The Orlando Sentinel is publishing a three part series about Florida private schools raking in voucher money from the state despite some incredibly ugly problems at those schools. The first part ran today: Schools Without Rules: An Orlando Sentinel Investigation (Florida private schools rake in nearly $1 billion in state scholarships with little oversight.)
There’s plenty of problems highlighted in just this first article. I cringe while imagining what’s in the subsequent articles. But the main issue that attracts my attention is, of course, this:
Nor do private schools need to follow the state’s academic standards. One curriculum, called Accelerated Christian Education or ACE, is popular in some private schools and requires students to sit at partitioned desks and fill out worksheets on their own for most of the day, with little instruction from teachers or interaction with classmates.
Like many of the Christian schools that take state scholarships, [TDR Learning Academy in Orlando] uses one of a handful of popular curricula that, as one administrator explained, teach “traditional” math and reading but Bible-based history and science, including creationism.
At Harvest Baptist Academy in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood, parents choose the 20-year-old school for its academics, Bible-based lessons and no-nonsense discipline that includes spanking children, said Harry Amos, recently retired principal.
About 78 percent of Florida’s scholarship students are enrolled in religious schools. Most are Christian schools, though some Jewish and Muslim schools take part, too.
Way back in 2012 I got into an online debate with the Assistant Director for Policy & Public Affairs at Step Up for Students, the organization that administers Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. You can read our arguments at this old post: Rotten Apples. (Be sure to read the comments on that post.) For instance, I told him:
Teaching creationism as if it’s real science most certainly should not be supported by public tax dollars. My focus when I wrote my first response to your post and now this response is very narrow. Your argument is (correct me if I’m wrong) that if kids are getting great reading, writing and math education at a private school, then it’s OK to overlook bad science education. My counter-argument is that the science instructors in this narrow subset of creationism-promoting private schools are not just teaching science poorly but are actually teaching the very opposite of science! I also argue that if blatant creationism is being taught in biology classes in these particular schools then I guarantee that other unscientific concepts based on faith rather than science can be found in the geology, chemistry and physics classes. Not only do some of these schools teach creationism, they go a step further and actively teach that evolution is wrong. That way of teaching doesn’t just affect students’ thinking about the one subject of evolution; it gives students a grossly warped view of what science is and how it is done overall! You can have your own opinions, but in science you can’t have your own facts.
I also noted this creationism-in-private-schools issue in 2013: Creationist Voucher Schools.
A website called Say No to Creationist Vouchers lists schools that use questionable (and that’s a charitable word) curriculum and materials in the science classroom or blatantly teach anti-science. The site identifies and links to 163 voucher accepting public schools in Florida that use creationist materials or boldly state that they teach anti-science.
My point now is that this crazy scheme has been around for several years. I appreciate that the Orlando Sentinel is once again exposing it, but let’s be honest. Is anything going to change?