State, Treasure Coast educators crafting guidelines to teach evolution

State, Treasure Coast educators crafting guidelines to teach evolution
By James Kirley - TCPalm - 11/30/2008 - original
Open a state-approved high school biology textbook on the Treasure Coast or elsewhere in Florida and you'll find references to evolution. But until recently, state rules also told teachers not to call it by the term popularized after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species almost 150 years ago.

"Our course description does not use 'evolution,'" said Wachera Ragland, science coordinator for Martin County Schools. "Our course description says, 'change over time.'"

The state Board of Education changed 12-year-old science standards Feb. 19 to require teaching the scientific theory of evolution in Florida for the first time. The standards passed against opposition, much of it faith-based, that contends evolution is just one way to explain the diversity of life on earth.

Teams of teachers currently are meeting all over the state to develop guidelines to teach evolution to students. Mary Gregory, St. Lucie County Schools curriculum specialist for teaching science to grades six through 12, is on one such team.

She jokingly refers to "the e-word." But Gregory is serious about drawing a line between teaching science without encroaching on religion.

"I think a lot of people are afraid that if they don't see a purpose in this existence that was predetermined by their creator, there may not be a reason to lead a moral life," Gregory said. "We have to make sure children understand that when we describe their animal existence, we are not denying their spiritual existence."

Florida legislators opposed to teaching evolution introduced bills last spring to mandate a "critical analysis" of evolution and to protect teachers who offer other explanations of biological diversity. Both failed to gain the support needed to become law.

But wording in a new education law passed last spring requires the Board of Education to adopt new academic standards by 2011. The Florida Department of Education won't say if this means revisiting the debate on teaching evolution.

"This is still being evaluated," department spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said.

The controversy is creationism as opposed to evolution, said Fran Adams, Indian River County assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"It's pretty clear-cut in the textbooks," Adams said. "(Evolution) is presented as one of many theories, but they don't get into the other theories."


Public schools districts on the Treasure Coast and elsewhere in the state are starting the process of fulfilling a Florida Board of Education mandate to begin teaching the scientific theory of biological evolution. New Sunshine State Standards were passed in February to replace those in effect since 1996. The new standards require teaching evolution for the first time in Florida and knowledge of the subject is expected to be included in the spring 2012 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.


•The 1996 state benchmarks required students to understand that changes in the earth's climate, geology and life forms can be traced and compared. Students learned that, "earth's systems and organisms are the result of long, continuous change over time" and that mutation and natural selection are mechanisms of change. "Items (taught) will NOT refer to evolution," the benchmarks stated.

•New benchmarks adopted statewide in February state, "The theory of evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology" and that "natural selection is a primary mechanism leading to evolutionary change."