Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A 2020 Survey on Evolution Education: Improving

Environmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and The Pennsylvania State University recently  announced the findings of  a new national poll on evolution education.  Public high school biology teachers today are more likely to teach evolution — the conceptual core and organizing principle of the life sciences — as settled science than they were twelve years ago. (my emphasis)

Conducted in 2019 among 752 public high school biology teachers by Eric Plutzer, a political scientist and polling expert at Penn State, the survey was designed to replicate a similar national survey that Plutzer and his colleagues conducted in 2007.
The results may be read in the open access, peer-reviewed journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, "Teaching evolution in U. S. public schools: A continuing challenge and was written by Erick Plutze (PSU), Glenn Branch (NCSE) and Ann Reid (NCSE).  

From the abstract:


Over a decade ago, the first nationally representative probability survey concerning the teaching of evolution revealed disquieting facts about evolution education in the United States. This 2007 survey found that only about one in three public high school biology teachers presented evolution consistently with the recommendations of the nation’s leading scientific authorities. And about 13% of the teachers emphasized to their students that creationism was a valid scientific alternative to modern evolutionary biology. In this paper, we investigate how the quality of evolution teaching, as measured by teachers’ reports of their teaching practices with regard to evolution and creationism, has changed in the intervening 12 years.


We find substantial reductions in overtly creationist instruction and in the number of teachers who send mixed messages that legitimate creationism as a valid scientific alternative to evolutionary biology. We also report a substantial increase in the time that high school teachers devote to human evolution and general evolutionary processes. We show that these changes reflect both generational replacement—from teachers who are new to the profession—and changes in teaching practices among those who were teaching in the pre-Kitzmiller era. 

Adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, along with improvements in pre-service teacher education and in-service teacher professional development, appears to have contributed to a large reduction in both creationist instruction and mixed messages that could lead students to think that creationism is a scientific perspective. Combined with teachers devoting more hours to evolution—including human evolution—instruction at the high school level has improved by these measures since the last national survey in 2007.
Co-author Ann Reid who is the executive director of NCSE wrote about this study in a column for Nature (June 18, 2020) for which see here. In it she writes about her use of evolutionary theory in working on the team sequencing the 1918 influenza virus from preserved lung samples, how that work influenced her to make a career change, becoming he executive director of the NCSE, the 2005 federal court case on intelligent design (that it is religious not scientific), the credit due to the Next Generation Science Standards in the changes observed in evolution education, the work of scientists who ensure accurate coverage of evolution in science text books, as well as the current need for defense against the dilution/distortion of climate change states have and continue to try to make.

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