U.S. Teachers Evolving on Science of Evolution
- By Dian Schaffhauser
survey done in 2007 found that only a third of public high school
biology teachers were able to present the subject of evolution in a
way that satisfied national science experts. And 13 percent of
teachers offered creationism as a "valid scientific alternative"
years later, teaching practices related to evolution are much better,
according to a
recently published report.
The researchers found "substantial reductions" in
creationist instruction and a "substantial increase" in the
time that high school teachers devote to human evolution and the
evolutionary process in general. The findings were published in the
Education and Outreach.
The researchers came from Penn
and the National
Center for Science Education.
the uptake in more scientifically astute instruction? The researchers
pointed to three changes:
adoption of the Next
Generation Science Standards
or state standards that borrow heavily from NGSS;
in pre-service teacher education; and
practices of in-service teachers through improved professional
project analyzed data from the "Survey of American Science
Teachers" which was done between February and May 2019. While
the survey included both high school and middle school samples, this
report relied on high school responses, in particular.
both surveys more than 95 percent of high school biology teachers
reported covering evolution to some degree. But there was a 60
percent increase in the average number of class hours devoted to
human evolution in the 2019 survey, an increase from 4.1 hours to 7.7
there was "considerable movement" in how teachers responded
to a question asking them whether they "emphasize the broad
consensus that evolution is a fact, even as scientists disagree about
the specific mechanisms through which evolution occurred." The
share of teachers who disagreed with that statement declined from 22
percent to 13 percent, and the percentage who agreed grew from 74
percent to 79 percent. Those who "strongly agreed" rose
from 30 percent to 47 percent.
proportion of teachers who reported discussing creationism and
intelligent design in classes dropped from 23 percent to 14 percent.
And where it was discussed, the researchers pointed out, "some
teachers may raise the topic of creationism in the context of
explaining why it is not scientific." To understand responses
better, the survey included two additional questions:
emphasize that intelligent design is a valid, scientific alternative
to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species"; and
emphasize that many reputable scientists view creationism or
intelligent design as valid alternatives to Darwinian theory."
number of teachers disagreeing with the first statement rose from 32
percent to 58 percent, a change "largely driven by a sharp drop
in the number of teachers who declined to answer this question,"
from 53 percent to 29 percent. And there was a big increase "in
the percentage of teachers strongly disagreeing with each statement."
The researchers interpreted that to mean that "more teachers are
confident in their acceptance of evolution and rejection of
the researchers concluded, the NGSS and its influence in
science-related learning standards, has influenced the instruction.
Also, they noted, "new teachers who entered the profession after
2007 are doing an especially good job, as measured by their reports
of their teaching practices with regard to evolution and
creationism." Teachers with greater experience "have also
improved on this score and have benefited from professional
development opportunities on evolution, particularly if they work in
the report said there's still room for improvement. A sizable number
of teachers "continue to either avoid evolution altogether or
communicate mixed messages that can serve to legitimize
non-scientific alternatives in the minds of their students," the
researchers wrote. "Such teachers 'fail to explain the nature of
scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts,
and legitimize creationist arguments, even if unintentionally.'"
Those individuals "may play a far more important role in
hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller
number of explicit creationists," the report stated.
report is openly available on
the Evolution: Education and Outreach website.