Chris: I like what they have done very much, most importantly focusing on enduring understandings and essential questions. As a former bio teacher of 15 years, I also like the topical sequence except for one thing. I would eliminate the review of scientific method and change that to science as inquiry, and focus on a step by step problem-solving approach that could be utilized through out the course. We've done that with some of our biology courses in my school district with fantastic results.
More information on the process we used is here:
As a sideline, we have also moved unit tests out of the classroom to the library, with the rationale that adults do not problem-solve isolated in a room with a number 2 pencil with access to only the resources in your head. Kids have access to the Inquiry learning Website we host through Blackboard, and they are free to ask librarians, use databases, books, Websites, and journals to help answer the single essential question we give them that relates to the topical area of biology. We have in effect designed an assessment that they look forward to, and in the process, created an assessment that enables us to look much deeper into what they know. Next, we're thinking of letting them use discussion boards in groups during the test to simulate workers/problem-solvers in different parts of the world, who collaborate to solve a problem at hand. but we still haven't worked out how we want to measure such a test....
I forwarded along your comments to my teachers and it kicked the conversation up another notch. And I admit, we were pleased that your sideline sounds a lot like how we're structuring our classes. And we'll let you know how our discussion boards go!