A new study from researchers at the National Center for Science Education and Penn State University is the first systematic attempt to investigate middle school evolution education through a representative survey of science teachers.
The survey found that middle school science teachers who teach evolution reported devoting a substantial amount of classroom time to the topic: 14.6 class hours, or about three weeks of classes, on average. In comparison, high school biology teachers who teach evolution reported devoting 18.6 hours, or about four weeks of classes, to the topic on average.
The survey also found that a solid majority of middle school science teachers who teach evolution agreed that they emphasize the scientific consensus on evolution: 81.8 percent. In comparison, 85.8 percent of high school biology teachers who teach evolution agreed that they emphasized the scientific consensus on evolution, although they were more likely to strongly agree that they did so.
In order to explore ways to improve evolution education in the middle school classroom, the study investigated the possible factors affecting the presentation of evolution, finding that teachers who studied evolution in college and teachers in states to have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards were significantly more likely to devote more classroom hours to evolution.
Similarly, the study found that teachers in states to have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards were significantly more likely to emphasize the scientific consensus on evolution while not endorsing creationism as a scientifically credible alternative, while the most senior teachers (with twenty or more years of experience) were significantly less likely to do so.
The results from the survey appear in Glenn Branch, Ann Reid, and Eric Plutzer’s "Teaching Evolution in U.S. Public Middle Schools: Results of the First National Survey," published open-access in the peer-reviewed journal Evolution: Education and Outreach on May 31, 2021.