Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Views of Biology Teachers towards Teaching Evolution

In discussing Marco Rubio’s anti-science perspectives during the previous post, I mentioned Florida’s miserable (though improving) track record in regards to the teaching of evolution. As it turns out, the National Association of Biology Teachers has recently published the results of a survey which focused on the attitudes held by Florida’s biology teachers towards the teaching of evolution.

The survey’s data was derived from the responses of 353 Florida biology teachers; 28% of which taught biology in kindergarten through the fifth grade, 24% instructed biology in grades six through eight and 48% taught biology at the high school level (grades 9–12).

A Few of the Findings:
20% of Florida’s biology teachers are NOT COMFORTABLE with even INCLUDING evolution as a required science standard

17% of the teachers felt that biology COULD be taught and understood WITHOUT teaching evolution

17% DISAGREED that the earth is at least 4 billion years old (34% of those that disagreed believed that the earth is only between 4,000 and 40,000 years old)

34% felt that believing in God MEANS rejecting evolution

72% of the respondents reported that they HAD NEVER BEEN criticized by other teachers or school administrators in regards to HOW they taught evolution

44% of the teachers indicated that their teaching of evolution HAS BEEN criticized by students or parents

If the above numbers seem frightening consider this: The study’s respondents were solicited from the Building a Presence in Science (BaP) program of the National Science Teachers Association. Therefore, the numbers could be biased towards the "pro" science education end of the spectrum!!!

FOWLER and MEISELS (2010). Florida Teachers’ Attitudes about
Teaching Evolution The American Biology Teacher, 72 (2), 96-99 : 10.1525/abt.2010.72.2.8


  1. I have taught biology from the middle school to college undergrad level, altho I no longer teach. Many biology teachers I have known don't know very much biology. Many were phys-ed majors who were placed in biology classrooms to give them a job during the instructional day, while their real job was coaching sports after school. To expect such people to teach evolutionary biology in any sort of cogent way is unrealistic. Perhaps it is better to have such teachers skip the teaching of evolution rather than have them distort the concept beyond all recognition to an actual biologist.

  2. Regarding that 17%: Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. - Theodosius Dobzhansky

    Maybe we should be relieved that is it so low? I'm curious if they're the same 17% in the next statement, or if you add the two together you get the 34% following. My sense is that those questions are picking up a lot of the same teachers. And I wonder about the breakdown by grade level. Are elementary teachers more likely to hold those beliefs than high school teachers, for example?

  3. darwinsdog,
    I grasp your point and in a sense agree, but why should the teaching of evolution be any different than teaching other aspects of biology or for that matter math or writing? If a teacher doesn’t know a certain subject area there should be some sort of push by the administrators (and themselves) to get that teacher up to speed. In the event of lacking administrative support perhaps it would be best if the teacher ‘paints in broad strokes’ and explains the basic tenants of an idea?

    Thanks for the comment!

  4. Geknitics,

    Unfortunately the article doesn’t clarify whether or not there’s a correlation between the ‘biology without evolution’ group and the ‘young earthers’, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some overlap.

    The article does break down the survey by grade levels.

    Some examples (elementary%, middle school%, high school%):

    Agree that evolution is a central principle in biology 51% 67% 85%

    Feel that one does not need to understand evolution in order to
    understand biology 42% 40% 21%

    Feel that those who believe in God do not accept evolution 27% 22% 5%

    Feel that creationists are more moral than noncreationists 9% 3% 2%

    Agree that the Earth is at least 4 billion years old 61% 85% 94%

    Looks like improvement with increasing grade level…


  5. That's what I would expect. Those that are actually teaching the fundamentals of biology get it. Silver lining....

  6. I'm convinced that for us to not go completely insane under the never ending scrutiny of the religious eye, we should breed extensively and found our own schools where education will be much more balanced and realistic.