In the most recent issue of Science magazine, there is an article (not free, unfortunately) by Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, “Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom“ (Science 28 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6016 pp. 404-405 doi:10.1126/science.1198902), which seems to be a followup on their earlier (free) article in PLoS Biology “Evolution and Creationism in America’s Classrooms: A National Portrait“ (PLoS Biol 6(5): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060124).
Despite the repeated court decisions that creationism is religion and should not be taught in public schools, they found that “13% of the teachers surveyed explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least 1 hour of class time presenting it in a positive light (an additional 5% of teachers report that they endorse creationism in passing or when answering student questions).” This survey was a “National Survey of High School Biology teachers, based on a nationally representative probability sample of 926 public high school biology instructors.”
So 15–18% of high-school biology teachers are teaching religion instead of science, only “28% of all biology teachers consistently implement the major recommendations and conclusions of the National Research Council.” The majority of high school biology teachers seem to be avoiding the issue, and thus not teaching the most central concept in biology—the model that makes sense out of the data. The authors go on to suggest that these authors do as much harm to science education as the explicit creationists, as they give the message that scientific theories, like religion, are matters of belief rather than of evidence and predictive power.
Their suggestion for improvement seems to me to likely be ineffective: better pre-service training of teachers in biology, with explicit training in evolution. “Better understanding of the field should provide them with more confidence to teach evolution forthrightly, even in communities where public opinion is sympathetic to creationism.”
Maybe this is so, but I somehow doubt that the problem is ignorance of evolution on the part of biology teachers. I suspect rather that it is the selection process for teachers which discourages those who favor scientific thought processes over religious beliefs from entering the field of secondary education. Education classes are taught fairly dogmatically, with memes repeated for decades even in the face of contradicting research evidence. Such an education is bound to appeal more to those who accept authority as the basis for an argument than those who look for evidence from experiments that have falsifiable hypotheses.
In any case, it is deeply disturbing that for many high school students the only “science” class they take will be a religion class instead.