New study shows 60% spike in class time devoted to evolution in last 12 years

(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

A new study suggests there's been “substantial reductions in overtly creationist instruction” in United States public high schools in the last 12 years while there’s been a spike in the time teachers “devote to human evolution and general evolutionary processes.”

The new report titled “Teaching evolution in U.S. public schools: a continuing challenge” was released last week by Evolution: Education and Outreach, a peer-reviewed journal that promotes comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory.

The study indicates that the average number of class hours devoted to the teaching of human evolution in U.S. public schools rose by 60% from 2007 to 2019 while the percentage of teachers who didn’t cover Creationism or Intelligent Design at all increased by 7%.

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“We find a 60% increase in the mean number of class hours reported as devoted to human evolution, from 4.1 to 7.7 class hours,”  write the authors of the report.

The report was written by Penn State University political science professor Eric Plutzer and colleagues from the National Center for Science Education, a California nonprofit that works with teachers on the teaching of evolution and climate change. 

The data is based on a survey of 752 public high school biology teachers conducted by Plutzer. According to NCSE, the survey was designed to “replicate a similar national survey that Plutzer and his colleagues conducted in 2007.”

The survey finds that teaching of evolutionary processes rose 25%, from an average of 9.8 class hours in 2007 to 12.4 class hours in 2019.

In 2007, 51% of high school biology teachers emphasized that the theory of evolution has a "broad consensus" that it “is a fact, even as scientists disagree about the specific mechanisms.” The same percentage in 2007 also gave “no credence to creationism as science.”

But 12 years later, the number of teachers teaching that evolution has a broad consensus to be “fact” and not giving credence to Creationism has risen to 67%.

The findings note that more than 95% of high school biology teachers reported covering evolution at least to some degree in both 2019 and 2007.

The study also finds that 82% of teachers didn’t teach Creationism or Intelligent Design at all in 2019, an increase from 75% of teachers who said the same thing in 2007. 

The survey suggests that there was a drop — 8.6% in 2007 to 5.6% in 2019  — in teachers who reported "exclusively emphasizing creationism as a 'valid scientific alternative.'" 

“There are still teachers who give credence to creationism in their classrooms,” writes NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch about the study on the group’s blog. “But their numbers are dwindling, from almost a third in 2007 to less than one in five in 2019.”

Asked to agree or disagree that it is “possible to offer an excellent general biology course for high school students that includes no mention of Darwin or evolutionary theory,” between 82% to 83% of the teachers surveyed rejected the idea in both 2007 and 2019.

NCSE Executive Director Ann Reid, one of the co-authors, wrote last week in the weekly scientific journal Nature that the organization “was founded in the early 1980s when advocacy for teaching creationism alongside evolution was spreading.”

“We and allies made the case against creationism to textbook publishers, school boards, federal judges and more,” she wrote. 

Reid writes that “much credit” for the increased teaching of evolution “is due to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a set of benchmarks released in 2011 that emphasizes evolution as a core concept.”

“The 44 US states that have adopted these, or standards based on the same framework, have seen the greatest improvements,” Reid contended. 

The NGSS has been opposed by some creationist groups.

“Several examples of observational science are provided to illustrate the way scientific models are developed, but the document fails to mention that scientific explanations offered in the area of historical (or origins) science are inevitably dependent on worldview-biased assumptions,” argues Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell in an article published by Answers in Genesis, an organization that promotes Young Earth Creationism. 

“No one can perform repeatable scientific tests to elucidate the origins of life, the earth, or the universe,” she added. “Those events already occurred in the past and cannot be reproduced in the present. Thus any conclusions about the origins of life, the earth and the universe depend upon the starting assumptions of the investigator, including his acceptance or rejection of God’s eyewitness account in the Bible.”

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