The Associated Press (AP) reports in The Republic that some private schools participating in Louisiana’s new voucher program teach creationism and reject evolution, promoting a religious doctrine that challenges the lessons central to public school science classrooms. Several religious schools that will be educating taxpayer-subsidized students tout their creationist views.
Critics say it is inappropriate to spend public money on such religious teaching, arguing such programs undercut a strong science education and threaten the adequate preparation of students for college science courses. “What they’re going to be getting financed with public money is phony science. They’re going to be getting religion instead of science,” said Barbara Forrest, a founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science and a philosophy professor who has written about the clashes between religion and science.
Superintendent of Education John White says annual science tests required of all voucher students in the 3rd through 11th grades will determine if children are getting the appropriate science education in the private school classrooms. “If students are failing the test, we’re going to intervene, and the test measures evolution,” White said.
Refusal to teach evolution or challenging it as refutable will not get a school booted from the voucher program. College student Zack Kopplin, an outspoken critic of teaching creationism in science classrooms, found at least 19 of the 119 mostly religious schools in the voucher program either promote creationism or teach with curricula from Christian textbook publishers that are known to challenge Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The schools cited by Kopplin’s research have been approved to take in more than 750 voucher students and receive more than $4 million in taxpayer funding, in the first round of announced voucher assignments for the 2012-13 school year.
Before the voucher program, Louisiana had a series of controversies about science teaching. A law mandating that “creationism” be given equal time in public school classrooms with evolution was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 as an effort to promote religion. The state now has a law that allows public school science teachers to use supplemental materials in their classrooms in addition to state-approved textbooks. Guidelines adopted by the state education board ban the promotion of a religious doctrine in the supplemental materials, but without a specific ban on the teaching of creationism.
The rules governing Louisiana’s voucher program give the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) oversight over the curricula used by participating private and parochial schools. White said BESE will make sure the standards are of an equitable quality to public schools. “In the event that there is basic academic incompetence, the state (education) department can intervene,” he said. “The most effective way of testing all of this is to literally see what do the students know and what do they achieve, and we’re doing that through the state test.”
Source: The Republic, 7/30/12, By Melinda Deslatte (AP)
[Editor's Note: In a related story published on July 25, 2012, Mike Hasten reported in theadvertiser.com that BESE approved rules setting up accountability standards for private schools participating in the state voucher program over the objections of opponents who say the plan really does not do much. According to BESE rules, private and parochial schools that accept at least 40 students in grades that are subject to testing in public schools, grades three through eleven, must administer the public school test for that grade, but only to the voucher students. Unlike in public schools, passing or failing the tests in private schools will not be used to determine whether students advance to the next grade, but it will be used to grade the schools. Opponents of the new system complained that it doesn't really have any teeth because White has authority to waive every component, including restrictions on enrollment and curriculum.
In July 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Times-Picayune, which reported that District Judge Tim Kelley, of the 19th Judicial District, has ruled that he does not have jurisdiction to provide an injunction sought by opponents of Louisiana’s private school voucher program, saying his hands were tied by a state law that prohibits him from blocking the policy if that would create a deficit. State school Superintendent John White and Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater submitted affidavits averring that an injunction would have that effect. As a result, Judge Kelley concluded that state law deprived him of jurisdiction to grant injunctive relief.]