Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

High school biology teachers in U.S. reluctant to endorse evolution in class, study finds

Date:
January 28, 2011
Source:
Penn State
Summary:
The majority of public high school biology teachers in the U.S. are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary biology, despite 40 years of court cases that have ruled teaching creationism or intelligent design violates the Constitution, according to political scientists. A mandatory undergraduate course in evolutionary biology for prospective teachers, and frequent refresher courses for current teachers, may be part of the solution, they say.

Science students. The majority of public high school biology teachers are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary biology, despite 40 years of court cases that have ruled teaching creationism or intelligent design violates the Constitution, according to Penn State political scientists.
Credit: iStockphoto/Joseph C. Justice Jr.

The majority of public high school biology teachers in the U.S. are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary biology, despite 40 years of court cases that have ruled teaching creationism or intelligent design violates the Constitution, according to Penn State political scientists. A mandatory undergraduate course in evolutionary biology for prospective teachers, and frequent refresher courses for current teachers, may be part of the solution, they say.

Related Articles


"Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," write Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, professors of political science at Penn State, in the January 28 issue of Science.

The researchers examined data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, a representative sample of 926 public high school biology instructors. They found only about 28 percent of those teachers consistently implement National Research Council recommendations calling for introduction of evidence that evolution occurred, and craft lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking disparate topics in biology.

In contrast, Berkman and Plutzer found that about 13 percent of biology teachers "explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light." Many of these teachers typically rejected the possibility that scientific methods can shed light on the origin of the species, and considered both evolution and creationism as belief systems that cannot be fully proven or discredited.

Berkman and Plutzer dubbed the remaining teachers the "cautious 60 percent," who are neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives. "Our data show that these teachers understandably want to avoid controversy," they said.

The researchers found these teachers commonly use one or more of three strategies to avoid controversy. Some teach evolutionary biology as if it applies only to molecular biology, ignoring an opportunity to impart a rich understanding of the diversity of species and evidence that one species gives rise to others.

Using a second strategy, some teachers rationalize the teaching of evolution by referring to high-stakes examinations.

These teachers "tell students it does not matter if they really 'believe' in evolution, so long as they know it for the test," Berkman and Plutzer said.

Finally, many teachers expose their students to all positions, scientific and otherwise, and let them make up their own minds.

This is unfortunate, the researchers said, because "this approach tells students that well established concepts can be debated in the same way we debate personal opinions."

Berkman and Plutzer conclude that "the cautious 60 percent fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments." As a result, "they may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists."

The researchers note that more high school students take biology than any other science course, and for as many as 25 percent of high school students it is the only science course they will ever take, even though a sound science education is important in a democracy that depends on citizen input on highly technical, consequential, public policies.

Berkman and Plutzer say the nation must have better-trained biology teachers who can confidently advocate for high standards of science education in their local communities. Colleges and universities should mandate a dedicated undergraduate course in evolution for all prospective biology teachers, for example, and follow up with outreach refresher courses, so that more biology teachers embrace evolutionary biology.

"Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the scientific literacy of future generations," they conclude.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. B. Berkman, E. Plutzer. Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom. Science, 2011; 331 (6016): 404 DOI: 10.1126/science.1198902

Cite This Page:

Penn State. "High school biology teachers in U.S. reluctant to endorse evolution in class, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110127141657.htm>.
Penn State. (2011, January 28). High school biology teachers in U.S. reluctant to endorse evolution in class, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110127141657.htm
Penn State. "High school biology teachers in U.S. reluctant to endorse evolution in class, study finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110127141657.htm (accessed November 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Science & Society News

Friday, November 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Having children has always been a frightening prospect in Sierra Leone, the world's most dangerous place to give birth, but Ebola has presented an alarming new threat for expectant mothers. Duration: 00:37 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Toyota presented its hydrogen fuel-cell compact car called "Mirai" to US consumers at the Los Angeles auto show. The car should go on sale in 2015 for around $60.000. It combines stored hydrogen with oxygen to generate its own power. Duration: 01:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola: Life Without School in Guinea

Ebola: Life Without School in Guinea

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Following the closure of schools and universities in Guinea because of the Ebola virus, students look for temporary work or gather in makeshift classrooms to catch up on their syllabus. Duration: 02:14 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NSA Director: China Can Damage US Power Grid

NSA Director: China Can Damage US Power Grid

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) China and "one or two" other countries are capable of mounting cyberattacks that would shut down the electric grid and other critical systems in parts of the United States, according to Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and hea Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins