The bottom line:
Florida Citizens for Science recommends that no changes be made to the proposed state science standards. But if changes are directed anyway, they need to be fully justified and done only under the direct guidance of the expert framers and writers who created this document. We urge the Board of Education to do the principled thing.
It’s commendable that the Florida Board of Education and the Department of Education have set a goal of implementing world-class science education standards in our state’s public schools. However, it’s disconcerting that apparent political pressure might weaken the proposed standards that will go before the Board Tuesday morning. The end result could be a set of standards that come up short of the world-class goal.
It’s been proposed by the Department of Education that the phrases “scientific theory of” and “law of” be inserted throughout the document, prompted by public and political complaints concerning evolution’s prominent place in the life sciences sections of the standards. This last minute edit of the standards serves no secular, educational purpose and only makes the standards awkward and confusing.
“The edits don’t help students understand science or help teachers teach it,” said Joe Wolf, president of Florida Citizens for Science and Winter Haven resident.
On the other hand, the Department of Education should be praised for keeping in mind the real inspiration for wanting the best standards possible. They want to provide Florida teachers and students with a tool that can be valuable in classrooms across the state.
It needs to be noted, though, that many framers and writers have come forward in the past couple of days in opposition to the proposed last minute edits. They are experts in their fields and have volunteered hundreds of hours creating the standards. Not only are they experts themselves, but they also consulted yet more experts from across the country and reviewed other exceptional science standards from around the world.
“The Board of Education charged this expert panel to do the work and we did it,” said Debra Walker, a science standards framer from Key Largo. “To edit it … makes no sense, diminishes our work, and, more importantly, sets a dangerous precedent belittling the value of scientific knowledge in Florida for this generation and the next.”
If any changes are to be made, let the Department of Education and Board of Education explain sound educational reasons, and then let the writers make changes if needed.
“Before any late edits are made, the motivations behind the changes need to be examined fully in the public view,” Wolf said. “It’s important to understand that science is not a process subject to popular vote. Why are the changes being suggested?”
The proposed changes confuse the difference between fact and theory. As an example: Gravity is both a fact and a theory. Gravity happens no matter how it is explained. It is the same with evolution. Evolution is theory in that it has tremendous explanatory power for understanding living systems. But it is also a fact: it happened in the past and is happening now. Thus, adding “scientific theory of” in front of evolution everywhere it appears in the science standards is an uninformed idea that diminishes the value of the standards.
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