With the fight over including evolution in the state science standards here in Florida now over the hump, we now need to ask ourselves: what did we win? As several news articles have pointed out, in many school districts across the state evolution was already being taught anyway. So, does have a stronger set of science standards actually mean anything?
A timely study was recently published that at least in part addresses that very question. The paper detailing the study is “The evolution battles in high-school science classes: who is teaching what?” by Kristi L Bowman. It’s an attempt to determine whether evolution is actually being taught to high school students by asking college students to describe the quantity and quality of the subject’s instruction back in their high school days. I’ll let you read through it for yourself and let others, like PZ, give their takes on the bigger picture. But what I’m focusing on is how much of a role state science standards might have played in the results.
The study used students from eight universities scattered across the country (Florida wasn’t one of them). The states these universities are in were carefully chosen based on a variety of criteria. One category was the states’ science standard’s handling of evolution. Four were considered strong and four were considered weak. Of course, other factors played a role in the results — for instance, consider why the state might have strong or weak standards — but here they are for your consideration:
Of all recent public high-school graduates in strong standards states, 93% reported evolution instruction, but only 72% reported being taught that evolution is a credible scientific theory. By comparison, 89% of recent public high school graduates in weak standards states reported evolution instruction, but only 60% reported being taught that evolution is a credible scientific theory.
Wow! Only 60% were taught it is a credible scientific theory! That makes me itch to know what has been going on here in the Sunshine State the past decade. The study reflected a bit deeper, though. There is always more to the story (emphasis mine):
However, when evolution is taught, it can also be presented as a concept lacking scientific credibility. Applying a logit regression analysis and holding constant states’ partisan political preference and geographic location, the estimated odds were that respondents in weak standards states are three times as likely as those in strong standards states to receive instruction that evolution is not scientifically credible (P = 0.01). The frequency-based statistics account for much of this disparity, with 4% of strong states’ respondents reporting that evolution was taught, but presented as a concept lacking scientific credibility, compared to 9% in weak states.
Here’s the message I take away from that: We should be proud of what we did here in Florida! We definitely jumped from a set of weak standards to very strong ones. That increases the chances that our students will be exposed to sound science in the correct context.
Now, ummmmm, could someone tell me what “logit regression analysis” means? 😉