Education's Missing Link: How Private School Teachers Approach Evolution

Article excerpt

Over 5 million students and 28,000 schools are consistently marginalized or left out of

statistics that describe evolution and science education. Although they are relatively few

in number compared with their public school counterparts, the millions of students and

hundreds of thousands of teachers in private schools need to be counted in research about

teaching and learning in the biology classroom. Assumptions have been made about how

teachers in these often religious schools teach evolution, but do we have verifiable data?

Could teachers in these schools be similar to those in public schools in their teaching of

evolution, or is there a silent undercurrent that has not been detected? It is the purpose

of this study to reveal more about this underrepresented segment of the population of

science teachers.

Key Words: Teaching evolution; Lutheran secondary schools.

Studies on the teaching of evolution and the influences on it have been growing in number over the past three decades. They are often conducted in and focused on a particular American state (Ellis, 1986; Zimmerman, 1987; Tatina, 1989; Van Koevering & Stiehl, 1989; Shankar & Skoog, 1993; Osif, 1997; Aguillard, 1999; Weld & McNew, 1999; Benen, 2001; Moore, 2002; Rutledge & Mitchell, 2002; Moore & Kramer, 2005; Donnelly & Boone, 2007). Each includes some form of survey, from very short forms of six questions (Benen, 2001; Rutledge & Mitchell, 2002) to more extensive projects where the statistics of teachers' beliefs were analyzed against what teachers actually taught (Aguillard, 1999; Benen, 2001; Bilica, 2001; Moore & Kraemer, 2005). The present study takes similar aim and looks at teachers' emphasis on evolution in the parochial high school in addition to the factors that influence their teaching.

Rather than focusing on one state, I examined the extent to which evolution is taught in high school biology classrooms in Lutheran schools across the United States. The following questions, which previous studies have answered with regard to teachers in specific states, have now been applied to teachers across the country who teach in this parochial school setting.

1. To what degree do Lutheran secondary school teachers incorporate evolution in their teaching of basic first-year biology courses?

2. How do Lutheran biology teachers compare to public school teachers in their overall emphasis of evolution education in their classroom and the influences that guide their decisions?

* Methods

The four-part Teaching Evolutionary Topics Survey (TETS; Bilica, 2001) was used to collect data from teachers. The first part surveyed teachers' emphasis in class of the seven fundamental topics of evolution. Bilica (2001) assembled and validated these and created the following evolutionary topic scales: Speciation, Diversity, Descent with Modification, Evidence for Evolution, Natural Selection, Pace and Rate of Evolutionary Change, and Human Evolution. These scales were adapted from the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) and Project 2061 (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990, 1993). Each teacher in the sample responded to statements on the survey using a Likert scale to rate their emphasis from 1 to 5. The prompts for each emphasis were as follows: 1 = no emphasis--I do not emphasize this concept at all; 2 = little emphasis--I may mention this concept briefly or informally during the course; 3 = some emphasis--I emphasize this concept in one lesson during the course; 4 = moderate emphasis--I emphasize this concept in more than one lesson during the course; and 5 = strong emphasis--I emphasize this concept throughout the course.

The second section in the TETS deals with factors that influence teachers' decisions regarding coverage of evolutionary topics. …