January 17, 2014

If you had doubts about why charter schools do such harm to public education, doubt no more.

Responsive Education Solutions runs nearly 40 publicly-funded charter schools in Texas. Remarkably, one of their schools is even a STEM school -- designated as having specialty instruction in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Slate reports that ResponsiveEd's curriculum is really thinly-veiled fundamentalist Christian dogma in a box:

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.

The opening line of the workbook section declares, “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”

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.

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.

The anti-vaccine curriculum is particularly disturbing, given that the only study ever linking vaccines to autism was so thoroughly debunked that the entire study was revoked and its author sent away in disgrace.

The only study linking vaccines to autism was exposed as afraud and has been retracted, and the relationship has been studied exhaustively and found to be nonexistent. But a Responsive Ed workbook teaches, “We do not know for sure whether vaccines increase a child’s chance of getting autism, but we can conclude that more research needs to be done.”

No, we know for sure that vaccines do NOT cause autism.

The Slate article is long and chock-full of facts linking ResponsiveEd to the far right-wing policy groups in Texas as well as fundamentalist Christians. This is a matter that we all need to be concerned about, because taxpayer funds are going into schools which are subverting children's educations so that they will not be prepared for college or any kind of career in science. Further, those same taxpayer funds are breaking the traditional church-state separation.

Think about how hard people have fought over "fungible" abortion funding. Their argument says that no matter how funds might be segregated so that taxpayers are not paying for abortions, money is fungible and any government funding might indirectly fund abortions.

In this case, we have unsegregated taxpayer money which has been earmarked to educate children in order for them to be ready for college and work going toward teaching "faith concepts" which rightfully belong to churches and not public schools. Along those same lines, who will be the arbiter of what religious curriculum should be taxpayer-funded and which should not? Should we allow fundamentalist Islam teachings in charter schools as the foundation upon which students are taught science and math? What about Scientology? Would that be proper?

Responsive Ed's performance has not been stellar, nor has Texas' oversight of these schools been particularly effective. But until at least one parent of one child in those schools makes the decision to sue over their thinly-veiled attempt to promote Christian dogma to the level of approved curriculum, they will continue to thrive at our expense.

Next year, ResponsiveEd plans a large expansion. Another 20 schools are supposed to open in Texas. Will anyone speak out before even more students are placed at risk?

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