Slate: Texas’ Largest Charter Chain is Teaching Creationism


Patrick Michels

Above: Responsive Education Solutions' campus map, in its 2013 annual report.

Zack Kopplin, the creationism-bustin’ wunderkind who made a name for himself fighting Louisiana’s school voucher scheme in 2010, has a great piece in Slate today detailing how Responsive Education Solutions—Texas’ largest charter school network—is using junk science straight out of the intelligent design playbook.

Kopplin has made national headlines before by exposing junk science and other ideologically driven lessons in state-funded private schools in Louisiana. His story today suggests Texas charter schools may be using their freedom to do the same thing. It’s also an interesting window into charter school operations that can be pretty opaque, despite Texas’ open records laws.

Through an open records request, Kopplin got his hands on a few of Responsive Ed’s “Knowledge Units” workbooks, which, for starters cast doubt on evolution and the scientific consensus that the Earth is between 4 and 5 billion years old. Kopplin asked the Lewisville-based school’s leadership about that:

In response to a question about whether Responsive Ed teaches creationism, its vice president of academic affairs, Rosalinda Gonzalez, told me that the curriculum “teaches evolution, noting, but not exploring, the existence of competing theories.”

Bringing creationism into a classroom by undermining evolution and “noting … competing theories” is still unconstitutional. What’s more, contrary to Gonzalez’s statement, teaching about supernatural creation in the section on the origins of life is doing far more than noting competing theories.

The Texas State Board of Education’s latest round of science textbook adoptions—while full of feisty debate over epigenetics and “gaps in the fossil record”—carried a lot less weight last year because Texas schools are no longer required to buy books the board has approved. That freedom was seen as a blow to creationists whose strategy had been to effect sweeping statewide change from the state board. But Kopplin notes that freedom would also allow other schools to follow Responsive Ed’s lead and teach books laced with junk science.

The history text also makes some novel assertions, blaming “anti-Christian bias,” in part, for the outbreak of World War I, and ornery samurai for Japan’s entry into World War II. The samurai, of course, were dissolved in the late 19th century, despite Tom Cruise’s best efforts. Feminism, the workbooks say, “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 a few more gems in the history curriculum:

About President Franklin Roosevelt, it teaches, “The New Deal had not helped the economy. However, it ushered in a new era of dependency on the Federal government.”

Perhaps the workbook’s best line comes when it explains that President Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft dodgers out of “a misguided sense of compassion.”

Sleuthing around Responsive Ed’s leadership, Kopplin highlights strong connections between the school and conservative Christian home-schooling outfits and publishers like Accelerated Christian Education and Paradigm Accelerated Curriculum.

Responsive Ed operates 70 campuses, according to its website, with 20 more on the way in Texas this year. Its schools include the “Premier High Schools,” “Vista Academies,” “Classical Academies,” “iSchool High” and “Quest Middle School” brands. Responsive Ed operates the Texas Virtual Academy, which, as Forrest Wilder noted in 2008, has been a haven for home-schooling parents hoping to avoid lessons on evolution. Responsive Ed is also part of a Gates Foundation-backed partnership between charter operators and Austin ISD.

In the story, Kopplin wonders whether the Legislature is likely to investigate these lessons, as  Senate Education chair (and lieutenant governor hopeful) Dan Patrick has proposed doing for another charter chain, Harmony Public Schools. (Harmony has been a longtime tea party target, over concern that it’s tied to Turkish and Muslim leaders). Kopplin doubts Patrick will be quite as upset about Responsive Ed, given that he’s previously supported the chain, and already said he supports teaching creationism in public schools.

Dan Quinn at the Texas Freedom Network turns up in the Slate piece noting Texas’ history of lax regulation of charter schools. Last year the Legislature gave the Texas Education Agency more power to close underperforming charters, and since then TEA has already moved to close six of them. But regulating the content of charters’ curriculum—even when it violates the U.S. Constitution—would mean going much further.

In response to the story, TFN director Kathy Miller said Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams should investigate Responsive Ed. “If these allegations are true,” she said in a statement Wednesday, “they represent a shocking betrayal of the trust that parents and taxpayers put into our charter schools.”