Every state has a set of science standards that are supposed to guide what is taught at different grade levels in their schools. Many of these are modeled after the national science standards put out by the NSTA. Do they make a difference to what is actually taught in classes? An article by James Bandoli in American Biology Teacher looks at that question.
Bandoli focused on the politically charged topic of evolution, and compared two nearby states, one of which had evolution prominently written into the standards, the other of which did not. It made no difference. In both states,high school biology teachers spent less than a week covering evolution in their classes, and almost 1/2 discussed both creation “science” and evolution together. Both states had many teachers that did not mention evolution at all. It doesn’t seem the teachers were paying much attention to their own state standards, at least on this topic. For comparison, he looked at a couple of other areas of biology (cell and genetics) and found, again, that teachers in both states were spending about the same amount of time on each of those.
From a curriculum developers perspective, this is interesting because we (and other authors) try to align our products to the state science standards. We use those as the blueprint of what the teachers need to teach. But if teachers are not actually paying close attention to the standards, perhaps that’s the wrong target? The topic of evolution has complicating political factors, of course, and likely much of the findings are related to those politics. But for teachers whose own political opinion on evolution is not directly preventing them from teaching it, one possibility for why they ignore the standards is that they are paying more attention to tests. Questions about evolution were not on either state’s tests. Another possibility is that teachers tend to favor topics where they have good teaching tools. With evolution, in addition to the politics, these teachers may not have the knowledge or tools to teach it well, and so they give it short shrift. I’d like to think that for at least some of those teachers, if they had our Darwinian Snails or our Evolutionary Evidence virtual biology labs, that would have helped increase their time and enthusiasm on the topic.