Image:Kate Wong; Source: Nature

Less than a month into the school year, bad grades are already being given out. According to a new study, more than one third of U.S. states deserve D's and F's when it comes to teaching children about evolution (see chart). These unacceptable standards, Lawrence S. Lerner wrote in a summary of the report in the journal Nature, "seriously damage or even erase the possibility of teaching science to young people as more than a confusing collection of facts."

Lerner, emeritus professor of astronomy and physics at California State University, graded each state based on the extent to which it succumbed to creationist pressures and resorted to so-called "anti-evolution tactics," such as avoiding the word evolution or omitting discussions that imply an old Earth existed. His results are disheartening. With regard to biological evolution, for example, three states have eliminated it from their curricula altogether. And even among the 31 states that have satisfactory-to-excellent treatments of the topic, he reports, only nine present human evolution explicitly.

Although biological evolution tends to garner the most public attention, approaches to teaching the evolution of the earth and of the universe are affected as well. Indeed, as Lerner notes in Nature, "Given the far-reaching ramifications of evolution in the life sciences as well as in other sciences, a complete and proper exposition of evolution is an essential constituent of state science standards." Lerner will present the report at a symposium tomorrow in Washington, D.C., and it will be made available online at