Creationism in Texas Public Schools

The amazing Zack Kopplin has been filing FOIA requests to find out what is being taught in science classes in a large charter school network on Texas. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear that they’re teaching creationist nonsense in those classes while receiving more than $80 million in taxpayer funds.

Charter schools may be run independently, but they are still public schools, and through an open records request, I was able to obtain a set of Responsive Ed’s biology “Knowledge Units,” workbooks that Responsive Ed students must complete to pass biology. These workbooks both overtly and underhandedly discredit evidence-based science and allow creationism into public-school classrooms.

A favorite creationist claim is that there is “uncertainty” in the fossil record, and Responsive Ed does not disappoint. The workbook cites the “lack of a single source for all the rock layers as an argument against evolution.”

I asked Ken Miller, a co-author of the Miller-Levine Biology textbook published by Pearson and one of the most widely used science textbooks on the market today, to respond to claims about the fossil record and other inaccuracies in the Responsive Ed curriculum. (It’s worth noting that creationists on the Texas State Board of Education recently tried, and failed, to block the approval of Miller’s textbook because it teaches evolution.)

“Of course there is no ‘single source’ for all rock layers,” Miller told me over email. “However, the pioneers of the geological sciences observed that the sequence of distinctive rock layers in one place (southern England, for example) could be correlated with identical layers in other places, and eventually merged into a single system of stratigraphy. All of this was established well before Darwin’s work on evolution.”

The workbook also claims, “Some scientists even question the validity of the conclusions concerning the age of the Earth.” As Miller pointed out, “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. The evidence that the Earth was formed between 4 and 5 billion years ago is overwhelming.”

Another Responsive Ed section claims that evolution cannot be tested, something biologists have been doing for decades. It misinforms students by claiming, “How can scientists do experiments on something that takes millions of years to accomplish? It’s impossible.”

The curriculum tells students that a “lack of transitional fossils” is a “problem for evolutionists who hold a view of uninterrupted evolution over long periods of time.”

“The assertion that there are no ‘transitional fossils’ is false,” Miller responded. “We have excellent examples of transitional forms documenting the evolution of amphibians, mammals, and birds, to name some major groups. We also have well-studied transitional forms documenting the evolution of whales, elephants, horses, and humans.”

These are tired old creationist claims that no scientifically literate person should take seriously. There should be a lawsuit here, but it would probably have to come from a student at one of the charter schools in order to have standing in court.

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  • Doug Little

    Again with the transitional fossils. Can’t we just agree that every single fossil is transitional and move on for Christ’s sake.

  • lancifer

    Doug Little – “Can’t we just agree that every single fossil is transitional and move on for Christ’s sake.”

    No, for the “sake of Christ” these numbnuts will insist that every new fossil just makes two new gaps!

    Of course the same can be said for their “god of the gaps” explanation that requires that the Lord make critters then smite them, then make a whole world of slightly more complex critters, and smite them, ad infinitum!

    That these folks can stare at multiple strata that contain a clear progression of differentiated fossils and claim there is no clear process that goes form simple to complex forms is astounding evidence that humans can rationalize anything to support their religious delusions.

  • eric

    The non-creationist problems with the program are just as bad. Kopplin cites that the program also, for example, teaches kids that WWI was caused by anti-christian sentiment, that Japan’s entry into WWII was caused by the samurai, and that the European colonial powers in the 1400s-1500s were republics.

  • TxSkeptic

    This whole charter school movement has got to be stopped. It is nothing more than a money grab by the companies running them. And, they are totally in bed with the creationists helping to create what are essentially public religious schools.

  • colnago80

    Re TxSkeptic

    Mike the Mad Biologist often links to web sites that show the charter school movement for the fraud that it is.

    http://goo.gl/iaOHO

  • Doug Little

    that Japan’s entry into WWII was caused by the samurai

    What?

  • eric

    Yes, Doug, that’s what the charter school’s history book evidently says. Scary, huh? I wonder if the people who wrote their textbooks even graduated high school.

