March 10, 2008


MSU Law Professor Uncovers Trend in Where Evolution is Taught to American High School Students

Results Show Region the Predictor over State Educational Standards and Political Climate

East Lansing, MI – Michigan State University College of Law Professor Kristi L. Bowman’s recent study on whether evolution had been taught as a “credible scientific theory” in public high schools across the country uncovered that a student’s geographic location was a significant predictor of his or her answer. In particular, geographic location was more of a determining factor than either state board of education requirements about what should be taught or whether the state in which the high school was located was considered “red” or “blue” in terms of predominant political preference.

In her study published in a March 2008 article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, “The evolution battles in high-school science classes: who is teaching what?” Professor Bowman reported the results of surveying a total of nearly 600 students in major public universities across eight states. Students were asked whether evolution, intelligent design, and creationism had been taught in their high school. Students from high schools in the South and in the Midwest were less likely (56 percent in both) to report that evolution had been taught as a credible scientific theory and in the South more likely to report that intelligent design and creationism had been taught as scientifically credible (11 percent and 8 percent, respectively). Students from the Northeast and the West were more likely to report that evolution had been taught as a credible scientific theory (76 percent and 81 percent respectively) and those in the Northeast, West, and Midwest were less likely to report that intelligent design and creationism had been taught as scientifically credible (4 to 6 percent regarding intelligent design and 5 percent in all three regarding creationism).

There was very little variation between strong standard states (states in which state board of education requirements spelled out that evolution would be taught in depth) and weak standard states (states in which standards have little or no mention of evolution). This suggests that some teachers in weak standard states were nonetheless teaching evolution as a primary explanation of the origin and diversity of species while some teachers in strong standard states were at least covering intelligent design and creationism as also being scientifically credible.

Professor Bowman says these findings were surprising and have important implications for science education. “Often, educators, legislators, and others interested in science education believe that setting educational standards about the teaching of evolution settles what is taught in the classroom. This study shows that, at least in the perception of high school graduates, this is not always true. With a highly volatile topic such as evolution, cultural variables may carry more weight in opposition to educational standards regarding those topics than they would with less volatile topics such as mathematics and grammar.”

Professor Bowman has written extensively about first amendment issues in schools, including students’ free speech and religion in schools. For a more detailed description of the findings of her study, listen to her podcast at

MSU College of Law was in founded in 1891 and is a private institution of higher learning devoted exclusively to professional education in law. The Law College is one of only a few private law schools to be affiliated with a research university, enabling it to provide a comprehensive interdisciplinary legal education program. Classes offered in its state-of-the-art facilities provide students the benefits of a Big Ten campus while maintaining the small school culture. The Law College is one of the oldest continuously operating independent law colleges in the nation. For more information about the Law College, visit


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