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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Florida Follow-Up (The Vote Is In)

The Florida State Board of Education has voted 4-3 to approve new science standards for the state's public schools, but with revised wording. In what one board member called a "compromise" (using the term pejoratively), the board adopted standards that were modified before the vote to include the phrase "scientific theory of" before the word "evolution."
For close to a year, a panel of more than 60 experts, many of them science teachers and scientists, worked to revise the old standards. Their final draft included the term "evolution" (a first for Florida's science standards), calling it the "concept underlying all of biology," a concept that is supported by "multiple forms of scientific evidence." Many of them were upset by the last-minute insertion of "theory," worrying that it will deepen the public's misunderstanding of the way the word is used in science. (There's a chance the opposite will be true, however, and that students in Florida's classrooms will learn, thanks to the insertion, that in science a theory is not based on guesswork or speculation, but is a well-tested explanation that is widely accepted as true.) A couple of legislators and a Presbyterian pastor, who spoke out about the relationship between science and faith specifically, also stressed the importance of the panel's original language.
Two of the three board members who voted against the changed standards wanted the panel's version to be adopted. The third believed the standards didn't go far enough in teaching students the "controversy." The scientific community, in which evolution is not a point of controversy or debate, didn't get a chance to review the standard's new language before the vote. —Heather Wax