Category Archives: Education / Youth

It Isn’t Only Science That’s Getting Distorted

The other day, I shared a study that found over 300 publicly-funded religious schools teaching creationism while denigrating and misrepresenting science.

Today, let me share what Salon reporter–and former history teacher– Katie Halper found when she looked to see what those same schools were teaching as history. (These “lessons” are from A Beka Book, used in an estimated 9,000 religious schools, but other materials widely-used by religious schools are consistent.)

  • The Great Depression was “an imaginary crisis” invented to “move the country toward socialism.” The Grapes of Wrath was propaganda.
  • Hitler was a socialist who combined Marxist thought with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
  • When the death penalty was suspended in 1972, crime began to increase; when the Court handed down Roe v. Wade the following year, it led to “an increase in white-collar crime [and] the legalization of gambling.” Worse still, in the wake of that decision, “many psychologists began advocating the teachings of Sigmund Freud.”
  • Free speech is dangerous and encourages ungodly behaviors. “Pornographic films and books have been legalized under the guise of ‘freedom of speech.’”

There’s much, much more, but you get the drift.

Not long ago, federal courts struck down the voucher program in Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, after schools participating in that program were found to be teaching similar materials. As I wrote at that time,

A report from Louisiana Progress, a good-government business group, is instructive. The group petitioned the Board of Education to set at least minimal standards for schools receiving vouchers–evidence that the schools have adequate physical facilities, that they not dramatically increase either tuition or enrollment in order to benefit financially from the program, etc. Calling the program “poorly thought out and poorly implemented,” the report noted that schools selected to participate were not chosen on the basis of educational quality. Most were religious, and many of those quite fundamentalist: the New Living Word School had been approved to increase its enrollment from 122 to 315 students, despite lacking physical facilities for that number; increased its tuition from 200/month to 8500/year, and has a basketball team but no library. Students “spend most of the day watching TV. ..Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses bible verses with subjects like chemistry or composition.”

Another voucher school, the Upperroom Bible Church Academy, operates in “a bunker-like building with no windows or playground.”

There are 120 private schools authorized to receive vouchers in Louisiana. A significant percentage are “Bible-based” institutions with what have been characterized as “extreme anti-science and anti-history curriculums” that champion creationism. (One is run by a former state legislator who refers to himself as a “prophet or apostle.” Wouldn’t that encourage you to enroll your child??) A number use textbooks produced by Bob Jones University.

Mother Jones has a list of 14 favorite lessons being taught by Louisiana’s voucher schools. Among them: dinosaurs and people hung out together; gays have no more claims to ‘special rights’ than child molesters and rapists.

Whatever the theory behind vouchers, the reality is that all too often they are diverting money from substandard public schools (making it much more difficult for those schools to improve), and redirecting that money to fundamentalist religious schools that make a mockery of the term “education.”

And this makes sense how? And to whom?

 

File Under “I Told You So”

New data from the Education Department confirms what most educators have long known, that for-profit schools rarely deliver on their promises to prepare students for successful careers. An analysis of more than 5,000 career programs offered by for-profit schools found 72% of them produced graduates who earn less than high school dropouts.

Why do students enroll in these programs? Many–perhaps most–cannot gain admittance to a public or private institution of higher education, because they are unprepared for college-level work. That makes them prime targets for the ethically dubious tactics of such schools.

For-profit “colleges” may be a bad deal for students, but they are great for the pocketbooks of their proprietors and investors, and they are proliferating.

Huffington Post recently reported that the new federal consumer protection agency has sued one such institution.

Director Richard Cordray charged that ITT “misled students by overstating their salaries and job prospects upon graduation” and then pushed them into predatory high-interest private student loans.

Cordray called the abuse of students by the overall for-profit college industry “truly an American tragedy.” He was joined at the event by the attorneys general of Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, and New Mexico, all of whom are conducting investigations of major for-profit colleges.

These practices would come to a quick stop if taxpayers stopped subsidizing these problematic schools by allowing their students to participate in federal loan programs. For-profit students account for about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults.

It isn’t like these “schools” are any bargain. Atlantic reports that

[f]or-profits charge tuition like private not-for-profits, while offering less institutional financial aid. Low-income students who might pay nothing out-of-pocket at a public institution, thanks to grant aid, pay about $8,000 in tuition at a for-profit school, according to a 2011 report from The College Board. Students take out loans to make up the difference.

These student loans aren’t doing the students any favors. They’re just lining the pockets of predators.

Government Shekels

Several years ago, when I was conducting research into the “Charitable Choice” provisions of 1992 Welfare Reform (more familiarly known as Bush’s “Faith-Based Initiative”), I interviewed a local pastor who was very skeptical of the prospect of contracting with government to provide social services. His memorable “take” : “With the government’s shekels come the government’s shackles.”

