Florida Education Evolves

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Yesterday's *4-3 decision by the Florida School Board to update science standards was a long time coming. Most attention was understandably focused on the dust-up over evolution, but the larger picture of science education in Florida was just as scandalous as the absence of Charles Darwin.

It was only a few years ago that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Florida failing grades across the board in science—a flat F. The Washington, D.C. organization called the state's science standards "sorely lacking in content,"

"thin" and "nebulous." Worse, the curriculum in the state that launched a man to the moon was riddled with basic errors, such as the idea that "a thermometer measures the amount of heat absorbed by an object." The report also noted that the treatment of other basic concepts, such as electricity and magnetism, "is minimal."

But the most glaring omission was evolution. The withering Fordham report singled out for criticism the superficiality of the treatment of evolutionary biology." But it wasn't just superficial, it was non-existent: until yesterday, Florida was one of only five states to avoid the word "evolution" altogether in its science standards.

How was it that a state ahead of the national pack on issues like universal pre-K education could stay for so long at the bottom of the barrel when it came to science? The answer lies in part with the legions of activists who so loudly opposed the new standards every step of the way. And they aren't finished yet. According to a post on the Florida Citizens for Science site, religious activists yesterday were heard after the vote pledging to take their battle for "academic freedom" to the state legislature and to the courts.

The scientific debate over evolution may be settled, but the political battle over it is unlikely to flame out anytime soon. In the meantime, at least our kids will know what a thermometer does. -- Alexander Zaitchik

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