Americans United challenges teaching of creationism in two Arkansas charter schools | Arkansas Blog

Monday, February 10, 2014

Americans United challenges teaching of creationism in two Arkansas charter schools

Posted By on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 3:39 PM

click to enlarge OBECTION: Organization says Arkansas charter schools unconstitjutionally teaching creationism in public schools.
  • OBECTION: Organization says Arkansas charter schools unconstitjutionally teaching creationism in public schools.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has written the Arkansas Education Department to complain that creationism is being taught in biology instruction at two charter schools operated by Responsive Education Solutions of Lewisville, Texas.

The group said it has reviewed the materials taught at the Premier High School in Little Rock and the Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy in Bentonville. It said the materials attempt to "aggressively undermine the theory of evolution and promote creationism."

According to Americans United, Responsive Education's materials say evolution is "unproved," has "holes" and has reached the level of "dogma." At the same time, the curriculum says "most people" believe "God created everything" and that supernatural intervention is the "baseline" view of the creation of life.

Americans United writes that the U.S. Supreme Court, and lower courts (notably in Arkansas) have held that religion can't be presented as an alternative view to science in classrooms.

"Students here are being treated to an entire unit devoted to heaping aspersions onto evolution and leading students to creationism," the letter said.

The course cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny, the letter contends. It asks that the courses be changed or the schools' charters revoked.

This is only the latest blast against Responsive Education Solutions' teaching on creationism. I've written before about Slate's expose of the charter chain's emphasis on creationism at its other schools. The article further criticized the quality of the chain's history instruction, with citations of several unfounded propositions in course work.

I was interested not only because of the two existing schools, but because Responsive Education will operate the new Quest charter middle and high school to open in the fall in Chenal Valley, designed to serve as a magnet for the surrounding upscale predominantly white neighborhood as an alternative to schools in the Little Rock and Pulaski School Districts. Though described as an "open enrollment" charter, its organizers have described it as being just like a "private school" and admission preference will be given to children of "founders," though chief organizer Gary Newton has refused to answer my questions on what constitutes a founder's child. Responsive Ed has also been hired to oversee curriculum and other parts of charter schools being established in three public school districts in Fountain Lake, Pea Ridge and West Memphis.

I've asked the Education Department before about this controversy. It responded then: 

Like all public schools, charter schools must follow the state's curriculum frameworks (or standards), which are available on the ADE website: The ADE monitors public schools' compliance with the curriculum frameworks. As part of their applications, charter schools attest that they are non-sectarian in their programs and operations.

For all public schools, decisions regarding curriculum and instructional materials are made at the local level by the school leadership as approved by the school board.

I've asked for a response today to the latest letter. The department said it was reviewing the complaint. I've also sought a response from Responsive Ed. Its CEO had responded in the comment thread on the Slate article, essentially defending creationism as one side of a scientific debate and arguing that teaching about it was in keeping with Texas law. Federal courts have not accepted the "balanced treatment" argument for injecting religion into science classes, but it is more typical than unusual in Arkansas classes.  See our recent article about a class in North Little Rock.

I plan to visit the local Responsive Ed schools at some point to review their materials. I'd asked for copies, but was told by the company that they'd be supplied only if I paid a copy charge for each page. I was invited to view them on-site, however.


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