Many Teachers Undercut Science Education, New Survey Indicates

A new report by two scholars at Penn State University found that about 28 percent of high school biology teachers said they consistently teach evolution and that nearly 13 percent say they favor teaching creationism or “intelligent design.”

Most science teachers, about 60 percent, said they avoid taking a direct stance on the topic of evolution. The authors of the report, Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, called these teachers the “cautious 60 percent.”

“These teachers fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments, even if unintentionally,” wrote Berkman and Plutzer.

The two surveyed 926 high school biology teachers and asked them how much time they spent on certain subjects. They also asked the teachers to give information about their personal beliefs concerning creationism and evolution. Their findings were report­ed in the journal Science.

Several respondents indicated that they fear teaching evolution too ro­bustly and are worried about a backlash from the community.

University professors who examined the data said many high school science teachers lack a solid grounding in evolution.

“We say [evolution is] a central idea in biology, but someone can get a biology degree and not take a class in it,” Randy Moore, a specialist in biology at the University of Minnesota, told LiveScience.com. “We let that go in the name of religious freedom.”

Teachers told Berkman and Plutzer that they use different strategies to deal with evolution in the classroom. Some taught it in a general sense without actually using the term, while others simply taught whatever material might appear on the state’s standardized tests. Still others includ­ed some information about creationism and told students they could decide which to accept.

Steven Newton, programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education, said problems can be defused if administrators and school board members stand up for teachers who instruct about evolution.

“It would be beneficial for there to be more support from the administration, so [teachers] don’t feel out there all alone,” Newton said.