Study Finds Genetics Education Lacking In US High Schools
September 2, 2011

Study Finds Genetics Education Lacking In US High Schools


American high-school students receive an inadequate genetics education in 43 of the 50 U.S. states, according to the results of an American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) study.

Those findings, which were published Thursday in the journal CBE-Life Sciences Education, found that only Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington had "adequate" educational standards for genetic literacy, the group said in a September 1 press release.

Furthermore, of the 19 core concepts that the ASHG deemed "essential" for genetic education, 14 were rated as being inadequately covered in schools nationally. Only Michigan and Delaware had more than 14 of those 19 concepts rated as "adequate", and 23 states had six or fewer core concepts ranked at that level, the ASHG said.

"Science education in the United States is based on testing and accountability standards that are developed by each state," Michael Dougherty, PhD, ASHG Director of Education and lead author of the study, said in a statement. "These standards determine the curriculum, instruction, and assessment of high school level science courses in each state, and if standards are weak, then essential genetics content may not be taught."

"ASHG's findings indicate that the vast majority of U.S. students in grade 12 may be inadequately prepared to understand fundamental genetic concepts," added Dr. Edward McCabe, a pediatrician, geneticist, and executive director of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome at the University of Colorado.

Given that healthcare is "moving rapidly" towards more personalized medicine, including genetic-level treatments, McCabe said that it is "essential [that] we provide America's youth with the conceptual toolkit that is necessary to make informed healthcare decisions, and the fact that these key concepts in genetics are not being taught in many states is extremely concerning."

The ASGH is a professional membership and advocacy group with more than 8,000 human genetics specialists. As part of their study, they analyzed curriculums at schools in all 50 states, as well as in the District of Columbia.

"We hope the results of ASHG's analysis help influence educators and policy makers to improve their state's genetics standards," Dougherty said. "Alternatively, deficient states might benefit from adopting science standards from the National Research Council's Framework for K-12 Science Education, which, although not perfect, does a better job of addressing genetics concepts than most state standards that are currently in place."


On the Net: