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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Arkansas charter school operator teaching creationism in Texas

Posted By on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 11:16 AM

click to enlarge PITCHING: Chuck Cook, CEO of charter school operator Responsive Education Solutions and former top marketer for Christian education materials for home schoolers, pitches one of his Arkansas schools to state Board of Education. - RESPONSIVE EDUCATION
  • Responsive Education
  • PITCHING: Chuck Cook, CEO of charter school operator Responsive Education Solutions and former top marketer for Christian education materials for home schoolers, pitches one of his Arkansas schools to state Board of Education.

A fascinating, even explosive, investigative article in Slate says that a Texas-based charter school operator with an expanding footprint in Arkansas is teaching creationism instead of evolution in biology classes in Texas and otherwise using texts and materials full of fractured history and religious dogma thinly disguised as academic material.

The outfit is Responsive Education Solutions of Lewisville, Texas, which recently won approval of an application to open a Quest charter middle school in ritzy Chenal Valley, a school likely to attract upscale white parents anxious to avoid the majority black and poor Little Rock School District schools available. They at least still teach science, not religion.

From Slate:

A Texas charter school group has a secular veneer and is funded by public money, but it has been connected from its inception to the creationist movement.

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.”

Responsive Ed has a secular veneer and is funded by public money, but it has been connected from its inception to the creationist movement and to far-right fundamentalists who seek to undermine the separation of church and state.

Infiltrating and subverting the charter-school movement has allowed Responsive Ed to carry out its religious agenda—and it is succeeding. Operating more than 65 campuses in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, Responsive Ed receives more than $82 million in taxpayer money annually, and it is expanding, with 20 more Texas campuses opening in 2014.

As I've written before, this article notes Responsive Education's poor achievement record, according to the respected CREDO study at Stanford University. 

The organization has nonetheless received significant support for its charter schools from the Walton Foundation, which favors letting a thousand charter schools bloom and worrying later about the failures, charlatans and kooks. Responsive Education was approved in 2012 to open the Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy in Bentonville, Premier High School in Little Rock and a Quest Middle School in Pine Bluff.

UPDATE: Responsive Education also got approval from the charter authorizing panel for charter schools to operate in cooperation with the Fountain Lake School District and Pea Ridge districts. Anybody look at the curriculum? It also will advise a new conversion charter high school in West Memphis. Arkansas school officials are untroubled by the revelations.

I've sent the organization questions about whether the roundly criticized materials cited in this article are used in existing Arkansas schools and planned for use in the west Little Rock school that will receive children from a Little Rock School District School that still believes in the scientific method. We've been repeatedly assured that seasoned professionals in the Arkansas education department reviewed their applications before approval, however, so I"m sure since state standards require teaching of evolution and federal case law in Arkansas frowns on teaching creationism, that they must follow a more suitable academic course, Right? Perhaps Gary Newton, the vicious Walton-paid critic of the Little Rock School District and leader of the Quest school creation, has some insight.

The Slate writer also finds religious and cultural bias in history books Responsive Education uses in Texas — such as finding anti-Christian bias in the roots of World War I. It blamed World War II, in part, on a non-existent group in Japan. It makes unusual cultural comments about the Philippines.It refers to homosexuality as a "lifestyle." It makes erroneous statements about stem cell research. It questions John Kerry's war credentials. Feminism and homosexuality are held in low regard.

This stuff is too rich to be believed. Funny if it wasn't so sad that so many gullible people think this is better than going to a school with a sound curriculum because it has too many people with the wrong skin color. (Noted: Responsive Ed also operates schools aimed at nearly all-black constituencies, following the rapid resegregation patterns of charters everywhere.)

One of Responsive Ed’s schools, Founders Classical Academy in Lewisville, Texas, where Responsive Ed is based, uses a curriculum far worse even than the Responsive Ed Knowledge Units. The school teaches American history from A Patriot’s History of the United States. The patriots book is “required reading,” according to Glenn Beck, and it opens with an interview between Rush Limbaugh and the author. It is a book that, as Dave Weigel says, “will make you stupider.”

This book teaches the superiority of the West, which in the 1400s and 1500s was apparently “quantum leaps” ahead of “native peoples,” including Ming Dynasty China, one of the most prosperous Chinese dynasties. It explains that the West was superior to “native populations” in battles because “Aztec chiefs and Moor sultans alike were completely vulnerable to massed firepower, yet without the legal framework of republicanism and civic virtue like Europe’s to replace its leadership cadre, a native army could be decapitated at its head by one volley.”

Feminism gets ripped. 

On the feminist movement, Founders Classical Academy students are taught 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.”

There's "character" education galore. 

These lessons were lifted directly from a company called Character First Education, which was founded by an Oklahoma businessman named Tom Hill. He is a follower of Bill Gothard, a minister who runs the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a Christian organization that teaches its members to incorporate biblical principles into daily life. IBLP is considered a cult by some of its former followers. Gothard developed character qualities associated with a list of “49 General Commands of Christ” that Hill adopted for his character curriculum. Hill then removed Gothard’s references to God and Bible verses and started marketing the curriculum to public schools and other public institutions.

The values taught by Responsive Ed can often be found word for word on Gothard’s website.

Gotthard, you should know, teaches the need for obedience of women and children to men.

The article notes links between Responsive Ed and Accelerated Christian Education, a Christian curriculum for home schoolers. Responsive Ed disputes direct connection, but the associations are interesting. Current CEO Chuck Cook was a marketer for ACE and designed the Responsive Ed original curriculum.

It's an amazing, fact-filled investigative article. Author Zack Kopplin concludes that Responsive Ed schools where teaching materials were studied are effectively teaching religion and could be open to a lawsuit for doing so. 

I don’t think other charter schools can look away either; Responsive Ed is an internal threat to the charter movement. Rather than educating students, it’s interested in indoctrinating them with one sect of religion. If weak oversight allows Responsive Ed to survive, it makes the entire charter system look bad.

...It is clearly past time for Texas to tighten the rules surrounding charters and enforce accountability to prevent any other religious programs from subverting the public education system.

This is a moment of truth for the charter movement and for Texas politicians. Will they support removing from charter programs these schools that break the law?

Arkansas needs to know, before it's too late, if this same stuff is the agenda of Responsive Ed schools in Arkansas. I've sent a query to the organization.

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