Graphic biology teacher survey results

2 minute read

Several people (e.g., P. Z. Myers, Jerry Coyne) have passed along a poster representation of some statistics on evolution, creationism, and other stuff in secondary biology education.

These statistics are from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, taken in 2007 and reported in a 2008 paper by Michael Berkman and colleagues Berkman:2008. I wrote about the survey results at greater length when the paper by Berkman and colleagues reported on them.

Biology teachers creationism chart

What I want to know is where are these high school biology classes that include more than 20 hours of human evolution? That’s four weeks! Two percent of the survey is 18 teachers. Good for them, and I hope they’re using the blog!

The 17% who say they don’t cover human evolution at all… I think that it wouldn’t be too hard to make a real dent in this statistic. It does not take extra time to instill basic knowledge about human evolution, if you’re already discussing basic genetics. All of the good examples of Mendelian inheritance are good examples precisely because they illustrate recent human evolution. Any discussion of human variation really is a discussion of human evolution. You just need to include the missing evolutionary frame, the one that makes sense of these things.

Still it’s true that many biology classes don’t touch on issues related to humans at all. Even these are missing an obvious opportunity – other organisms are relevant to our biology precisely because of our shared evolutionary history.

The part of the survey that I found dismaying was the low number of hours devoted to evolutionary biology in general. As I put it then:

We're entering an age in which health decisions will be made based on genetic information -- when everyone may know their own gene sequences if they want to. New diseases are emerging, new crops are being developed, and new organisms are being transplanted from one continent to another. Decisions about the economic development of entire regions -- perhaps entire nations -- are now subject to the evaluation of biodiversity, including threatened and endangered species.
The people making these decisions ten to twenty years from now will have an average of 13.7 hours of education about evolution.

Looking at the distribution of numbers, it’s clear that the average of 13.7 is buoyed by a tail of high-instruction classes. The median and mode are between 5 and 10 hours. This has to change, if we’re going to have a populace capable of using genetic information.