  • Jordan Genso

    @4 TxSkeptic & @5 colnago80

    I actually serve on the board to a charter school in Michigan. It’s been a learning experience, as I’ve been able to get an understanding of how they (or at least those that are similar to the one I see directly) operate. While I agree that there are many potential downsides to charter schools, I do also believe they serve a legitimate purpose.

    If either of you have useful cites that make the strongest case against charters, I would be appreciative if you could post them (I checked out Mike the Mad Biologist, but wasn’t able to find anything after a cursory search).

  • Doug Little

    It would be good if there was some kind of review of these texts by competent scientists and teachers that could then be accessed via the internet by students and parents. I suppose as a parent you should probably have a gander at what your kids are being taught but it would be convenient for people without the time to vet their kids education.

  • magistramarla

    I attended a lecture given by Kathy Miller of The Texas Freedom Network this weekend. She and her organization are fighting the good fight here in Texas. She mentioned Zack and this case.

    The thing that worries me is that there are creationists teaching science in public schools.

    When my grandson was in middle school, his science teacher told the class to read the chapter on evolution and answer the questions in the book, but he told them that “None of what you are about to read is proven to be true”. My grandson, who has been taught the facts by his Grandparents, Mom and step-Dad, argued with him.

    Too many other kids in this state have no way of learning those facts.

  • magistramarla

    Jordan,

    I have to agree with those who said that these charter schools have got to go.

    Our education system will improve if we spend all of our education money to improve the public schools, for the benefit of all students, rather than splitting those funds up so that some of the money goes to those for-profit schools.

    I was educated in the ’60s, when resources were being poured into public education because of Sputnik.

    I was a kid who was on welfare, but I was able to get the same excellent education as the children of local business owners.

    That is what was the strength of our American public education system. I would like to see that happen again, and charter schools will only prevent it.

  • raven

    that Japan’s entry into WWII was caused by the samurai

    What?

    In for a penny, in for a pound.

    If you are going to just make stuff up, might as well make it all up.

    Obama is a Kenyan born Moslem terrorist when he isn’t time sharing the antichrist with the Pope. Slavery was a benign institution and the blacks can’t wait to get back to it. Flying saucers are real but piloted by demons from hell (a common fundie belief, BTW). And do watch out for the chemtrails.

    When you have cast off from realityland, nothing is too silly or dumb to believe.

  • raven

    I actually serve on the board to a charter school in Michigan. It’s been a learning experience, …

    No doubt, some charter schools are OK. One I know is run by and for professional’s kids. It’s quite good.

    Another one is pretty dubious. All the teachers are part time contact workers who don’t get paid much. They have no retirement plan, health insurance plan, or any perks and benefits whatsoever. The teachers are as much the victims as the kids.

  • John Pieret

    Doug Little @ 6:

    Well, to be absolutely fair, the Japanese Army and Navy were for aggressive expansionism because they saw that Japan couldn’t maintain it industrial and military might without access to raw materials. The political power of the Army and Navy certailny was a major cause of Japan’s entry into WWII. They also had control of Japanese schools and insisted on constant teaching of Bushidō, the Code of the Samurai, on which an entire generation of military officers were raised. As Zack points out, the “samurai class was effectively abolished in 1876, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868,” so samurais did not cause the war … but samurai wannabes did.

  • freehand

    I would find any private school or home schooling system tolerable if the kids were able to test successfully for their age group. I find it unlikely that the poor victims of these creationist anti-science and anti-history programs could do that, however. They not only should not receive public funds, they shouldn’t exist if they can’t match a satisfactory public school curriculum. They should be able to say “I’m a creationist, but here’s what the science says about evolution…” and say something intelligible and appropriate to the grade level.

    Like magistramarla, I went to public schools in the US in a working class town. In 7th-9th grades I was taught physics, biology, and chemistry; mechanical drawing, wood shop, and metal shop; English literature, writing, and grammatical analysis; history, and phys ed. We were ordinary working class tykes. It can be done. Although we had Creationists (my family!) we had received such a scare from Sputnik that the whole country determined that all kids would get a good education. It was the patriotic thing to do.

