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October 11, 2005

Jennifer Fennell
(850) 245-0413

Statement From Education Commissioner John L. Winn Regarding Florida's Sunshine State Standards for Science

"Florida's Sunshine State Standards, approved in 1996 under then Commissioner of Education Frank Brogan, were designed to set expectations for student achievement while providing school districts and educators the flexibility to meet those expectations as they best see fit. These standards have served Florida well for nearly 10 years and have been highly rated by several national organizations.

Recent media coverage has placed a spotlight on the state's standards for science and their upcoming review, specifically as it relates to national debate over theories of evolution and creationism in education. While the standards for science do not specifically mention evolution, the Grades 9-12 standards do include concepts embraced by the theory, such as natural selection and mutation. The actual term "theory of evolution" was not used as it was felt "biological change over time" was both more accurate and acceptable. Conversely, the terms intelligent design and creationism are not included in the standards, nor are there any subtle references to either.

The standards were written in a way that is neither inclusive nor exclusive to any one theory of human origin. However, the standards do encourage students to seek information for themselves by researching and exploring a variety of theories.

Much speculation from the press has swirled around the review of these science standards, which is not scheduled until next year. The State of Florida employs a rigorous and open process for this review, one in which we take very seriously. Driving this process will be input from educators, content area specialists, parents, community leaders and the general public.

This inclusive process will ensure that Florida adopts only standards that represent the best thinking of each scientific field at the time. These standards will compel students to gain and apply knowledge through the use of scientific critical thinking and discovery. All students should understand that there are limits to scientific knowledge and there is still much to discover and learn. Our standards should have one purpose and one purpose only to further student learning and achievement in science.

These will be the principles that guide my decisions and recommendations to the State Board of Education as it relates to the review and revision of the Science Sunshine State Standards. For me or anyone else within the Department of Education to state a personal belief on this subject, or to presume what may or may not be included in the revised science standards, would be nothing short of negligent. It would destroy the integrity of the open process we have worked hard to establish. This would be akin to me requiring that a particular question be included on the FCAT because of my personal beliefs. That is simply wrong and will not happen under my leadership at the Department of Education.

I categorically refuse to succumb to irresponsible media requests to prematurely opine on a topic before it is appropriate. The State Board of Education has the right to expect the best the process has to offer. I will give that to them at the proper time and not before. To do anything other than that would only succeed in making a mockery of a valid process I hold in high regard.