August 25, 2023

Jan Resseger: The Education Policies Governor Ron DeSantis Has Enacted in Florida Are Just Plain Scary

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Jan Resseger provides a collection of DeSantis and his educational lowlights. Reposted with permission.

We are lucky that, so far, Ron DeSantis’s anti-woke campaign does not seem to be catching on nationally. In Florida, where Governor DeSantis has driven the legislature to enact education policy around his bigoted and homophobic ideology, the troubles just keep piling up.

Confusion about Advanced Placement Psychology

The imbroglio this week is about whether Florida high schools can offer Advanced Placement Psychology. Last Thursday, reports the Washington Post’s Laura Meckler, “The state of Florida ‘effectively banned’ a second Advanced Placement course as noncompliant with its newly enacted standards, this time barring hundreds of districts from offering a psychology class as long as it includes discussion of gender and sexual orientation…. Florida (Department of Education) officials told school superintendents  (last) Thursday that they may offer the class but only if material concerning sexual orientation and gender identity is removed…. The College Board, which runs the AP program, responded that the class will not be compliant with college requirements if these topics are removed and that schools that do so cannot call the class ‘Advanced Placement.’” Earlier this year, the state said its schools cannot offer AP African American Studies.

Meckler explains that across Florida, 562 high schools offer AP psychology.  The Orlando Sentinel‘s Leslie Postal adds: “That means the class schedules for thousands of students are likely up in the air now, with school starting August 10 in most districts. About 5,000 students in Central Florida and 28,000 statewide took AP psychology last year.”

On Friday, however, the state of Florida and the College Board said they had worked out the conflict. The NY Times‘ Sarah Mervosh reports: “Students in Florida may be permitted to take Advanced Placement Psychology in the coming school year, officials said on Friday, a day after the College Board had revoked its support for the course in Florida, asserting that it had been ‘effectively banned’ by the state’s Department of Education… In a letter to school district superintendents, Florida’s education commissioner, Manny Diaz Jr., wrote that the state believed the AP Psychology course could be taught ‘in its entirely’ in an age-appropriate way.  Still, it was uncertain exactly how school districts intended to proceed or whether any adjustments would be expected to comply with the state’s rule. The College Board issued a new statement, reversing its earlier finding that school districts should not offer the course.”

The Orlando Sentinel‘s Postal reminds readers that while the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act—known in common parlance as the Stop Woke Bill—is new this year, “gender and sexual orientation have been part of  AP Psychology since the course was launched 30 years ago.

USA Today’s Ana Goni-Lessan adds that the so-called clarification from State Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. and the College Board has not provided real clarity for school superintendents or school boards about whether the conflict has been resolved: “Despite the state’s attempt at clarity, however, across Florida on Friday, districts were altering student schedules and crafting alternative ways to teach college-level  psychology classes… Some such as Brevard Public Schools on Florida’s east coast, decided to nix the class altogether. ‘The way to safeguard both our employees and students is to remove the course from our offerings,’ wrote Superintendent Mark Rendell in an email to school board members on Friday afternoon.”   This school district leader felt compelled to choose censorship as the most expedient solution only a week prior to the beginning of school. Yesterday, Laura Meckler updated her original article as she described eight of Florida’s largest school districts dropping AP Psychology to ensure that their teachers are not accused of breaking the law by discussing sexual orientation and gender identity.

State Board Approves PragerU Videos for Social Studies and Science Curriculum

In a second recent Florida curricular fiasco, the Florida State Board of Education has approved PragerU as an official vendor to provide curriculum for the state’s public schools. The Pensacola News Journal‘s Brandon Girod describes PragerU as, “an unaccredited right-wing advocacy group that seeks to offer an alternative to ‘dominant left-wing ideologies,’ in classrooms….  a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that creates educational videos that it says promote American values…  The driving force behind much of PragerU’s growing popularity stems from its series titled ‘5-Minute Videos,’ which boil down everything from economic and political science topics to life lessons and cultural topics into bite-sized, 5-minute videos…  PragerU was founded in 2009 by Allen Estrin and conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager…  PragerU believes that American schools are ‘indoctrinating’ students who are being taught ‘radical ideas’ about critical race theory, systemic racism, gender fluidity, anti-Americanism, and that math is racist. It says it has designed its curriculum to provide both sides of the argument…”

Orlando Sentinel columnist Fred Grimm exposes PragerU’s video about Christopher Columbus: “A Prager animation depicts Columbus telling a couple of time-traveling 21st Century children to stop dissing him for enslaving the New World’s native inhabitants, given that at the time, slavery was ‘no big deal.’ Besides, said cartoon Christopher with unassailable logic, ‘being taken as a slave is better than being killed.’”

POLITICO‘s Scott Waldman adds that PragerU videos deny the existence of climate change: “Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, said Florida is effectively supporting parents and teachers who want to tear down accurate climate science lessons… PragerU’s videos use talking points from fossil fuel companies to frame climate science and policy.”

Florida Now Demands All Books in Public Schools be Digitally Chronicled and Screened

Not only are books being banned and removed from Florida’s public schools, but school districts are being forced to pay extra staff or private contractors to create a digital data base of all the books in every public school. According to POLITICO‘s Andrew Atterbury, “Florida school districts are spending tens of thousands of dollars to comply with a new state law that’s increasing scrutiny—and removal—of books in K-12 school libraries. The new law requires all campuses to digitally chronicle each book shelved and available for students in classroom libraries… Those services are costing districts between $34,000 to $135,000 annually….” Atterbury reports that five county-wide school district in Florida have now signed contracts with a Washington, D.C. area company, Beanstack, which provides expensive software for the school districts.

On the presidential campaign trail, Governor Ron DeSantis brags that today’s Florida proves that he is not mere talk: He gets things done. What has happened in Florida’s public schools shows how utterly dangerous his accomplishments are.

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