The new standards

Evolution is only one of the 18 "big ideas" in Florida's new standards.

By Ron Matus, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008

The state Board of Education voted 4-3 Tuesday to adopt new state science standards that for the first time explicitly mention evolution. In a compromise, the board also agreed to use the term "scientific theory" where appropriate throughout the standards, including in the sections that deal with evolution.

Does the board's decision mean Florida students are only now learning about evolution?

No. Many students learned about evolution under the old standards, too. But there are key differences.

The old standards did not mention the word "evolution," and scientific experts criticized them as vague and inadequate. But many science teachers still taught about evolution and used the word evolution.

The new standards use the word evolution. They refer to it as one of the "big ideas" that students must understand to get a solid grounding in science. They define the theory of evolution as "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology." And they go into much more detail on evolution than the old standards.

Is it over?

That's not clear. There is still the possibility of lawsuits and/or legislative action. But those possibilities should be qualified.

Those who oppose the new standards could file a lawsuit, but whether it would have much chance of success is another matter. Some legal scholars say the odds are slim that a court would side against the standards.

Lawmakers could also take action. Some opponents say they will pursue a legislative remedy that will give teachers the "academic freedom" to point out what they say are flaws in evolutionary theory.

But after Tuesday's decision, several key lawmakers who had been critical of the draft standards - and critical enough to threaten legislative action - said they were pleased with the compromise and would not take action.