Charter system failing Texas students with anti-evolution curriculum

According to a recent report by Slate, Texas’ charter schools have a serious problem. The state’s largest charter program, Responsive Education Solutions, is teaching an extremely suspect curriculum that is heavy on creationism, sexism, classism, racism and religious dogma, but distressingly light on science, history and facts.

Responsive Education Solutions, which boasts 17,000 students enrolled across 65 campuses, is largely funded by state revenue — as are all charter schools in Texas. According to Responsive Education’s budget for the 2013-2014 school year, the network received more than $90 million in state funding, in addition to more than $2 million in federal funding for certain programs like free breakfasts and lunches for economically disadvantaged students. For all intents and purposes, Responsive Education is almost completely taxpayer-funded, and that makes these curriculum issues even more troubling.

Through open records requests, Slate managed to get a hold of a set of biology workbooks — called “Knowledge Units” — that students must complete in order to pass the course. Here are a few highlights: The fossil record is unreliable, there is no consensus on the age of the Earth and evolution cannot be scientifically tested.  

All three of these claims are patently and unapologetically false, as Ken Miller, the author of one of the most widely-used science textbooks, points out in the Slate piece. “The statement that ‘some scientists question,’ is a typical way that students can be misled into thinking that there is serious scientific debate about the age of the Earth or the nature of the geological record,” Miller explained in response to the workbook’s insistence that there is legitimate disagreement over these issues. “The evidence that the Earth was formed between 4 and 5 billion years ago is overwhelming.” 

But it doesn’t stop at science. The history curriculum is also riddled with misinformation and dogma. Responsive Education students reportedly learn that “anti-Christian bias” led to the outbreak of World War I, that samurai that were responsible for Japan’s entry into World War II — despite the fact that samurai ceased to exist after the late 19th century — that former President Jimmy Carter pardoned draft dodgers out of a “misguided sense of compassion,” that the New Deal didn’t help the economy but instead “ushered in a new era of dependence on the Federal Government and, perhaps most shocking, that feminism “created an entirely new class of females who lacked male financial support and who had to turn to the state as a surrogate husband,” among a multitude of other absurdities.

The misinformation that dominates the history and biology curricula, however, shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Responsive Education’s close ties to conservative, Christian homeschooling programs. It doesn’t take much digging to discover that the charter school network was founded by Donald R. Howard, a former owner of Accelerated Christian Education. ACE, according to Salon, “is a fundamentalist curriculum that teaches young-Earth creationism as fact,” and made headlines last year for teaching that the Loch Ness monster was real in an attempt to discredit the theory of evolution.

It’s unacceptable that taxpayer dollars are funding schools that preach religious dogma — which is clearly illegal and in violation of the First Amendment. The true duty of any school should be to prepare students for college and for the real world, where we know the age of the Earth, where we accept evolution and where we definitely know that the Loch Ness monster doesn’t exist. Responsive Education Solutions is clearly not meeting this goal.

Charter schools are appealing as an education reform measure because they can make both sides of the aisle happy: Conservatives appreciate the privatization that charters offer compared to truly public schools, and liberals appreciate the space that they offer for more progressive, experimental education. But if this is what our tax dollars are paying for — remember, this is the largest charter school network in Texas — Texas should have no part in it.