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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Charter school leader defends creationism in schools' curriculum

Posted By on Sun, Jan 19, 2014 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge ON THE DEFENSE: Chuck Cook , CEO of  Responsive Education Solutions.
  • ON THE DEFENSE: Chuck Cook , CEO of Responsive Education Solutions.

The subject has come up on previous threads, but more prominent attention is due a response issued by Texas-based charter school operator Responsive Education Solutions to a powerful piece of investigative reporting in Slate on the organization.

It's important in Arkansas, because Responsive Education, with Walton Foundation help, has a growing footprint in Arkansas. It will open its fourth Arkansas charter school next year in Chenal Valley. The Quest middle school is designed as a haven for parents in the upscale neighborhood from the supposedly inferior Little Rock School District. Just last week, a state advisory panel approved conversions of three public schools, including the high school in West Memphis, into charters for which Responsive Ed will be paid to be a consultant and curriculum provider.

The Slate article reports that Responsive Education teaches creationism in its Texas high school classes. It reports multiple examples of factual problems with history instruction. It provides rich details of the web of relationships between Responsive Ed people with organizations aimed at increasing the role of religion in public life and providing "Christian education," as opposed to simply education.

Responsive Ed didn't respond directly to my request for response. But Chuck Cook, CEO of the Lewisville, Texas Responsive, posted the company's prepared statement distributed in response to the Slate article on my earlier item about the issue. I've put it on the jump in its entirety. It's interesting reading, to say the least. Readers have already commented on that item and here.

* Creationism? It must be included in instruction in Texas because that's the law. He doesn't address Arkansas. But his statement tells you plenty about his own views:

For many years, the answer given [to the question of the origin of life] was fairly standard: most people believed that God created everything. In the mid-1800s, this idea was challenged by men such as Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin. Their work provided scientists with the theory of evolution by natural selection. This added a new idea to the discussion and gave nonreligious scientists a way to explain the diversity of life on the planet without resorting to creation. . . .

In recent years, these two schools of thought —creationism and evolution—have been at conflict in schools, universities, and scientific circles. Some scientists and educators have attempted to bridge them through ideas such as intelligent design and theistic evolution. However, none of these theories is accepted by every scientist, natural philosopher, or educator. In this Unit, you will be able to review the evidence for the theory of evolution and decide on your own position. You will want to analyze and evaluate the evidence and every statement made in the discussion. . . .

Still, for many, supernatural creation (either by God or some other supernatural power) of the first cell is a more plausible explanation. Some people think aliens brought the first living cell to earth or it came on a meteorite, but that still would not explain how that first living cell on earth came into existence.

There is much research to be done in this area of origins. Until more concrete answers are found, questions on how life originated will continue. . . .

A blog reader who teaches science in an Arkansas university commented: "Is that huge cut and paste supposed to exonerate Responsive Ed? Because it does the opposite."

* FAULTY HISTORY: Cook says Slate presented no evidence of law or regulation violation. No, just fact-checking.

* LEADERSHIP'S INVOLVEMENT IN RELIGION-DRIVE PURSUITS: This is just guilt by association, he implies. And he plays the Christian persecution card.

As applied to me, according to Slate’s reasoning, ResponsiveEd must be incapable of meeting our contractual and legal obligations because I, as the CEO of the organization, am a professed Christian, attend church each week, have a degree in religion, have worked at a Christian rescue mission, and have worked at Accelerated Christian Education. Once again, the logic fails. I would suggest that the pertinent inquiry is ResponsiveEd’s actual operations, not the personal beliefs of some of our past and present associations.

Operations are precisely the main interest in Slate's article. That and presenting religious material in a secular manner, a case proved circumstantially by the history of those involved in the presentation.

The outfit bears watching, though the Arkansas Education Department's experts,  the Arkansas Board of Education and school "reform" leaders such as Walton-paid lobbyist Gary Newton of Arkansas Learns seem to think there's nothing to see here.

Based on what I know — and this includes reading their full jabberwocky application for a Chenal Valley middle school and hearing two separate presentations on Quest and reviewing the national study that found Responsive Ed's academic performance lacking — I'd rather take my chances with one of those dangerous, failing Little Rock schools, where I know they teach science.

But please: Read Chuck Cook's response. It follows in full.


From: Chuck Cook, CEO Responsive Education Solutions

Subject: Slate Article regarding ResponsiveEd

Dear Partners in Public Education:

Today, an article appeared on Slate.com entitled, “Texas Public Charter Schools Are Teaching Creationism,” which purports to report the results of one college student’s “investigation into [ResponsiveEd’s] dishonest and unconstitutional science, history, and ‘values’ lessons.” It is the latest article by Slate regarding creationism in Texas public schools. See “Showdown over Science in Texas: Creationists Corrupted State Education Standards and May Push Evolution out of Textbooks.”

Needless to say, we take accusations of dishonest and unconstitutional practices very seriously. Because ResponsiveEd has been entrusted by the public to operate public charter schools, we wanted to take this opportunity to briefly address the most serious accusations made by Slate and welcome further dialogue with you in the coming days.

Science

Slate begins its article by asserting that ResponsiveEd’s science curriculum “both overtly and underhandedly discredit[s] evidence-based science [(i.e., the theory of evolution)] and allow[s] creationism into public-school classrooms.”

Regarding the assertion that ResponsiveEd discredits the theory of evolution, our science curriculum does examine all sides of the scientific evidence relating to the theory of evolution—both for and against—just as we are required to do by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Biology. In fact, the State of Texas requires all schools, “in all fields of science, [to] analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations . . ., including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.” 19 TAC § 112.34(c)(3)(A). Ultimately, it is these Texas science standards that Slate wishes to overturn, believing that they “were designed to compromise the teaching of evolution” and provide “a back-door way to enable teachers to attack evolution and inject creationism into the classroom.”

