Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Florida's Education Evolution

Florida's Education Evolution

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Yesterday, the Florida Board of Education voted 4-3 to adopt new science standards that, for the first time, would require public schools to teach evolution. Previously, Florida's science standards referred to evolution as "biological changes over time," but those rules "were slammed by scientists as vague and shallow." The new standards are intended to "make science learning more in depth" and "improve the understanding of science by Florida students, who do poorly in the subject area when tested." In fact, a 2005 national review gave Florida's science standards a failing grade because of their "superficiality of the treatment of evolutionary biology" and for "fudging or obfuscating the entire basis on which biology rests." The new science proposal -- which won the approval of the National Academy of Sciences -- defined evolution as "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology" and one "supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence." But instead of accepting this scientific standard, the Florida Board approved "a last-minute alternative" following numerous public complaints and objections made by religious conservatives. The new Florida school science standard on evolution will come with a caveat: "The subject will be taught as 'the scientific theory of evolution.'"

RELIGIOUS RIGHT STEPS IN: The controversy over the new standards proposal began last November when the conservative Florida Baptist Witness published comments from one board member, Donna Callaway, who said she agrees that "evolution should be taught with all of the research and study that has occurred," but that "it should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origin of life." Thereafter, Florida citizens spoke out and "more than a dozen North Florida school boards filed resolutions in opposition" to the proposed science standards "with some saying they wanted evolution taught as a 'theory' and others saying they wanted inclusion of faith-based theories such as creationism or intelligent design." Indeed, during public hearings on the proposed standard changes, Callaway said it is "a point of debate" that there may be theories other than evolution to explain the origins of life. Additionally, religious groups such as the Florida Family Policy Council (FFPC) "vigorously opposed" the original evolution language because it "clashes with their religious convictions

CONFUSING THE FACTS: Responding to Callaway's claim during a public hearing that the theory of evolution is "a point of debate," fellow board member Roberto Martinez noted that it is "not a point of debate or controversy in the mainstream scientific community." Martinez, who voted against the caveat-laden proposal, said that "he was concernedstill confuse the two common definitions of the word: a simple guess, or a scientific and testable concept based on facts." Lawrence Lerner, a retired physics professor at California State University and an expert on public-school science standards, said the last-minute changes demonstrated "a certain lack of understanding with what science is about." He added, however, that the new standards are at least an improvement over the old ones, which were "about as bad as they come." University of South Florida chemistry professor Robert Meisels agreed that the new standard is "okay," but added that the opposition to the original proposal "basically superimposed themselves on the experts."

Callaway tried to get a so-called "academic freedom" amendment inserted into the alternative standard proposal in order to counter "the 'dogmatic' tone of the standards that call evolution 'the fundamental concept underlying all of biology.' The amendment would have given teachers explicit permission 'to engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence.'" But the majority of the board said the amendment was "anything from unnecessary to redundant to suspect." Morever, the argument is expected to be taken up in the state legislature by advocates of both sides. At least three Republican lawmakers in Florida "had said they might seek a legislative remedy" to the new rules but "after Tuesday's vote, two of the three said they were satisfied." or their personal beliefs that evolution has not been proved." that calling evolution a theory -- even a 'Scientific Theory' -- would

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