  • Doug Little

    John @14,

    I thought it was because of sanctions placed on the Japanese by the US, Britain and the Netherlands that forced their hand. Obviously those sanctions were placed for the reason that you state and with those sanctions in place they could either capitulate or fight. Have not heard of the samurai angle before, and I don’t understand why in this case you would want to obscure the real history as the US (IMO) acted appropriately.

  • Jordan Genso

    @11 magistramarla

    Our education system will improve if we spend all of our education money to improve the public schools

    Possibly, but I’m not convinced. I accept the argument that not all students learn best in the same environment, and so there is benefit to be gained by providing different styles of education. For instance, I’m a “big” in Big Brothers Big Sisters, and my “little” switched from the local traditional high school after his freshman year to a local charter. The main difference that I can tell, since I’ve not seen the classroom experience in person, is that he went from a roughly 2,300 student school to a roughly 230 student school. And based on what he’s told me, he prefers his new school (he is now a senior) and is performing better.

    The charter whose board I serve on has adopted a project-based, student-driven learning strategy, where in a way it can be described as guided homeschooling (with a certified teacher rather than parent providing the education). The teachers serve as advisors, providing assistance to the students for the projects they are working on (in addition to the in-class teaching). The school’s hours are very flexible, providing students with different classroom hours to accommodate their work schedules.

    As an analogy, if the traditional public schools are Pepsi, I am opposed to charter schools that try to be Coke. But since not everyone is best served by a cola, I have no problem if a charter wants to offer lemonade.

    It’s not clear to me that even if we eliminated charters and poured all of our education funding into the traditional schools that we’d end up with Pepsi and lemonade, rather than just better-tasting Pepsi. And if you accept the concept that different students learn best in different ways, some will benefit more from lemonade than the better-tasting Pepsi.

    rather than splitting those funds up so that some of the money goes to those for-profit schools. [my emphasis]

    One thing to clarify. At least in Michigan, charter schools are not for-profit. The board can bring in more money than it spends, just as any public school board, but that money stays with the school, just as any public school.

    The ‘profit’ nature of charters is in their management. As a charter school board, we can choose whether to manage the school ourselves, or hire an outside company that takes on the administrative role. Most charter schools do hire management companies, and since those companies are for-profit, that is why many people consider charter schools themselves to be for-profit. But it’s misleading, because as a board, even if we chose to eliminate all sorts of costs that would otherwise provide benefit to the students, the management companies don’t get any of the money we are saving. There’s no profit that would create a conflict-of-interest when making financial decisions.

    It’s like the traditional schools that order Pizza Hut to offer in their lunchrooms. Pizza Hut profits from the school’s business, but Pizza Hut doesn’t profit from the school’s decision to cut funding to the band department.

  • John Pieret

    Doug Little @ 16:

    I thought it was because of sanctions placed on the Japanese by the US, Britain and the Netherlands that forced their hand.

    That was the immediate cause but Japan was already pursuing expansionism in Manchuria and China and doubtless was eyeing Sourtheast Asia as well. They didn’t rampage through the area as easily as they did without some long term planning.

    Have not heard of the samurai angle before, and I don’t understand why in this case you would want to obscure the real history as the US (IMO) acted appropriately.

    The Samurai Code made the Japanese military see the situation as one where their only choice was to either capitulate or fight (as opposed to the rather substantial peace party among the civilian politicians who wanted to negotiate) and to chose fighting as the only “honorable” course, even though many of them (Yamamoto in particular) knew they couldn’t win against the US. The war hawks, based on their code, thought that the Americans were too “soft” to win.

    I don’t think the US was wrong to impose the sanctions (but they were naive not to realize it might drive Japan to declare war and to prepare for that better) but neither do I think undestanding the psychology of one side in a war obscures the real history. It illuminates it. And I’m sure that even if Responsive Ed’s “history” book was sorta partly somewhat right by accident, its treatment of the subject is substandard in most every respect.

