Date of Award
PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy
Education Leadership, Management and Policy
Richard Blissett, Ph.D.
Robert Kelchen, Ph.D.
Debra Zinicola, Ph.D.
teaching evolution, evolution acceptance, teacher preparation, scientific literacy
Scientific literacy is an important and relevant 21st century skill. People with a strong scientific literacy are better equipped to be involved in public discourse which can drive social and political decision-making processes and are more adept at determining valid scientific information. Unfortunately, American citizens have consistently demonstrated a weak understanding of the nature of science. This has never been more recently apparent than during the COVID-19 crisis where citizens have not only neglected to adhere to CDC recommendations, but also deny the validity of the scientific process through anti-vax propaganda. Research has shown that accepting evolution as a valid scientific theory is a key component to developing strong scientific literacy skills. Evolutionary theory is the cornerstone to developing this skill as it connects all areas of the sciences and provides a strong evidence-based framework from which people can make meaning about the phenomenon occurring around them. Although 99% of the scientific community agrees that evolution has occurred, only 66% of Americans can say the same. Americans typically only learn about evolution in their high school biology classes as most Americans are not college graduates, and those that are may not have been required to take biology as a part of their program. It can be assumed then that the only opportunity to learn about evolution is in the high school biology classroom. Teachers are integral to a student accepting the theory of evolution. Teacher instructional practices and beliefs play a significant role in how these teachers teach evolution, and therefore the likelihood that a student will accept evolution to be a valid theory. However, teacher curricular and instruction decisions vary between states, between districts, and even between teachers in the same school. These beliefs have shown to be influenced by various things, like religiosity of the instructor, the attitudes of the community in which they teach, the quality of the standards the school adopted, and the teacher preparation program experience. Although scholarship is extensive concerning the first three influential factors, it lacks in the area of teacher preparation and its influence on teacher practice. This survey-based study of Connecticut public high school biology teachers was able to determine what relationship exists between these preparation programs and teacher practice regarding evolution curricula. This study determined that taking an evolutionary biology course during the program and non-evolutionary biology courses that spend at least a brief amount of time covering evolution both play positive roles in the curriculum and instruction decisions of the teacher. It was also determined that having a positive perception of the preparation program and an increased level of confidence in a one’s abilities as a teacher also positively influence these decisions. These preparation programs are essential to the development of teachers with a strong understanding of the nature of science and the validity of evolutionary theory, and policy should be developed to promote these types of programs.
Benson, Stefanie, "Teaching Evolution In Connecticut Public High Schools: Teacher Preparation And Its Relationship To Teacher Practice" (2021). Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). 2878.