Florida Teachers' Attitudes about Teaching Evolution

Article excerpt

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Before 2008, Florida's science teaching standards did not mention the word "evolution" and only briefly alluded to it as "change over time." This was a large reason why those standards earned an "F" in a national report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 2005 (Gross et al., 2005). Following this, the Florida Sunshine State Standards for Science were revised during 2007 and passed by the state board of education in February 2008 (Florida Department of Education, 2008). The revised standards include 18 "Big Ideas" threaded throughout each grade level. Since the inception of the standards, Big Idea number 15, Diversity and Evolution of Organisms, has been a major source of contention throughout Florida and was passed only narrowly by the state board of education.

In response to the new standards, Florida politicians opposed to evolution attempted to pass two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 2692 and House Bill 1483, both entitled the "Academic Freedom Act," which would have opened the door to teaching creationist beliefs as an alternative to the theory of evolution in Florida's science classrooms. Proponents of "academic freedom" legislation claim that teachers are chastised and punished for their religious beliefs, but there are very few data to support or deny this claim. Although neither bill was passed into law during the 2008 Florida legislative session, a new one, Senate Bill 2396, has been introduced into the 2009 session.

The controversy that the theory of evolution by natural selection causes among the general public raises the possibility that it could also be problematic for some of our teachers. It is well documented that a significant number of teachers across the country do not accept evolution and wish to either teach creationism in addition to it or not teach it at all (for examples, see Aguillard, 1999; Griffith & Brem, 2004; Bandoli, 2008; Berkman et al., 2008; Moore, 2008). Unfortunately, teachers' negative attitudes about evolution can adversely affect instruction (Tatina, 1989; Aguillard, 1999; Rutledge & Warden, 2000), which, in turn, negatively affects student achievement in science.

Our goals in the present study were threefold. First, we wanted to collect data that could help support or deny the claim made by proponents of "academic freedom" legislation that teachers are censured for their religious beliefs. Second, we wished to fill the gap in the literature regarding Florida teachers' comfort with teaching evolution. Third, topics pertinent to understanding evolution, such as variation in a population, inheritance of traits, and differential success at survival and reproduction, are introduced in elementary school; however, most of the data on teachers and evolution have been gathered at the secondary level. Thus, our third goal was to collect data that could potentially highlight the need for a stronger focus on elementary teachers' views on teaching evolution.

* Methods

Survey Construction

We created a 14-item Likert-type survey designed to determine teachers' comfort level with the inclusion of evolution in Florida's science standards; their general attitudes and beliefs about evolution; and the extent to which teachers are criticized, censured, disparaged, or reprehended for their beliefs about the teaching of evolution. Some of the questions were derived from prior studies in another state (Donnelly & Boone, 2007), while others were designed to be specific to Florida. In addition, we collected information regarding each teacher's grade level and school type (rural, suburban, or urban). Survey items were given to university faculty science educators for review and modified until it was agreed that the questions were clear and valid. In addition to the Likert items, teachers were invited to comment on their experiences with administrators, teachers, parents, and students regarding the teaching of evolution. …