It’s hard to believe that we’re living in a political environment where elected officials are bemoaning waste in all levels of government while sending so many public funds and assets to underwrite religious indoctrination and profit private businesses. Southern states are the bottom crawlers of any measurement of academic outcomes. My state of Louisiana is no exception. Texas is definitely a problem. However, it’s a national problem so those of you that live in other parts of the country shouldn’t feel smug or think it couldn’t happen to your children or grandchildren. Two fellow Louisianans–Melissa Harris Perry and Zack Kopplin– have found that vouchers spread creationism. That cannot be good for a future that’s dependent on educated people who need to know real science. Let’s examine exactly what our tax dollars are funding.
First, here’s the results of Zack’s study. Zack is currently studying at Rice University.
I first began investigating creationist school vouchers as my part of my fight against creationism in my home state of Louisiana. Over the past few months, I’ve learned creationist vouchers aren’t just a Louisiana problem—they’re an American problem. School vouchers are, as James Gill recently wrote in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”
Liberty Christian School, in Anderson, Indiana, has field trips to the Creation Museum and students learn from the creationist A Beka curriculum. Kingsway Christian School, in Avon, Indiana, also has Creation Museum field trips. Mansfield Christian School, in Ohio, teaches science through the creationist Answers in Genesis website, run by the founder of the Creation Museum. The school’s Philosophy of Science page says, “the literal view of creation is foundational to a Biblical World View.” All three of these schools, and more than 300 schools like them, are receiving taxpayer money.
So far, I have documented 310 schools, in nine states and the District of Columbia that are teaching creationism, and receiving tens of millions of dollars in public money through school voucher programs.
There is no doubt that there are hundreds more creationist voucher schools that have yet to be identified. The more than 300 schools I have already found are those that have publicly stated on their websites that they teach creationism or use creationist curricula.
There are hundreds more voucher schools, across the country, that are self-identified Christian academies, that appear very similar in philosophy to the ones I’ve identified in my research as teaching creationism. These schools may not blatantly advertise that they teach creationism on their websites, or often don’t even have a website, but there is a good chance that hundreds more voucher schools are also teaching our children creationism. Some states, Arizona and Mississippi, haven’t even released lists of schools participating in their voucher programs for the public to audit.
Here are a few highlights from creationist voucher schools I have identified:
- The Beverly Institute in Jacksonville, Florida, teaches “Evidence of a Flood,” and “Evidence against Evolution,” and ”The Evolution of Man: A Mistaken Belief.”
- Creekside Christian Academy in McDonough, Georgia says,“The universe, a direct creation of God, refutes the man-made idea of evolution. Students will be called upon to see the divine order of creation and its implications on other subject areas.
- Life Christian Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma says their life science class will “lead the student to recognize that God created all living things and that these living things are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Evolution is taught only in history class, where students “evaluate the theory of evolution and its flaws.” The school uses the creationist Bob Jones and CSI curriculums.
- The principal of the Claiborne Christian School, in West Monroe, Louisiana, says in a school newsletter, “Our position at CCS on the age of the Earth and other issues is that any theory that goes against God’s Word is in error.” She also claims that scientists are “sinful men” trying to explain the world “without God” so they don’t have to be “morally accountable to Him.”
- Trinity Academy, in Gary, uses the creationist A Beka curriculum and says it “presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution.”
- Rocky Bayou Christian School, in Niceville, Florida, says in its section on educational philosophy, “God mandates that children be discipled for Christ. They must be trained in the biblical world view which honors Jehovah, the sovereign Creator of the universe. It recognizes that man was created in the image of God” and says “Man is presumed to be an evolutionary being shaped by matter, energy, and chance… God commands His people not to teach their children the way of the heathen.”
- Wisconsin Lutheran High School, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says in its biology syllabus that it teaches, “evolutionists are ‘stuck’ because they have no god, therefore they must believe in evolution” and “young earth evidence a disaster to evolutionists.”
We’ve seen some horrible examples what now passes as “science” in Louisiana thanks to the LSEA or the Lousiana Science Education Act pushed and signed by Bobby Jindal and some of the whackier senators in the Louisiana Legislature in 2008. You can learn more about the law itself in the youtube. We’re not the only state that’s having problems now with taxpayer funded religious screeds.
