of Education

Governmental Relations

WMNF story on evolution in Science Standards/ intelligent design

Florida Baptist Witness article

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