Elementary school teachers need more science

The Center for American Progress issued a report recently entitled Slow Off the Mark: Elementary School Teachers and the Crisis in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education. The main point of the report is that elementary school teachers are ill prepared to effectively teach their students math and science. From the report:

In order to improve STEM learning, we must strengthen the selection, preparation, and licensure of elementary school teachers. We need higher standards for selection into teacher preparation programs—standards that include demonstrated proficiency in math and science at a level that is far higher than our current pool of teacher candidates. Elementary grade teacher preparation programs must include more—and more rigorous—math and science courses in both content and pedagogy, and teacher candidates must perform in these courses at the high levels that we would expect of our students.

Furthermore, states must strengthen their licensure requirements so that teachers cannot obtain a license without passing the math and science sections of the exams. Finally, alternative certification programs should continue to recruit candidates who were STEM majors in college or are STEM professionals, and their licensure should be streamlined in order to get them into classrooms as soon as they are ready.

Of particular interest is this tidbit:

Similarly, science education in the United States suffers the distracting intrusion of religious preferences. Courts have consistently ruled that creationism has no place in public school science classrooms and the scientific community has made clear that evolutionary biology should play a central role in science curricula. Yet the cultural and political undertow keeps many science teachers from fully embracing the knowledge and norms of science.

Although evolution is not usually taught at the elementary school level, its treatment in higher grades illustrates the extent of the problem. According to a recent national survey of high school biology teachers, 28 percent introduce evidence that evolution has occurred, 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design, and 60 percent are neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor do they explicitly endorse nonscientific alternatives.

I have to admit that including this in the report was gratuitous since the authors didn’t make any effort to more directly link it to elementary schools. Here in Florida, evolution is covered to some degree in the lower grades. For example, here is one of the standards for 5th grade:

Number: SC.5.L.15
Title: Diversity and Evolution of Living Organisms
A. Earth is home to a great diversity of living things, but changes in the environment can affect their survival.
B. Individuals of the same kind often differ in their characteristics and sometimes the differences give individuals an advantage in surviving and reproducing.

So, I do believe the authors could have made an even stronger case for why they mentioned evolution in their report. Knowing and understanding basic concepts of evolution is important for elementary school teachers in the Sunshine State. Better training in the subject in college would certainly help.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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2 Responses to Elementary school teachers need more science

  1. Ivory girl says:

    Most elementary teachers don’t know the concepts of evolution and are not going to mention it. 9% of teachers had no answer to the question of teaching TOE. 13 % are creationists. Out of the 60% who are on the fence,I would bet that half of them support some type of theistic evolution,which amounts to nothing more than ID or trying to smuggle God in the back door. Our education system is in a sorry state what ever way you look at it.

  2. Happy Camper says:

    Something that I thought I would forward to you. An interesting take by the N.Y.T.


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