Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ed.D.

Degree Granting Department

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Major Professor

Darlene Y. Bruner

Keywords

Academic Freedom, Public Education Policy, Scientific Theory of Evolution, Secondary School Administrators

Abstract

Recent anti-evolution legislation, in the form of Academic Freedom bills, has been introduced in many state legislatures over the last three years. The language in the proposed Academic Freedom bills may allow different interpretations of what can be taught in the science classrooms, and possibly spur parents to take advantage of their perceived parental rights to request their child be opted-out of class when the scientific theory of evolution is taught. Five research questions guided the analysis of participant responses to questions and perception statements focusing on secondary school administrators' actions, perceptions, and awareness as they relate to their decision to allow or not allow a student to opt out of academics, specifically evolution, through the collection of data using a web-based survey. Opt out policies are typically invoked to excuse students from activities to which they or their parents may have religious objections (Scott & Branch, 2008). Florida statutes allow parents to opt out their child from human sexuality and animal dissection. The population consisted of 281 Florida public secondary school administrators, who were divided into two subgroups based on whether they have allowed or would allow a student to opt out of evolution, or have not allowed or would not allow a student to opt out of class when the scientific theory of evolution is taught. Results found that over 70% of the administrators who completed the survey have allowed or would allow parents to opt out their child from learning about the scientific theory of evolution. There was a significant relationship between the decision to allow opt out and the following variables: (a) Free and Reduced Lunch population, (b) grade level served, (c) support for teaching evolution and alternative theories, and (d) the perception that parent rights supersede state statute requiring students to learn evolution.

In Florida, any scientific concept that is based on empirical evidence is included in the state-mandated curriculum. If administrators are influenced to believe teachers have the academic freedom to teach alternative ideas that are not scientifically valid, they may be intentionally or unintentionaly allowing subject matter relevant to a student's academic success t to be suppressed or distorted, which is also a violation of state statute. The implications from this study indicated that many participants would allow a student to opt out of class when evolution is taught, including assigning an alternative assignment. Since the scientific theory of evolution is infused into the biological sciences, and therefore, the Florida State Standards for science, evolution concepts are assessed on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and the Biology End-of-Course exam. Allowing students to opt out of class when evolution is taught may have a negative impact on student success on state mandated assessments, which can directly impact school grades and state and federal funding that is tied to Adequate Yearly Progress.

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