Yecke and I Go A Round

Cheri Pierson Yecke, Florida’s new K-12 Chancellor of Education, and I were quoted in a recent Palm Beach Post article by Kimberly Miller.

Elsberry, of the National Center for Science Education, said that during the science rewrite in Minnesota, drafts of curriculum included “maybes” and “possibles” whenever evolution was mentioned. Elsberry said Yecke also gave the committee assigned to rewrite the curriculum a version of the No Child Left Behind Act that included a failed amendment referring to alternative theories to evolution.

Yecke said she gave the committee versions of the science curriculum given high ratings by the Fordham Foundation and Achieve. The Fordham Foundation is a conservative-based education think tank. The Web site of Achieve, an education improvement organization formed in part by state governors, says it is nonpartisan.

Dearest Cheri: whether you inundated the committee with every other standard used in the civilized world does not address the point at issue, which is whether you handed the committee the completely useless “Santorum language” with the implication that it had any legal force with respect to drawing up science standards. On this point, let’s consult another source, Dr. Melanie Reap and Jamie Crannell’s first-person piece on their experiences serving on Yecke’s science standards writing committee in Minnesota:

The Department of Education provided copies of “exemplary” state standards documents (ironically including Minnesota’s recently repealed Profile of Learning for Science! See previous link.). The general committee was also given a copy of the so called Santorum “Amendment.” This precipitated the first discussion of creationism/intelligent design and allowed for the identification of those in the group who supported intelligent design. The “Santorum Amendment” was the only legal advice given to the committee.

The first rough draft of the standards was sent to the Department of Education to be disseminated for public input. It took many of us by surprise when the published standards included a softening of several Nature/History of Science and Life Science standards through the insertion of such phrases as “may explain” and “might account for”; phrases never used by the committee. Through the efforts of several committee members these additions were made public and the Department of Education, in a statement by Commissioner Yecke, retracted the printed version for the original draft.

So, Cheri, would you mind actually addressing the point at issue sometime soon? While it may be too much to hope for responsibility-shouldering for the various problems in the Minnesota science standards process, it would be good to get an explicit indication that Florida is not being set up for a repeat of recent history. Until the education administrators clearly say that science classrooms are only open to those ideas that have passed scientific muster and that they will avoid using legal language that was considered and specifically set aside by the US Congress, Florida’s citizens need to beware of the dangers of playing “trust me” roulette with science education in the state.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

3 thoughts on “Yecke and I Go A Round

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  • 2005/10/13 at 6:16 pm
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    I don’t think the edited (the committee had been told they would be edited for “clarity,” and English) standards had been posted for more than an hour on the department’s web site before the egregious faults were detected. There was the usual evasion when the draft as written by the committee was reposted, namely, a lower level but unnamed person was blamed for posting the wrong set.

    I found it interesting that while the Profile of Learning standards for science were made available to the committee, I don’t recall that the high mark given by the Fordham Foundation was ever mentioned to the writers (a smaller subgroup of the Profile of Learning science writing committee had more-or-less on its own rewritten these to shorten them and try to get at what less is truly more. These were never made available and perhaps shouldn’t have been.)

    The Santorum amendment got plenty of ink, including a clarification later on in the process from the chair and minority chair of the committee, an attempt at adding some force to it. Of course, the review by NCSE of the Santorum amendment which include a legal analysis and also a rebuttal by Senator Kennedy of a misquote by Santorum was never mentioned. Verboten!

    Ms. Yecke’s first radio interview made it quite clear where she stood when she said that school districts should be given a choice in this matter of ID creationism and evolution, never mentioning or considering that the courts had ruled on this but apparently she viewed this as legislating from the bench.

    What I noticed as time went on is that the so-called IDers began to deny any ID affiliation, indeed even design preferring to duck under the umbrella of “teach the controversy.” One of the things that I came to appreciate in the creationist who testified was his honesty: he wouldn’t hide behind anything except scripture. You knew exactly where he stood and why SAT scores were on the decline, sexual diseases among young people on the increase, drinking up, family values were down, etc. Now, I wish I had the charts.

    Thanks, Dr. Elsberry for keeping the heat on and keeping your eyes open. And please share Patricia Shipman’s essay in the recent The American Scientist on ID, especially with colleagues from other countries, on why this is important. The US is not Europe and the comparisons are not helpful. That shop-worn Rather word comes to mind: Vigilance! I appreciate your vigilance as always.

  • 2005/10/16 at 12:34 pm
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    I think it would be quite interesting to investigate the political shuffles that resulted in Yecke not only *avoiding* being let go from professional education consultation (particularly in science), but in her being placed in an even more influential position in a different state would be worthwhile.

    Is this yet another example of cronyism? Did Jeb know someone who knew someone in Minnesota?

    I am not for exclusionary policies *per se*, insofar as rejecting anyone with creationism as an education supervisor (esp with respect to science), but I certainly am for using a person’s record to judge their ability to do the job they are hired for. You can be an open creationist and a fine “Chancellor of Education”, I’m sure. But when your personal beliefs got mixed into your work before, no matter what that work is and who you are, your next employer has a responsibility to consider other candidates who are able to separate their opinions from their duties.

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