The Texas Freedom Network has documented examples in Texas. Texas passed a law that lets schools teach bible courses under the guise of discussing the importance of religion in history and literature. They don’t even have vouchers draining funds to their evangelical madrassas yet. It’s in the works. Right now, all this is going on in regular public schools. The stories from TFNEF are not very pretty and includes a lot of students basically getting lessons in anti-Semitism. Here’s some examples of what they’ve found being taught in Texas.
Today the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released a report, authored by a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, that examines what students are learning in the 57 school districts and three charter schools that teach Bible courses. Examples from Texas public schools:
- Instructional material in two school districts teach that racial diversity today can be traced back to Noah’s sons, a long-discredited claim that has been a foundational component of some forms of racism.
- Religious bias is common, with most courses taught from a Protestant — often a conservative Protestant — perspective. One course, for example, assumes Christians will at some point be “raptured.” Materials include a Venn diagram showing the pros and cons of theories that posit the rapture before the returning Jesus’ 1,000-year reign and those that place it afterward. In many courses, the perspectives of Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews are often left out.
- Anti-Jewish bias — intentional or not — is not uncommon. Some courses even portray Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion that has been replaced by Christianity.
- Many courses suggest or openly claim that the Bible is literally true. “The Bible is the written word of God,” students are told in one PowerPoint presentation. Some courses go so far as to suggest that the Bible can be used to verify events in history. One district, for example, teaches students that the Bible’s historical claims are largely beyond question by listing biblical events side by side with historical developments from around the globe.
- Course materials in numerous classes are designed to evangelize rather than provide an objective study of the Bible’s influence. A book in one district makes its purpose clear in the preface: “May this study be of value to you. May you fully come to believe that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.’ And may you have ‘life in His name.’”
- A number of courses teach students that the Bible proves Earth is just 6,000 years old.
- Students are taught that the United States is a Christian nation founded on the Christian biblical principles taught in their classrooms.
- Academic rigor is so poor that many courses rely mostly on memorization of Bible verses and factoids from Bible stories rather than teaching students how to analyze what they are studying. One district relies heavily on Bible cartoons from Hanna-Barbera for its high school class. Students in another district spend two days watching what lesson plans describe a “the historic documentary Ancient Aliens,” which presents “a new interpretation of angelic beings described as extraterrestrials.”
How could such courses have gone so wrong? The 2007 law included numerous guidelines designed to help public schools create academically rigorous and constitutionally appropriate courses. But the Legislature failed to appropriate funding to develop in-service training for teachers of Bible courses, and most school districts simply ignored the requirement that teachers get such training. Moreover, the State Board of Education — under the control of religious conservatives at the time — refused to adopt serious curriculum standards to help guide school districts as they planned their courses.
Jindal’s voucher experiment was recently found unconstitutional but not for the reasons that you think. It was basically a technicality of funding and educational funding guidelines prescribed in the state’s constitution that got the law thrown out. Address this issue and the vouchers could stick and stay. Here’s some of the more recent news concerning what’s draining tax payer funds and passing as ‘education’ in Louisiana.
Jindal defended vouchers without once using the oft-toxic term, instead calling them scholarships, or putting them under the broader umbrella of school choice. “It is my sincere hope that what we are now putting in motion in Louisiana can be done across the country,” Jindal said. “I believe we’ve got an economic and a moral imperative to provide school choice and a quality education to every child, every student in America.”
Jindal made the case for making vouchers bipartisan. “I do not accept the notion that equal opportunity in public education should be a partisan issue,” Jindal said. Vouchers have been a third-rail policy among liberals, causing the Obama administration to do rhetorical summersaults. They’re controversial among liberals because they funnel tax dollars to private institutions — often, parochial schools that teach religion. In Louisiana, the private schools accepting voucher money have been found to teach about both creationism and the existence of the mythical Loch Ness monster.
Additionally, the schools that receive vouchers are not subjected to basic standards required of public schools AND many don’t even meet basic federal standards for basic services to special needs students.
Jindal said private schools in and near New Orleans that accepted vouchers saw more growth in student proficiency rates recently than schools statewide. (Proficiency rates are rarely reliable, since they measure two different groups of students.) Jindal also asserted that the vouchers serve all students. “It’s the money of a grandmother who wants to make sure her special education grandbaby gets the education she needs,” he said.
But according to public records, several private schools that opened their doors to voucher students with special needs had no services for such students. For example, the St. Angela Merici school’s application indicated it had no services for students with autism, mental disabilities or learning disabilities.
