The Florida Board of Education passed new science standards on a 4-3 vote. The old standards got an F in a national survey by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which noted errors like the claim that “a thermometer measures the amount of heat absorbed by an object,” that “The classification of simple machines is naive?[e]nergetics of phase change is presented misleadingly; treatment of electricity and magnetism?is minimal? The treatment of chemistry content in K-8 is scanty; but?as one reviewer observed?”Even less is required in 9-12.”
They concluded “The superficiality of the treatment of evolutionary biology alone justifies the grade ‘F,’ but there is in any case scant mitigation elsewhere in these documents. Florida standards are in revision.We hope that the work will be fruitful.”
At NCSE’s request, a co-author of that report reviewed an earlier draft of the standards, and determined that “This draft is a giant step in the right direction.” Dr. Lawrence S. Lerner, emeritus professor of physics from California State University, Long Beach, and author of numerous evaluations of state science standards for the Fordham Foundation continued, “It is clear, comprehensive, and most importantly, accurate.” He told me “This draft already represents a dramatic improvement across the board. With a little bit of extra effort, Florida could bring that up to an A.” And the writing committee took his advice, producing truly excellent standards.
At the last minute, the Board of Education took up a proposal to add the word “scientific theory of” before various theories, including plate tectonics, atomic theory, cell theory and evolution. They passed over a proposal by religious groups that would encourage “critical analysis” of evolution, an ID creationist stealth phrase than needlessly singles out evolution. Board members rejected the idea, noting that the standards already encourage critical thinking. The version passed did accommodate anti-science activists by approving the “scientific theory of” additions.
I rarely agree with the Disco. Inst.’s Casey Luskin, but his whining rant about this compromise is right in noting that “inserting the word ?scientific theory? before the word “evolution” is a meaningless and impotent change that will do absolutely nothing” to advance Disco.’s agenda. I couldn’t help thinking of Brer Rabbit in the briar patch as I watched people push this proposal. Evolution is a theory, and the standards make it clear that “a scientific theory represents the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer.” If creationists thought they were undermining evolution by calling it a theory, they just demonstrated their own scientific illiteracy.
Florida kids benefit from this, and teachers do as well. On top of all that, Disco. lost, and lost big. I’ll be drinking various concoctions involving Florida orange juice tonight.