Textbook authors told climate change references must be cut to get Florida’s OK (2024)

Textbook authors were told last month that some references to “climate change” must be removed from science books before they could be accepted for use in Florida’s public schools, according to two of those authors.

A high school biology book also had to add citations to back up statements that “human activity” caused climate change and cut a “political statement” urging governments to take action to stop climate change, said Ken Miller, the co-author of that textbook and a professor emeritus of biology at Brown University.

Both Miller and a second author who asked not to be identified told the Orlando Sentinel they learned of the state-directed changes from their publishers, who received phone calls in June from state officials.

Miller, also president of the board of the National Center for Science Education, said the phrase “climate change” was not removed from his high school biology text, which he assumed happened because climate change is mentioned in Florida’s academic standards for biology courses.

But according to his publisher, a 90-page section on climate change was removed from its high school chemistry textbook and the phrase was removed from middle school science books, he said.

The other author said he was told Florida wanted publishers to remove “extraneous information” not listed in state standards. “They asked to take out phrases such as climate change,” he added.

The actions seemed to echo Florida’s previous rejection of math and social studies textbooks that state officials claimed include passages of “indoctrination” and “ideological rhetoric.” And they fall in line with the views of many GOP leaders, who question both the existence of climate change and the contributions of human activities to the problem, despite a broad scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is transforming the earth’s environment.

In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that stripped the phrase “climate change” from much of Florida law, reversing 16 years of state policy and, critics said, undermining Florida’s support of renewable and clean energy.

The bill did not address public education nor the state’s science standards, which were adopted in 2008 and spell out what students should learn in science instruction from kindergarten through 12th grade. But SB 1645 altered Florida’s energy policy, removing the goal of recognizing and addressing “the potential of global climate change,” Senate staff wrote in an analysis of the bill.

DeSantis has said the new legislation, passed by Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature, was “restoring sanity in our approach to energy and rejecting the agenda of the radical green zealots.”

The Florida Department of Education did not initially respond this week to a request for comment about the science books, nor did it respond to earlier questions in May and June about when the approved list of science textbooks for elementary, middle and high school science classes would be released. Florida’s school districts use the list to purchase books for their schools and had been told the state would release the science list in April.

Late Tuesday, the department posted the list on its website.

And after this story posted online Friday evening, an education department spokeswoman emailed a statement to the Sentinel. It did not directly address questions about science textbooks and climate change, instead saying Florida has “some of the most rigorous educational standards in the nation” and textbooks and other instructional materials to be used in classrooms must meet them. “Florida works with publishers to ensure that their product aligns with our standards and does not include any form of ideology or indoctrination,” it said.

Miller’s and the other author’s books were among those on the approved list released Tuesday. The texts have not yet been printed so the Sentinel was unable to review them.

But there are no textbooks for high school environmental science classes on the approved list, though three companies submitted bids to supply books for that class, according to documents on the department’s website. Course material for that subject typically includes significant discussion of climate change.

“How do you write an environmental science book to appease people who are opposed to climate change?” asked a school district science supervisor, who is involved in science textbook adoption for her district. She asked not to be identified for fear of job repercussions.

She and other educators, the textbook authors and science advocates said the state’s actions will rob students of a deeper understanding of global warming even as it impacts their state and communities through longer and hotter heat waves, more ferocious storms and sea level rise.

Florida had already earned a D — and was among the five lowest-ranked states in the country — in a 2020 study that graded the states on how their public school science standards addressed climate change, said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the center for science education, which was a partner in the study.

Excising the phrase from science textbooks will “make Florida climate education even worse than it is,” Branch said.“These ill-considered actions are going to cheat Florida students.”

Branch said it was especially troubling the decision seemed based on “ideological grounds” and ignored the “rock solid” science that has documented climate change and its impacts.

Brandon Haught teaches environmental science at a Volusia County high school and was active in efforts to include evolution — another controversial science topic — in the standards adopted 16 years ago.

His ninth graders know almost nothing about climate change because it is not taught in the lower grades, he said. He spends at least a week on the topic but is covering only “the basics,” he said.

Florida students need more information on the subject not less, he added. “Florida is one of the most impacted by the impacts of climate change, and oh my goodness Gov DeSantis, why?”

The state’s push to get publishers to remove “climate change” from some science books seems similar to its actions in 2022 and 2023 when it rejected some math and social studies textbooks publishers wanted to sell in Florida.

In those cases, the department announced it had rejected textbooks in press releases that claimed the books contained “critical race theory” and “social justice” topics, which were prohibited by state laws and rules. Some of those textbooks were later approved after the publishers made changes.

In contrast, the list of approved science books was posted to the department’s website without an accompanying press release. Judging from past practice, science textbooks that were rejected, such as those for environmental science, could later be approved if they were altered to meet Florida’s requirements.

Some school districts, including those in Orange and Seminole counties, were poised to buy new science books as soon as the state list was released. But districts can continue to use older books for a while, and some districts now may not purchase new science books immediately because the list was released months later than expected.

There were 146 textbooks submitted for consideration. About 75 books from a total of about 10 publishers were approved for middle and high school classes, with four publishers also approved to provide science books for kindergarten-to-fifth-grade classes, according to documents on the department’s website.

Textbooks can be rejected for failing to match Florida’s standards or failing to provide content that is accurate, among many other issues.

Science textbook publishers were told in advance to keep “critical race theory,” “social emotional learning” and other “unsolicited strategies” out of their textbooks. However, the “rubric” used to evaluate the books made no mention of “climate change.”

The Sentinel could not reach for comment the three publishers — Cengage Learning, McGraw Hill and Savvas Learning Company — that submitted environmental science books that did not make the approved list posted Tuesday.

Textbook authors told climate change references must be cut to get Florida’s OK (2024)
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