  • colnago80

    Re Jordan Genso @ #8

    Here’s a link I found on Mike’s blog. He ofter comments on charter schools which he is quite negative about.

    http://goo.gl/9e8l7E

  • colnago80

    The Samurai Code made the Japanese military see the situation as one where their only choice was to either capitulate or fight (as opposed to the rather substantial peace party among the civilian politicians who wanted to negotiate) and to chose fighting as the only “honorable” course, even though many of them (Yamamoto in particular) knew they couldn’t win against the US. The war hawks, based on their code, thought that the Americans were too “soft” to win.

    I would have to disagree with the notion that Japan couldn’t win against the US. In fact, the war in the Pacific was a near run thing which could have gone the other way, at least to the extent that it would have taken a lot longer to win. If the attack on Pearl Harbor has found all three carriers that the US had in the Pacific in port, they would certainly have been sunk, leaving Japan with a tremendous advantage in 1942. Alternatively, if Japan had tasked all 7 or their operational carriers to the Midway Campaign, instead of tasking 3 of them to the attack on the

    Aleutians, the chances are that the 3 carriers that the US had tasked for the defense of Midway would have all been sunk. Quite clearly,if either of these scenarios had occurred, the US would have been forced to concentrate on the Pacific war, leaving the situation in Europe to Britain and the former Soviet Union. And no, the development of the nuclear bomb would have not made any difference in 1945 as we would have had no base within range of Japan from which to launch the B29s that delivered the coup de grace to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The situation in Europe was similar. It was strategic mistakes by Schickelgruber in building the worthless battleships Tirpitz and Bismarck instead of Uboats, failing to build a fleet of long range 4 engine bombers, and attacking the former Soviet Union before Britain had been eliminated from the war that led to German defeat. Another near run thing.

  • lordshipmayhem

    There was a very good reason why Admiral Yamamoto advised his commanders that he could run rampant for a year but had no confidence after that. He’d been to the United States, and had seen its industrial might first-hand. He knew well that his country was comparatively low-tech, and had to import raw materials and food – a massive vulnerability.

    Japan went into 1945 with essentially the same level of technology it entered into the war with in 1941. The United States, on the other hand, had massively expanded its industry and wasn’t alone. The Japanese also faced the British, Canadians, Australians, New Zealand and the Dutch. Fleets of bombers flying higher than the Japanese interceptors could reach, fleets of warships mounting more and heavier guns than the rapidly-diminishing Japanese Imperial Navy could count on, and more rugged and manoeuvrable carrier-based aircraft with an efficient pilot training program meant that Japan was overwhelmed. By the time the Russians declared war, it was on the ropes and could not possibly have survived.

    Enough of history. The single most dangerous piece of unscientific crap they’re teaching, even more dangerous than creationism, is anti-vaccine woo. This has the potential of compromising the safety of (read: “killing”) not only the idiots who follow an invisible friend, but those who DO understand and use science-based medicine – especially those with compromised immune systems that count on herd immunity.

  • Doug Little

    colnago80 @20,

    Yeah thanks for that, it’s interesting when you go back and look at major turning points in WWII (there are some to do with the development of the atomic bomb as well) and consider how drastically different things would be for relatively small changes one way or the other.

    My favorite is the mistake/oversight, whether on purpose or genuine, that Walter Bothe made for the neutron absorption cross-section of graphite eliminating it from the list of moderators to use for an atomic bomb thus dooming the German nuclear bomb program.

  • colnago80

    Re Doug Little @ #22

    Actually, equally if not more important was Heisenberg’s miscalculation of the quantity of 100% pure U235 that would be required to make a nuclear bomb. His estimate was about 100 Kilograms, which would have taken the Germans about 30 years to manufacture which resulted in putting the project on the back burner. Refugee physicists Leo Szilard and Otto Frisch (nephew of Lida Meitner) calculated a value of about 2 kilograms, which was correct. As someone remarked after the war, Heisenberg had a reputation of being somewhat careless in his computations.

  • colnago80

    Re lordshipmayhem @ #21

    Yamamoto violated one of Napoleon’s maxims in his strategy for the Midway operation. Napoleon’s maxim stated that one must apply the maximum force at the critical point of attack. By dividing his force of carriers, he violated that maxim and paid the price.

