Heads up moms and dads -- a Florida lawmaker has unearthed one more conspiracy behind Common Core. A company that has been hired by Florida to give students tests will be recruiting every one of those students to become gay.
Think Progress, a liberal blog, dug up a video of state Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, speaking about the topic at the "Operation Education" conference -- a gathering of conservative religious groups who met about the theme of "How education reforms are attacking America’s Foundation."
The Orlando conference was in March, but Think Progress posted a video clip of Zant on May 19, and the video then spread to other blogs.
We listened to the full speech. Here is the portion that drew attention:
"Our new secretary of education in Florida recently appointed AIR to receive the $220 million contract for end-of-course exam testing and to prepare those tests. Please -- go on their website. Click the link to what they are doing with youth, and you will see what their agenda really is. They are promoting as hard as they can any youth that is interested in the LGBT agenda and even name it 2-S, which they define as having two spirits. The Bible says a lot about being double-minded.
"These people that will now receive $220 million from the state of Florida, unless this is stopped, will promote double mindedness in state education, and attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can. I'm sorry to report that to you. ... I really hate to bring you that news, but you need to know."
Van Zant encouraged listeners to research AIR, so we took him up on his suggestion and decided to check if AIR plans to "attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can." We contacted Van Zant’s office and asked him to provide evidence to support his claim and did not get a response.
We should note that our previous fact-checking shows people can’t be recruited to a particular sexual orientation. In 2011, GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said scientists are "in dispute" about whether being gay is a choice, and we rated that claim False. (Editor’s note: We added this point after our initial publication to address reader concerns.)
Here, we’ll explore Van Zant’s specific claim that a testing company was making the attempt.
Common Core tests and AIR
In March, the state Department of Education announced that it would give a $220 million, 6-year contract to American Institutes for Research to develop and administer new accountability tests to replace Florida’s old testing system, the FCAT. The Washington-based nonprofit will develop tests aligned to the Florida Standards, the new education benchmarks based on the controversial Common Core State Standards.
The new tests are expected to be ready for the 2014-15 school year. AIR has contracts to develop tests for about 10 states including Florida.
When the state chose AIR, Common Core foes took aim at the testing company. The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition accused AIR of promoting a lesbian gay bisexual transgender "lifestyle", better known as LGBT, calling the choice of AIR "completely unacceptable":
"Besides implementing the same deceptive plan discussed at the governor's summit in August, the state has chosen a company that has a significant history of promoting identification of the GLBT lifestyle for children as young as seven years old," Florida Eagle Forum lobbyist Randy Osborne said in a Florida Stop Common Core Coalition letter to supporters. (Similar claims have been made by Common Core opponents in Utah and Tennessee.)
We rated the coalition’s claim Half True in March. As we explained in that fact-check, one part of AIR’s business is creating materials for schools on LGBT Youth issues, in which it studies the youngsters’ experiences and offers recommendations for how to help the students.
AIR only provides those materials to entities that request them -- currently that includes federal government contracts. AIR has no such contracts with the state Department of Education or any Florida districts to provide LGBT materials. (AIR is in discussions with a couple of districts in other states.)
"No entity in Florida has asked us to do LGBT work," AIR spokesman Larry McQuillan said.
AIR describes its practice in this way:
"AIR’s Health and Social Development program develops knowledge and understanding about LGBT youth that takes account of their experiences and needs. AIR also enhances opportunities for the healthy development, well-being, and safety of LGBT children, youth, and their families by providing workforce training and technical assistance to service providers across systems addressing behavioral health, child welfare, education, juvenile justice, and homelessness."
AIR also does similar work in the areas of bullying and substance abuse in addition to its efforts in education, health and workforce matters.
"We are not an advocacy group," McQuillan told PolitiFact in March. "AIR is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization. We do educational assessment, research, health policy research and communication, and international development. We have supported many states by providing high-quality assessments of their specific state standards."
A few standards include sexual orientation
We interviewed McQuillan about Van Zant’s comments and asked about what sort of material will be included on the tests.
"It’s the state that decides what questions they want to ask," he said. "Florida is truly in control."
Joe Follick, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, said the tests administered by AIR will only include English language arts and math.
"Florida has always been and will continue to be committed to assessments that solely measure a student's knowledge of subject areas and critical thinking spelled out in the Florida Standards," Follick said in an email in response to our questions.
A firm hired to do Common Core testing in Florida will "attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can," Van Zant said.
The firm hired to do testing, AIR, separately provides information to entities that request it to help them assist LGBT students. Currently, the federal government accesses AIR’s information but the organization doesn’t have such a contract with the state of Florida or any Florida districts.
We found no evidence that when AIR administers tests in Florida that the testing process will involve recruiting students to become gay.
Van Zant takes a somewhat limited connection between the testing company and gay and lesbian issues and then blows it up into a wild claim that lacks evidence.
We rate this Pants on Fire.