I thought about that pithy observation when I read a couple of recent articles reporting that voucher schools–schools that receive taxpayer dollars–are teaching creationism and other religious doctrines.

A Politico review found that over 300 of these publicly-funded religious schools teach the biblical creation story as fact, distort and misrepresent basic facts about the scientific method and “nurture distrust of science.”

The law in this area is settled, and quite clear: Public dollars cannot be used to teach religious dogma. If and when lawsuits are filed–and the likelihood is that they will be–these schools will have to face the reality of that Pastor’s observation. They have a choice: take the money and teach real science, or forego the money and teach whatever they want.

Whatever one’s view of education vouchers as policy (my view, as readers of this blog know, is pretty dim for a whole raft of reasons), one thing is clear: If private or parochial schools take public dollars, they have to abide by the same constitutional standards that govern public schools.

If they are unwilling to acquiesce to the “government’s shackles,” they will have to give up the government’s shekels.

Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned

Whatever the merits of, or problems with, charter schools, those schools at least are public.  Schools that benefit from the voucher programs so beloved by our Governor and legislators are not, and the public dollars going to such schools are not necessarily being used to educate children.

I have lots of problems with vouchers, many of which are detailed in this article I wrote several years ago. I won’t bore you with the whole list. Read the article if you’re interested. But a warning from voucher opponents that has consistently fallen on deaf ears is that families who would opt for private or parochial schools in any case–families whose children already attend such schools–would be beneficiaries of a windfall. They would take money intended to enable poor kids to opt out of nonperforming public schools.

Evidently, that’s exactly what is happening in Indiana.

Father Jake of St. Jude parish in Fort Wayne, Indiana, indicates that, thanks to the impending influx of tax dollars, the church will soon be getting a repaired air conditioning system, redecorating the church, new paint, and repairs to the church steeple.

The link above the quote will take you to a fairly lengthy post in Education Week Teacher by a woman who listened to Father Jake’s speech. As she also reported (emphasis in the original):

I was appalled when he said that most of the students who are accepting vouchers are already attending St. Jude’s (minute 40:57).  Wasn’t one of the selling points of “opportunity scholarships” to reach out to economically disadvantaged students so that they could attend the private school of their choice?  Weren’t students to qualify for vouchers based on the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Guidelines?

Father Jake says with a chuckle that scholarships must be based on need, but the parish is free to determine what this means (minute 39.47). He says that since the Indiana Supreme Court says that vouchers are constitutionally allowable because the money goes to the tax payer, so the Indiana Choice Scholarship comes essentially with no strings (minute 42:00).  Father Jake goes on to say that he doesn’t see the program going away because the state of Indiana is saving millions of dollars a year by taking $4700  off the top of the funding formula to give to voucher kids rather than spending the $7000 per public school child in the state formulation.  So, the state saves over $2000 per student, but at what cost to our community schools?

Somehow, it doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy to know that Indiana is saving tax dollars by shortchanging children and re-roofing Father Jake’s church.

Time for a Charter Reality Check

There are many ways to view America’s contentious education wars. My own interpretation is that–at its most basic–the conflict is between those who want to improve existing public schools and those who want to turn education over to the private sector.

There are lots of nuances to both approaches, of course, and ancillary arguments about high-stakes testing, teacher accountability, etc., tend to obscure the public/private issue. I’m too old and tired to suit up for that battle, but I will share one caution that both camps should be willing to heed.

If we are going to spend public money on Charter Schools–which remain public schools, even when they are managed by private, for-profit companies–let alone vouchers, we have an obligation to both children and taxpayers to monitor what those schools are teaching, and to ensure that their curricula are both academically sound and constitutionally compliant. A recent report from Texas should not only illuminate the problem–it also (as one of my graduate students said after reading the article) should make our flesh crawl.

When public-school students enrolled in Texas’ 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. These are all lies.

 The more than 17,000 students in the Responsive Education Solutions charter system will learn in their history classes that some residents of the Philippines were “pagans in various levels of civilization.” They’ll read in a history textbook that feminism forced women to turn to the government as a “surrogate husband.”

And that’s just the opening paragraphs from Slate’s devastating investigation of Responsive Education Solutions–a company which proposes to open four charters in Indiana next year. One of those, being conducted through an affiliate, has been authorized by Mayor Ballard’s office and will open in Indianapolis.

You need to click through to read the entire article. It’s appalling.

Here are a couple of questions for critics of our public schools: if you don’t trust “government schools” to educate children, why do you trust government officials with no particular expertise in education to select and monitor the private companies providing those educations? What safeguards against cronyism and ideology do you propose, and how will you ensure that those safeguards are in place?

Accountability isn’t just for teachers and public school administrators, and it isn’t limited to results on standardized tests.