David Goins at Arkansas Matters reports that Responsive Education Solutions, a Texas-based operator of charter schools, has pulled a biology workbook from at least one school it operates in Arkansas because of a complaint that it unconstitutionally teaches religion (creationism) as science.
Quoting from a copy of the letter from CEO Chuck Cook, Goins said:
“Because of the seriousness of the allegations, we removed the Biology workbook in question from our inventory and conducted an immediate and thorough review of the legal concerns expressed in the Slate article,” Cook says.
Complaints against Responsive Ed have been two-fold. Slate published an explosive expose on the teaching of creationism in Responsive Education schools and the significant influence of religion-oriented activists among its founders and chief officers. Responsive Ed originally defended its “balanced treatment” of science and religion as permissible under Texas law. Slate also cited numerous deficiencies in “history” taught in the school.
Creationism, balanced or otherwise, is not allowed under the curriculum guidelines in Arkansas, though anecdotal evidence is that the guidelines are widely ignored around the state. Arkansas has been the site of two landmark cases in which schools or the legislature tried to either prevent teaching about evolution or to “balance” it with religious instruction.
Americans United for the Separation for Church and State formally complained to the state of Arkansas about the coursework and asked that it be removed or Responsive Ed lose its charter. This apparently contributed to the latest development. The Education Department has said it is reviewing the issue.
I’ve requested a copy of the letter from both Responsive Ed and the state. Responsive Ed has not been responsive to my requests for information in the past. It wouldn’t supply copies of its workbooks without a per-page charge. It’s not yet clear if Responsive Ed is going to remove this material permanently and whether it will remove it from all its schools here and elsewhere. It operates Premier High School in Little Rock and the Northwest Classical Academy in Bentonville and is set to operate the Quest charter middle and high school to open in the fall in Chenal Valley in Little Rock. Responsive Ed’s application for the Quest school, which targets the surrounding upscale, predominantly white area, described it as just like a “private school.” It intends to give preferential enrollment to “founders'” children, but as yet hasn’t defined for me how founders’ status is determined.
Responsive Ed also has been approved to provide curriculum and other guidance to charter schools being set up by conventional public school districts in Fountain Lake, Pea Ridge and West Memphis. In West Memphis, Responsive Ed will have broad influence over the entire public high school.
UPDATE: I now have letters sent by Responsive Ed to both Arkansas and Texas agencies and they appear to apply to all of their schools. The letters essentially defend what is being taught, but say changes will be made to make it clear that religion is not being taught. Responsive Ed said it would update the biology workbook to ensure that evolution is presented in “an unbiased and objective manner” and to avoid “misinterpretations” that religion is being taught. The letters to Arkansas and Texas are similar, but the Texas letter emphasizes law there that requires teaching of “all sides” of scientific evidence.