Few High School Biology Teachers Accurately Teach Evolution

I hate to bag on my own colleagues, but the evidence is overwhelming: most high school biology teachers either do not teach evolution or undermine their own teaching by giving nods and winks to creationist ideas. (See Most high school biology teachers don’t endorse evolution, by Valerie Strauss.)

The result is that few U.S. high school students are really being taught evolution in an accurate or comprehensible way. Not only is this unfair to students who graduate believing they have mastered biology, when many have not, but it is a violation of teachers’ responsibility to accurately teach the content standards, including the scientific process (how scientists obtain data, analyze it and determine the validity of their hypotheses).  

To read the complete article, please go to http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/01/few-high-school-biology-te...

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Comment by Jim DePaulo on January 31, 2011 at 7:17am

I'm curious where you taught
I taught in the Jefferson County School district in Colorado.  Colorado state law allows a minor in a subject (or 24 quarter hours) to teach in that area. 12 quarter hours in an area allows the teacher to teach (in an emergency) as long it is not their major prep (1 or 2 classes).
By those standards I was qualified to teach full time in:  biology (my major), chemistry (my minor), earth science, English lit, history, anthropology, computer science (my Masters degree), home economics (36 quarter hours in hotel and restaurant management) and art 

Comment by pantagruel1 on January 30, 2011 at 10:09pm

Hi Jim,


I'm curious where you taught. As I mentioned, here in California that would be illegal. Nevertheless, even when all biology teachers are well-versed in biology, there are still problems getting evolution taught well, not the least of which is student resistance and teachers being conflict adverse. Another problem is that one can grasp evolution enough to believe in it without being able to really teach it convincingly.

Comment by Jim DePaulo on January 30, 2011 at 5:59pm
Pantagruel,  I taught in what was at the time the 4th largest school district in the country - 22 high schools plus feeders in the district.
During 7 of those years the high school I was in was on a year round schedule. which was during the period that I was department chairman of the Science department. This required me to design, every year, 6 schedules, with teacher, period and discipline assignments. The inevitable demons in the “well planned” system produced more than their share of unintended consequences. During the least populated track, the B track, I had a Math teacher teaching Physics, two real Chemistry teachers (one of which had the charisma of a root vegetable). Of 5 Biology teachers, including myself, two were actually biology teachers, 2 were PE teachers and one Home Economics teacher (who was an excellent teacher). Earth Science was OK although 1 teacher had two Unified Science classes the two additional classes were covered by a Metal Shop teacher.
The more populated A and C track were actually easier to schedule – since I retired over 10 years ago things have deteriorated even more - but they are no longer on year round schedules.


Comment by pantagruel1 on January 30, 2011 at 11:17am

I'm sure it depends where you teach, but in California, you must pass a rigorous test before you can teach biology, with quite a bit of emphasis on evolution. A lot of physics and chem majors wouldn't be able to pass the testwithout a lot of studying and extra course work. The same applies to PE majors. In my 14 years of teaching, I've only met one science teacher who was a PE major, and he taught integrated science, not bio.

Comment by Jim DePaulo on January 30, 2011 at 10:21am

A sad but true situation.  I taught high school biology for 30 years and was constantly explaining the basics of evolution to many of my colleagues. The principle reason for this shortcoming, IMO, is the lack of suitable instruction in college level biology. My understanding of evolution was not gleaned from my biology major, but rather, from my minor in anthropology. My impression of college instructors is that they assume their students already understand the basics – which is far from the reality.
Another problem is the number of non-majors teaching biology. All to often, because of the requirements of their major, most PE teachers have biology minors (mostly physiology) . My personal experience is that they are not competent to be teaching biology – a fact that escapes administrators.



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