As for Jindal’s claims about high performing “charter” schools. I can offer you just a few links that show charter schools really aren’t performing as Jindal claims. Again, the biggest problem is that these schools do not effectively address children with disabilities. Schools that don’t address children with the highest needs can hardly be called anything but dysfunctional and discriminatory. There are currently many lawsuits and stories concerning children with special needs and various charter schools. These schools are cherry-picking students.
Families have attempted to place their disabled children in schools, but they have either been told that the school doesn’t have special-needs services or been told, gently, that their child would be better served at another school. These problems occur often enough that a due-process complaint has been filed against the Louisiana Department of Education on behalf of 4,500 students in the city with disabilities.
These issues have conveniently been left out of a number of Pollyanna-ish media reports touting the messianic nature of charter schools, and how Hurricane Katrina was a “blessing” to New Orleans’ children. A recent article at The Grio, “New Orleans Charter Schools Redefine Education Reform,” reads: “The standardized test results for fourth, eighth and tenth grade public school students have gone up since the storm hit in 2005. This may have something to do with the increasing presence of charter schools, though it is not clear.”
But test scores in those grades were already rising before the storm hit. Between 2003 and 2005, fourth-grade math results grew by 9 percent. Between 2007 and 2009, those results grew by 9.5 percent. In eighth-grade math, the growth in the percentage of kids scoring above basic levels between 2003 and 2005 was greater than the gains between 2007 and 2009. There has been a slight improvement in eighth-grade English and in math at the high school graduate level, but in both categories, the improvement in test scores builds on progress that was already occurring before the mass chartering of New Orleans.
There’s a natural conflict there, experts say, in that most school districts are less than eager to announce they’ve found corruption in their midst.
At charter schools, the conflict might be more acute, some say, because charter boards play a role in investigations. Board members can be recruited by a school’s administrators, which might make it even more difficult for them to take a hard look at allegations.
“If you are committed to finding out the truth, you need individuals who are not connected in any way to the individuals involved,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.
In Louisiana’s current setup, there is “a conflict of interest all the way up the line,” and not just as it relates to charter schools, said Gregory Cizek, a professor of educational measurement at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “No one has a really strong interest in investigating in a really searching manner,” he said.
That’s why some states have started putting such investigations under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general’s office or another independent entity, he said.
Asking the school’s own board of directors or district to handle a probe, Cizek said, is like having the IRS tell a taxpayer: “We have a problem with your tax return. Would you look it over?”
In her examination of Arizona’s 50 largest nonprofit charter schools and all of Arizona’s nonprofit charter schools with assets exceeding $10 million, Ryman found “at least 17 contracts or arrangements, totaling more than $70 million over five years and involving about 40 school sites, in which money from the non-profit charter school went to for-profit or non-profit companies run by board members, executives or their relatives.” That says to me that in Arizona, at least, charter-school corruption isn’t the exception. It’s the rule. And that’s just in the nonprofit charter schools. Documentation for the for-profit schools is not publicly available. What are the odds that charter-school proprietors operating in the dark are less inclined to enrich themselves at public expense?
The self-dealing is entirely legal. All you have to do is get yourself an exemption from state laws requiring that goods and services be bid competitively. Clearly these exemptions aren’t difficult to acquire, because 90 percent of Arizona’s charter holders—not 90 percent of the charter schools surveyed by the Arizona Republic, but 90 percent of all the state’s charter schools—have acquired permanent exemptions from state competitive bidding requirements. No exemption has ever been withdrawn by the state. If you are a charter-school officer and you stand to benefit personally from some financial transaction with the school, you may not vote on whether to make the purchase. But that’s about the only rule.
The result? “The schools’ purchases from their own officials,” Ryman writes, “range from curriculum and business consulting to land leases and transportation services. A handful of non-profit schools outsource most of their operations to a board member’s for-profit company.”
Clearly, our state and many others have set up systems rife with self-dealing, cherry-picking and curricula that should stand in clear violation of the first amendment. My bottom line here? If any of these school reform initiatives come your way in your state, fight them like hell. They are just simply ways to bust teacher unions, deliver tax dollars to corporate cronies, and fund radical evangelical madrassas and religious indoctrination in the guise of science, literature, and history. Of course, this means if you have a Republican governor, be prepared to vote and fight.