Regarding the assertion that ResponsiveEd improperly “allow[s] creationism into public-school classrooms,” the answer is no. What follows is every reference to creationism contained in ResponsiveEd’s lessons on evolution.

For many years, the answer given [to the question of the origin of life] was fairly standard: most people believed that God created everything. In the mid-1800s, this idea was challenged by men such as Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin. Their work provided scientists with the theory of evolution by natural selection. This added a new idea to the discussion and gave nonreligious scientists a way to explain the diversity of life on the planet without resorting to creation. . . .

In recent years, these two schools of thought —creationism and evolution—have been at conflict in schools, universities, and scientific circles. Some scientists and educators have attempted to bridge them through ideas such as intelligent design and theistic evolution. However, none of these theories is accepted by every scientist, natural philosopher, or educator. In this Unit, you will be able to review the evidence for the theory of evolution and decide on your own position. You will want to analyze and evaluate the evidence and every statement made in the discussion. . . .

Still, for many, supernatural creation (either by God or some other supernatural power) of the first cell is a more plausible explanation. Some people think aliens brought the first living cell to earth or it came on a meteorite, but that still would not explain how that first living cell on earth came into existence.

There is much research to be done in this area of origins. Until more concrete answers are found, questions on how life originated will continue. . . .

When it comes to the subject of evolution, emotions often run high. Chances are, you might have heard about some of this controversy in the news. Much of this controversy centers on whether other theories on the origins of life besides evolution, such as intelligent design or creationism, should be presented in public schools. . . .

As was explained to Slate last November, ResponsiveEd’s “science curriculum teaches evolution, noting, but not exploring, the existence of competing theories.”

As if to remove any remaining doubt that its readers may have regarding ResponsiveEd’s guilt, Slate boldly asserts that “[o]utright creationism appears in Responsive Ed’s section on the origins of life.” Not only that, Slate explains, “[i]t’s not subtle.” The evidence presented by Slate to support its accusation? “The opening line of the workbook section [on the origins of life], just as the opening line of the Bible, declares, ‘In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.’” For some reason, Slate chooses to not present the quote in context, which would have demonstrated to any objective reader that the curriculum was simply providing examples of competing theories on the origin of life. The entire quote reads as follows:

5. ORIGIN OF LIFE

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning, a meteorite, with a cell from a faraway galaxy, hit the earth. . . .

In the beginning, aliens visited earth to try a new experiment. The aliens left behind a living cell, with all the capabilities to evolve into life.

In the beginning, free-floating molecules in the primordial seas spontaneously organized to form the first cell.

So far we have looked at natural selection, microevolution and macroevolution, speciation, and other aspects of the theory of evolution. All of these processes involve one form of life changing into another form of life. However, none of these ideas answers the question, “How did life begin in the first place?” Perhaps the more important question is, “How did the first cell come into being?” Remember, in order for something to be alive, it has to have a cell. As we learned in Unit 2, cells are very complex. Even a simple one-celled bacteria is quite complicated. In this Lesson, we will explore some of the theories evolutionary biologists have about the origin of life.

While context may not always be convenient, it is everything.

In summary, ResponsiveEd strongly disagrees with Slate’s implication that the Texas state standards requiring schools to critique and examine all sides of scientific theories—including the theory of evolution—is unconstitutional. We also disagree that any reference to creationism in our science curriculum violates any state or federal law, including the United States Constitution.

A complete copy of ResponsiveEd’s science lessons regarding evolution is available to you upon request. We welcome your review and input.

History

Slate then turns to ResponsiveEd’s teaching of history. While Slate claims that it “discovered problems” with ResponsiveEd’s history course, it does not go so far as to assert that the course violates any standard, regulation, or law. A complete copy of ResponsiveEd’s history course is available to you upon request.

Partnerships

Slate then proceeds to describe in sensational detail some of ResponsiveEd’s past and present associations. Among those named are Character First, Accelerated Christian Education, Dr. Donald Howard, and Dr. Ronald Johnson. What is Slate’s purpose is mentioning these relationships? The not-so-subtle message to the reader is simple: Because ResponsiveEd has been (or is) associated with these organizations and people, it is unable to operate a public charter school in compliance with its charters and the laws governing charter schools. The strained argument goes something like this, ResponsiveEd must be violating its charters or the law because it uses material from Character First, whose founder is Mr. Tom Hill, who 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.” The argument does not stand up to scrutiny. Instead, attention should be given to the actual Character First materials utilized in ResponsiveEd’s schools—materials of which ResponsiveEd is very proud.

As applied to me, according to Slate’s reasoning, ResponsiveEd must be incapable of meeting our contractual and legal obligations because I, as the CEO of the organization, am a professed Christian, attend church each week, have a degree in religion, have worked at a Christian rescue mission, and have worked at Accelerated Christian Education. Once again, the logic fails. I would suggest that the pertinent inquiry is ResponsiveEd’s actual operations, not the personal beliefs of some of our past and present associations.

After reading Slate’s scathing representation of the above individuals and organizations, one might think that ResponsiveEd’s natural reaction would be to distance ourselves from them. Nothing could be further from the truth. ResponsiveEd greatly values the contributions that have been made to its academic program by its past associations and current partners and strongly disagrees with the implication that such associations and partnerships make us incapable of complying with our charters and applicable law.

Conclusion

Slate concludes its article by calling ResponsiveEd “an internal threat to the charter movement.” In contrast, we believe that we have had a meaningful contribution to the charter movement and we believe our track record supports this belief.

This letter is presented to you because we appreciate the trust you have put in us. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly should you have any questions or wish to review any of our materials more closely.


Thank you,

Chuck Cook

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