  • John Pieret

    colnago80 and Doug Little:

    I don’t want to get all nerdy about this but Japan had NO chance against the US. The only reason it took it as long as it did was that Hitler, for no good reason, declared war on the US after Pearl Harbor and we poured most of our resources and manpower into the European theater. We fought the war in the Pacific with one hand tied behind our back.

    One of the major factors in the outcome was the New Deal, where, as make work projects, we built numerous hydroelectric dams in the west, just in time to power our military manufacturing. The Japanese, on the other hand had to rely on coal that they had to import by shipping routes vulnerable to naval attack, which our power supply was not. Same for iron and all the other necessities of military manufacturing, which we had in abundance and they didn’t.

    Yes, if they had gotten our aircraft carriers at Pearl Harbor or at Midway, it would have taken us longer but we still deployed 40+ aircraft carriers (admittedly many of them “jeep” carriers) only a couple of years later at Okinowa, while the Japanese had not been able to replace even one of their front line carriers after Midway.

    As to Yamamoto dividing his force of carriers, he sent his four best carriers to Midway, which was theoretically sufficient to deal with the operational American carriers. His intent was to confuse and possibly divide the American forces, which had only 3 operational carriers at the time. The Japanese had a fondness for overly complicated battle plans but it might have worked. Yamamato’s real problem was that the Americans broke the Japanese Naval Code and figured out where the real attack was coming and sent all 3 carriers to ambush him at Midway. He was expecting to have taken Midway before the American carriers got there and then could, instead, ambush them.

    The other serious problem for the Japanese was they didn’t have radar, so they bunched their carriers together so that they could provide air cover for each other, while we could keep ours well apart. After the Japanese air cover had shot down a couple of flights of our torpedo bombers and were low on fuel and ammunition, two flights of our best dive bombers and crews accidentally converged over the carriers and took out 3 of them in 15 minutes. In a daring and costly attack late the next afternoon, leaving many pilots trying to land back on our carriers in the dark, we got the fourth one. There was never any doubt after that that it was all over but the shouting … and, unfortunately, a lot of blood. But that too was the Samurai Code.

    When the Emperor finally agreed to the surrender, a group of young military officers, despite the two atom bombs, tried to seize the Emperor’s previously recorded speech to prevent the surrender and to force a fight to the death of every Japanese man, woman and child.

  • eric

    Jordan Genso:

    If either of you have useful cites that make the strongest case against charters, I would be appreciative if you could post them

    I would cite Kopplin’s case, here, as an example of a strong case against charters. Government oversight over public schools has not been a perfect filter against religion and creationism, but it’s done a hell of a lot better than having ID creationism explicitly endorsed in textbooks. The charter system gives tax money away with very little government oversight over text content or curriculum, and this is what it leads to – establishment of religion, waste, fraud, and abuse.

    I accept the argument that not all students learn best in the same environment, and so there is benefit to be gained by providing different styles of education.

    None of these things have anything to do with the charter system, they have to do with funding per student. If we want 230 person public schools, we can have 230 person schools. The defining trait of charter schools – the concept of operations that makes them distinct from specialized public schools – is that the government is outsourcing education to the private sector with little control over what goes on in those schools. And what cases like the one Kopplin research are evidence that those defining traits – outsourcing and lack of oversight – lead to constitutional and educational failures.

    Now, if you want to argue that the charter system can be fixed by giving the state the same oversight over their textbook choice, curricula standards, hiring qualifications, etc., etc., then I would be willing to give that a go.

  • Michael Heath

    Jordan Genso writes:

    If either of you have useful cites that make the strongest case against charters, I would be appreciative if you could post them

    eric responds:

    I would cite Kopplin’s case, here, as an example of a strong case against charters. Government oversight over public schools has not been a perfect filter against religion and creationism, but it’s done a hell of a lot better than having ID creationism explicitly endorsed in textbooks.

    A sample size of one when the population is far larger is never a compelling case, let along a, “strong case”.

