new study: 1 of 8 HS science teachers teach creationism

Political Scientist Michael B. Berkman and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University have published a report of “the first nationally representative survey of teachers concerning the teaching of evolution” in the U.S. They report that

Of the 25% of teachers who devoted time to creationism or intelligent design, nearly half agreed or strongly agreed that they teach creationism as a “valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species.” Nearly the same number agreed or strongly agreed that when they teach creationism or intelligent design they emphasize that “many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian Theory”

The authors argue that “victory in the courts is not enough for the scientific community to ensure that evolution is included in high school science courses,” and that “scientists concerned about the quality of evolution instruction might have a bigger impact in the classroom by focusing on the certification standards for high school biology teachers.”

I have raised another sort of question about these legal victories in a Commentary in the Teachers College Record Online, titled: “The Dover (PA) Evolution Case: A True Win for Education?” (low-priced subscription required for complete articles). Here’s the abstract:

The decision on Intelligent Design in the Dover, Pennsylvania case has been widely hailed as a win for science educators, and for education generally. But is it a true victory? This article raises questions about the dangers of abdicating curriculum responsibility to legal and political authorities, without benefit of judgment grounded in a principled understanding of curriculum by scholars and practitioners in education.

One point I argue is that

So long as students are given to understand that the reason they are not hearing about ID in their biology class is because of the Constitution, or because the courts or judges have said that it’s not allowed. . . . so long as students think that the reason they are learning about evolution is that it’s required by the state standards … so long as students think—and are even being told—that the reason they need to learn about evolution is so that they will score well on the high-stakes test . . .  so long as this is how the students think about what’s happening in science class, such thinking deflects attention from their learning to understand biology and how it is the character of biology, as a natural science, that necessitates an evolutionary perspective, and distinguishes ID Theory as an alternative to the quest for explanations based on the operation of naturalist principles.

The Penn State authors note that

In general, these [previous] national reports and state standards offer ideas for the content of high school science, biology, and life science classes, but not the curriculum; in other words, they enumerate and elaborate on outcomes—what students should learn—but not on any particular ordering or allocation of time for each subject.

Of course, scope, sequence, and time allocation are only limited indicators of curriculum, but this is an important step in the right direction.

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