Beyond Bullying: Equally Excellent Education for All?

The 2014 Creating Change Conference was held in Houston, Texas on January 29 – February 2 and included several panels led by staff and fellows of Political Research Associates.  The following is a summary of my portion of the panel titled “Beyond Bullying:  Equally Excellent Education for All?” 

LGBT students face challenges in our public school systems, but the current wave of school privatization efforts across the nation threaten to further exclude and stigmatize LGBT students and teachers.

State legislatures across the country have introduced and passed “private school choice” bills that allow for public funds to finance private school education.  This includes  school vouchers and various tax credit programs.  Political Research Associates’ Public Eye magazine featured an extensive article in 2012 on the history and organization of the pro-privatization movement.  One way to track the progress of the movement is through the annual update of the leading pro-privatization nonprofits – the tax affiliated partners  Alliance for School Choice and the American Federation for Children.  Their annual yearbook tracks their successes in promoting the public funding of private school education, much of which takes place in religious schools.

The impact of this privatization of public education on LGBT students and teachers is both immediate and long term.  The immediate results is the public financing of private schools with exclusion policies that refuse admission to LGBT students.  A report by the Southern Education Foundation, for example, documents at least 115 private schools in Georgia’s tax-funded scholarship program with “explicit, severe anti-gay policies.”  This is not limited to Georgia or to the South.  These exclusion policies can be found in private schools around the country receiving public funding through school choice programs.

The longterm impact includes the further stigmatization of LGBT students, staff, and teachers through the public funding of schools using curricula in which homosexuality is described as “evil.”  For example, a teacher’s guide to one high school government textbook instructs teachers to instruct students that, “Homosexual unions must be opposed because God opposes them.”

Some of the most popular curricula series used in private religious schools across the nation, including A Beka Books and Bob Jones University Press, also teach young earth creationism, bigotry toward other religions, revisionist history and climate change denial. Recent reports are documenting the spread of this type of curricula in charter schools, which technically remain in the public education system although they are privately managed.

Scroll through the presentation below, or download the pdf.

Rachel Tabachnick Creating Change Presentation, 2014

Creationists Get Influential Positions in Texas Science Textbook Review

This post originally published at TFN Insider.

It looks like the Lone Star State’s reputation as a hotbed of anti-science fanaticism is about to be reinforced. At least six creationists/”intelligent design” proponents succeeded in getting invited to review high school biology textbooks that publishers have submitted for adoption in Texas this year. The State Board of Education (SBOE) will decide in November which textbooks to approve. Those textbooks could be in the state’s public school science classrooms for nearly a decade.

Among the six creationist reviewers are some of the nation’s leading opponents of teaching students that evolution is established, mainstream science and is overwhelmingly supported by well over a century of research. Creationists on the SBOE nominated those six plus five others also invited by the Texas Education Agency to serve on the biology review teams. We have been unable to determine what those other five reviewers think about evolution.

Although 28 individuals got invites to review the proposed new biology textbooks this year, only about a dozen have shown up in Austin this week for the critical final phase of that review. That relatively small overall number of reviewers could give creationists even stronger influence over textbook content. In fact, publishers are making changes to their textbooks based on objections they hear from the review panelists. And that’s happening essentially behind closed doors because the public isn’t able to monitor discussions among the review panelists themselves or between panelists and publishers. The public won’t know about publishers’ changes (or the names of all the review panelists who are in Austin this week) until probably September. Alarm bells are ringing.

Following are the six creationists/evolution critics we have identified so far on the biology review teams:

Arizona Proposes Loyalty Oath, Creationism for Students

After the controversy surrounding Arizona’s S.B. 1070 immigration law and recent legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, I’ve grown accustomed to controversial legislation from my home state. This month, the Arizona legislature is proposing a trio of laws that were declared unconstitutional decades ago.

The first “patriotic”  bill, H.R. 2467, would require high school students to recite an oath of loyalty to the United States—actually only a slight variation on elected officials’ oath of office—before being allowed to graduate from a public high school. The second, H.R. 2284, would require students in grades 1 through 12 to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a specific time each day, exempt only at the request of a parent.

ACLU Arizona’s public policy director Anjali Abraham was quick to dismiss these bills: “Both bills are clearly unconstitutional, ironically enough…You can’t require students to attend school … and then require them to either pledge allegiance to the flag or swear this loyalty oath in order to graduate. It’s a violation of the First Amendment.” Even so, the sponsors of both bills stand by their assertion that the bills will benefit children by helping them think more about the Constitution and their patriotic duty. (In all fairness, if a child’s school is sued for First Amendment violations, that could be true.)

A third bill, SB 1213, purports to encourage the development of “critical thinking skills” by requiring that educators teach multiple sides of “scientific controversies” such as the origins of life and global warming. Translation: Teachers can and should teach creationism and other religious theories as on par with evolution and scientific research. Although the bill takes pains not to endorse any specific religious doctrine over another, it also makes it more difficult for administrators to prevent teachers from doing so. Read More

The Right’s “School Choice” Scheme

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This article appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

In June 1995, the economist Milton Friedman wrote an article for the Washington Post promoting the use of public education funds for private schools as a way to transfer the nation’s public school systems to the private sector. “Vouchers,” he wrote, “are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system.” The article was republished by “free market” think tanks, including the Cato Institute and the Hoover Institution, with the title “Public Schools: Make Them Private.”1

While Friedman has promoted vouchers for decades, most famously in his masterwork Free to Choose, the story of how public funds are actually being transferred to private, often religious, schools is a study in the ability of a few wealthy families, along with a network of right-wing think tanks, to create one of the most successful “astroturf” campaigns money could buy.2 Rather than openly championing dismantling the public school system, they promote bringing market incentives and competition into education as a way to fix failing schools, particularly in low-income Black and Latino communities. Read More