New science curriculum takes shape

New science curriculum takes shape
Educators meet to develop public school standards
By Bill Cotterell Tallahassee Democrat - FLORIDA CAPITAL BUREAU POLITICAL EDITOR - 01/10/2008 - original
The final steps in the evolution of a new public-school science curriculum began Wednesday as a panel of teachers, administrators and other experts on learning began three days of skull sessions.

The proposed new science standards, which embrace Charles Darwin's evolution theory as the foundation of modern biology, have been favorably received by teachers and scientists. However, in four public hearings and thousands of postings on a Department of Education Web site dedicated to public comment, many parents and other observers have objected that the teachings should also include faith-based theories of creation.

The 58 "framers and writers" of the science curriculum met to assess evaluations provided by academic specialists, as well as public comments from the hearings. They broke into small groups to study different areas of life, earth and physical science, along with other specialties laboring over what topics, and how much of each, should go into the kindergarten-middle school and 9-12 grade levels.

Mary Jane Tappen, director of the state DOE office of math and science, said more than 10,000 people have been heard from online, by mail or in person since work on the new standards began last May. She said the evolution vs. creation argument has drawn the most media attention and the hottest public debate, but that all of the professional and lay testimony has been helpful.

"That's a good thing for science teaching in Florida," Tappen said. With a smile, she added, "I wish we had parents as interested in the quadratic equation."

Nathan Dunn, vice president for public policy at Florida Family Action, monitored the proceedings. Dunn said his organization, an associate of Focus on the Family, does not see the issue as "creationism versus evolution" but wants students to get "a solid, fact-based scientific education" that includes faults or gaps in evolution theory.

"Introducing this controversial and questionable theory of evolution could really be a disservice to Florida's children," he said.

Todd Clark, deputy director of math and science, urged the framers and writers to "be open-minded" and avoid digging in their heels over wording in the standards. He and Tappen said it may be hard for the teachers and curriculum analysts to agree on which researchers or education associations "trump" other experts in the field.

"We need to avoid pride of authorship. It would be very easy to say, of someone else's findings, 'They didn't understand what we mean,'" said Clark. "OK, then maybe we need to make it a little more clear."

After the educators and administrators divided to study the comments and evaluate wording of each science standard, Tappen said there is no pending draft document. That will come by the end of the month, for submission to the State Board of Education at a Feb. 19 meeting in Tallahassee.

She said the 1996 standards, being superceded by the new work, taught "biological change over time." She said the new standard "explicitly includes evolution."

The group will dissect the standards through Friday and the DOE staff will formalize them for next month's meeting of the state board.