Oklahoma Biology Teachers Don't Understand Evolution

Much of the debate about evolution in public schools concerns the content of textbooks. But a new study points to another worrisome trend: teachers who have misconceptions about evolution might be passing those ideas along to their students.

Researchers surveyed Oklahoma high school biology teachers, and found that 23 percent of them misunderstand several key concepts.

Among the specific findings:

  • 25 percent strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, "Scientific evidence indicates that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time in the past."
  • 36.8 percent strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement, "Complex structures such as the eye could have been formed by evolution."
  • 40.8 percent strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, "'Survival of the fittest' means basically that 'only the strong survive'."
  • 17.1 percent strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement, "The earth is old enough for evolution to have occurred." (And, 3.9 percent were "undecided.")
  • 32.9 percent strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, "Evolution is a total random process."

The authors of the study assess the implications:

As teachers are critical determiners of the quality of classroom instruction, it is vital that they be capable of making professionally responsible instructional and curricular decisions. For biology teachers to make such decisions about evolution, they must possess a thorough knowledge of evolutionary theory and its powerful role in the discipline of biology.

Second, when teachers hold science misconceptions, they may critically impede student conceptual development of scientific explanations. Teachers with misconception-laced subject knowledge will convey inaccurate or incomplete ideas to their students, resulting in a less than accurate biological evolution education, likely fraught with errors…. Therefore, teachers may be a primary factor in the acquisition, propagation and perpetuation of students' biological evolution-related misconceptions.

Read the full scientific paper here.