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Teaching evolution in U.S. public middle schools: results of the first national survey

  • Branch, Glenn1
  • Reid, Ann1
  • Plutzer, Eric2
  • 1 National Center for Science Education, Oakland, CA, USA , Oakland (United States)
  • 2 Penn State University, State College, PA, USA , State College (United States)
Published Article
Evolution: Education and Outreach
Springer US
Publication Date
May 31, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s12052-021-00145-z
Springer Nature


BackgroundDespite substantial research on the teaching of evolution in the public high schools of the United States, we know very little about evolution teaching in the middle grades. In this paper, we rely on a 2019 nationally representative sample of 678 middle school science teachers to investigate how much time they report devoting to evolution and the key messages they report conveying about it, using this information to assess the state of middle school evolution education today. Throughout these analyses, we provide comparative data from high school biology teachers to serve as a baseline.ResultsWe find that, compared to high school biology teachers, middle school science teachers report themselves as less well-equipped to teach evolution, devoting less class time to evolution, and more likely to avoid taking a stand on the scientific standing of evolution and creationism. We show that middle school science teachers with extensive pre-service coursework in evolution and in states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards are more likely to report devoting more class time to evolution. Similarly, we show that middle school teachers in states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards and who are newer to the profession are more likely to report themselves as presenting evolution as settled science.ConclusionOur findings suggest avenues for the improvement of middle school evolution education through teacher preparation and public policy; in addition, a degree of improvement through retirement and replacement is likely to occur naturally in the coming years. More generally, our results highlight the need for further research on middle school education. Our broad statistical portrait provides an overview that merits elaboration with more detailed research on specific topics.

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