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Creationism in Texas charter schools?

"When public-school students enrolled in Texas'[s] 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," according to Zack Kopplin, writing in Slate (January 16, 2014). "These are all lies."

Kopplin's article reports on his investigation into Responsive Ed, which operates more than sixty-five charter schools in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, and receives more than $82 million in public funds to do so. Examining workbooks used in Responsive Ed's schools, Kopplin concluded, "These workbooks both overtly and underhandedly discredit evidence-based science and allow creationism into public-school classrooms."

Among the claims that he cited as problematic: that there is no "single source for all the rock layers"; that "[s]ome scientists" question the established age of the earth; that evolution cannot be tested; that there is a "lack of transitional fossils," which is a "problem for evolutionists who hold a view of uninterrupted evolution over long periods of time." The section on the origin of life quotes Genesis 1:1.

Responsive Ed's vice president of academic affairs was quoted as saying that the curriculum "teaches evolution, noting, but not exploring, the existence of competing theories." Unreassured, Kopplin commented, "Bringing creationism into a classroom by undermining evolution and 'noting … competing theories' is still unconstitutional," citing the Supreme Court's 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.

Asked for his appraisal of the situation, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau commented, "Some people don't realize that the First Amendment applies to charter schools just as much as to any other public school. Teaching creationism or other sectarian religious claims as if they were science is wrong anywhere, but it's especially bad to use tax dollars to force one person's religion onto school kids."

Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network told Kopplin, "These materials lie to students about science, and using them puts the school — and the taxpayers who fund it — at risk of a lawsuit it would almost certainly lose." But Kopplin suggested that a lawsuit could be avoided if legislators "take the appropriate actions to regulate these schools and improve Texas charter policy," explicitly calling for the revocation of Responsive Ed's charter.

In the wake of Kopplin's article, the Texas Freedom Network called on the Texas education commissioner to investigate the allegations. In a January 16, 2013, press release, TFN's president Kathy Miller said, "It's imperative that the education commissioner investigate whether this charter school operator is undermining the education of thousands of students and putting the state and taxpayers at risk of expensive lawsuits."

The Texas Education Agency subsequently replied that Responsive Ed and the TEA were independently reviewing the materials, adding, "It should also be noted that complaints and allegations regarding instruction at the campus level are a local matter in Texas to be addressed by the governing boards of local education agencies. As a result, TEA has limited jurisdiction over day-to-day operations."

Meanwhile, the CEO of Responsive Ed responded to the allegations, saying that the company "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 recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award, Kopplin is famous for organizing the effort to repeal the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act. In 2012, he criticized Louisiana's school voucher program for funding private Christian schools that teach creationism and dismiss evolution; the voucher program was subsequently found to violate the Louisiana state constitution on unrelated grounds.