    In addition, we can easily find many public schools whose educative failures are far worse than the failure reported here. So your own premise destroys your case.

  • John Pieret

    colnago80:

    BTW, according to Wikipedia, the Aleution diversion only involved two Japanese carriers, Junyō and Ryūjō.

    Junyō was a converted passenger liner and Ryūjō was a was a small light and rather obsolete aircraft carrier. It’s doubtful they would have changed the battle of Midway.

  • dingojack

    SLC (#23) – Perhaps he wasn’t careless – merely uncertain.

    Dingo

  • Jordan Genso

    eric

    If we want 230 person public schools, we can have 230 person schools.

    I don’t see that as a reasonable expectation. History and experience show that public school districts are not likely to create small extra schools in addition to the larger primary community school. Maybe there are cities out there that have both a couple-thousand-student high school, and a complimentary, much smaller high school for those that don’t want the main one, but I’ve never heard of such a thing. And I don’t see why a school district would actually choose that arrangement, since we’d still have the argument that the smaller school was taking away funding from the primary one. The funding argument is the same regardless of whether the smaller school is a charter, or is governed by the same school board as the primary high school.

    Me:

    I accept the argument that not all students learn best in the same environment, and so there is benefit to be gained by providing different styles of education.

    Eric:

    None of these things have anything to do with the charter system, they have to do with funding per student.

    I don’t understand that counterpoint. I am fully in favor of increasing per-pupil funding, but I don’t see why additional funding would result in traditional public schools doing something they’ve never done before (rather than them simply trying to do what they already do, but do it better). Those that want the traditional schools to do something different (to meet the needs that the charters serve) would come into conflict with those who want the traditional schools to improve what they are already doing, and the latter are going to usually be the majority. But just because those who need a different education style are a minority doesn’t mean their needs shouldn’t be served too, if we want to provide a quality education to all students.

    Also, one thing to note, is that the charter schools actually often receive less per-pupil funding than the traditional schools. My charter school only gets the state funding, and not the portion of the local property taxes that the traditional schools receive.

    Now, if you want to argue that the charter system can be fixed by giving the state the same oversight over their textbook choice, curricula standards, hiring qualifications, etc., etc., then I would be willing to give that a go.

    I can’t speak for other states, but I know Michigan already does do some (if not all) of those things. I wasn’t on the board when our textbooks were selected, so that is something I’m going to look into in the future, but I know our hiring qualifications are the same as a traditional school. The unions are opposed to charters, since our teachers don’t have to belong to the teachers’ union, but our teachers need the same certifications as those in the traditional schools. And as for curricula standards, we do have to meet the same standards as the traditional schools. The curriculum itself is different of course, but the standards are the same.

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    There’s spending, then, there’s “effective spending”* “per student spending” is a number. Effective spending per student is a very different number.

    For students coming from decent homes—students who have “food security” at the level of “Hey kids, should we have sushi, tonight, or just thaw out a few of those 2″ Porterhouses that Mr. Brayton loves so much?!” v kids who get, “Do you want to eat, turn on the heat or watch mom and dad smoke a rock?**”–money spent on classroom instruction, field trips to art museums, zoos and the like and other enriching educational opportunities is going to have a somewhat different roi then that spent on students who are facing hunger and homelessness, or dealing with bullying and other distractions, like, child abuse and so forth.

    It is NOT the school systems’ job to alleviate suffering in their students’ lives outside of school. However, educational standards, especially since 2000, totally ignore that one of the larger contributors to low student performance are externalities over which the school has ZERO influence.

    Charter schools aren’t bad, per se, but since there seems to be no uniform standard (even within a given state) over what they must do to achieve an acceptable level of performance the playing field is a bit tilted–in their favor.

    It has long been rumored that there is an “Elephants’ Graveyard” somewhere in Africa where the pachyderms go when they’re gonna pack it in. I’m not sure about that one, but I’m thinking that “Education’s Graveyard” might be in Texas.

    * Yes, I made it up.

    ** Yes, those damned SNAP and TANF moochers DO get to send their welfareanchorbabeez to OUR schools!