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Too many teachers ignore evolution

Despite the latest victories over creationism, "considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," according to Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer. Writing in the January 28, 2011, issue of Science (subscription required), Berkman and Plutzer review the results of their National Survey of High School Biology Teachers. "The data reveal a pervasive reluctance of teachers to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology," with only 28% of teachers deemed effective educators with respect to evolution — and with as many as 13% of teachers explicitly advocating creationism. As for the remaining 60%, Berkman and Plutzer suggest that they "may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists ... even if unintentionally."

What is the solution? While recommending continued participation in legal battles and outreach efforts, Berkman and Plutzer importantly suggest that "increased focus be placed on preservice teachers ... Requiring an evolution course for all preservice biology teachers, as well as provision of resources to provide such a course, would likely lead to meaningful improvement in secondary school science instruction." Quoting Glenn Branch, Eugenie C. Scott, and Joshua Rosenau's recent "Dispatches from the Evolution Wars" in Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, they conclude, "focusing on the preservice stage may be 'the most effective way for scientists to help to improve the understanding of evolution' ... Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the science literacy of future generations."

Berkman and Plutzer are both professors of political science at Pennsylvania State University. They are the authors, with Julianna Sandell Pacheco, of "Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait" (published in PLoS Biology in 2008) and of Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010), which NCSE's Glenn Branch described as "[a] tour de force," adding, "Berkman and Plutzer's analysis of who really decides what is taught about evolution in America's public schools is incisive and insightful, thorough and thoughtful. Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the evolution wars." Additionally, they chat about their Science column and their research with Yun Xie in a January 27, 2011, blog post on Ars Technica.