The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for January 27th, 2014

Texas Charter Schools Teaching Creationism?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 27, 2014

You have to give it to creationists, they certainly are persistent.  And none seem to be more persistent than those creationists in Texas who continue to evolve their tactics in an effort to insert their religious fundamentalism into the public schools at the expense of students’ education in science and critical thinking in general.  As our friends at the National Center for Science Education report, the newest battle front appears to be in the Texas charter school system:

“When public-school students enrolled in Texas'[s] largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is ‘sketchy.’ That evolution is ‘dogma’ and an ‘unproved theory’ with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth,” according to Zack Kopplin, writing in Slate (January 16, 2014). “These are all lies.”

Kopplin’s article reports on his investigation into Responsive Ed, which operates more than sixty-five charter schools in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, and receives more than $82 million in public funds to do so. Examining workbooks used in Responsive Ed’s schools, Kopplin concluded, “These workbooks both overtly and underhandedly discredit evidence-based science and allow creationism into public-school classrooms.”

Among the claims that he cited as problematic: that there is no “single source for all the rock layers”; that “[s]ome scientists” question the established age of the earth; that evolution cannot be tested; that there is a “lack of transitional fossils,” which is a “problem for evolutionists who hold a view of uninterrupted evolution over long periods of time.” The section on the origin of life quotes Genesis 1:1.

Responsive Ed’s vice president of academic affairs was quoted as saying that the curriculum “teaches evolution, noting, but not exploring, the existence of competing theories.” Unreassured, Kopplin commented, “Bringing creationism into a classroom by undermining evolution and ‘noting … competing theories’ is still unconstitutional,” citing the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.

Asked for his appraisal of the situation, NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau commented, “Some people don’t realize that the First Amendment applies to charter schools just as much as to any other public school. Teaching creationism or other sectarian religious claims as if they were science is wrong anywhere, but it’s especially bad to use tax dollars to force one person’s religion onto school kids.” … [emphasis added]

I wanted to emphasize the wording in bold above: when many people hear the term “charter” school, they mistakenly think that it means the school is private.  Thus, if it is a “private charter” school, then they can teach whatever they wish, right?  Wrong.

In the United States (and last I looked Texas was still part of the Union), a charter school is one which is a kind of public/private partnership; but the key point is that charter schools are still a part of the public school system.  And as such, they must adhere to the same rules as the rest of the public school system, the key one in this case being that it is against the law to teach creationism as science in public schools.

To my knowledge, while the issue has been clearly hashed out in the courts involving cases of the broader public school system, I don’t know of a case yet where this question has come up in a charter school system.  If I had to gamble, I would bet that the courts would rule against creationists in such a case specific to charter schools; but, despite all that, it seems that the creationists in Texas are happy to spend taxpayer money in what is certain to be a futile attempt to circumvent both the law and good science education.

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