Texas Citizens for Science
P. O. Box 13022
Odessa, TX 79768-3022
Testimony Opposing Virtual Charter Schools
November 3, 2003
Virtual charter schools are a relatively new concept, combining charter schools and computer-aided instruction. Since the program allows parents to have their children educated at home outside the public school system--without state-mandated curriculum requirements, standardized tests, and other forms of accountability--the program also includes the concepts of home schooling and private school vouchers. If one considers all of these separate concepts together, the result is a recipe for disaster: the sub-optimal education and ideological indoctrination of our state's children.
There are so many reasons to oppose the virtual charter school program that I may not have time to name them all. Let's start with the main reason why Texas Citizens for Science opposes the concept. The curriculum proposed for the virtual charters is the K12 Curriculum of William Bennett. This curriculum promises to misrepresent evolution and thus be anti-scientific. The distortion is by design, not accidental. The following statements reveal Bennett's pseudoscientific objectives:Bennett says, "We're centered in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we do not ignore faith and religion, we do not ignore the arguments against evolution, because there are some. . . . I think what we'll say is, Here's evolution, this is a definition, this is what other people think, this is what a lot of the scientific community thinks, this is what a lot of the criticisms are. You decide, parent and child, working your way through this how you want to evaluate this." (http://www.beliefnet.com/story/91/story_9103_1.html)
[A]ccording to Bennett, the science curriculum presents evolution, creationism, and intelligent design as equally tenable explanations for the existence of life. (http://www.beliefnet.com/story/92/story_9292_1.html)
I have already explained to you several times why these statements misrepresent the true status of evolution within modern science: There are no scientific arguments against evolution; it is intellectually dishonest to present evolution to students along with bogus "criticisms" or "weaknesses"; it is pedagogically improper to present both the scientific pros and pseudoscientific cons of evolution to children and tell them to evaluate and decide which is better; and worst of all is the intention to present creationism and intelligent design as "equally tenable explanations for the existence of life." This is not science--this is aggressive and explicit indoctrination.
Bennett obviously plans to misrepresent the true scientific nature and stature of the topic of evolution in his curriculum, and this is plainly wrong. The only possible reason to distort science in a home school curriculum is to pander to fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who believe in creationism rather than evolution. William Bennett's virtual home school curriculum is openly described as based on Judeo-Christian traditions, and this is a code-phrase for diminishing and distorting evolution and teaching creationism. As such, Bennett's K12 science curriculum is both constitutionally prohibited from receiving state funding and is scientific nonsense. It is not acceptable for adoption by any state that values quality science education for its students. The virtual charter school program and its pseudoscientific curriculum should be rejected by the Texas SBOE, just as it was rejected by the Texas Legislature.
Now let's turn to the University of North Texas. Why this university would want to participate in a virtual charter school program is a mystery to me (except that it sees it as a new source of public funding). The program would be useless for a laboratory school, since the purpose of such schools is to provide education majors with classroom experience, something that virtual schools notably lack. The proposed science curriculum is not something with which any respectable university would want to be associated. Finally, virtual charter schools are tailored to educate home-schooled children at state expense, and the only reasons for such disassociation from the public school system are to avoid state oversight and required curricula, and permit the intrusion of religious instruction, hardly laudable goals for any public university. Is it really the desire of the University of North Texas to be complicit in the subversion of secular public education, not to mention the perversion of science education?
I question the efficacy of virtual education of such young children. I am knowledgeable about computer-aided instruction, and in my experience this educational method is only suitable for students of college age or older. Younger students do not have the self-motivation or self-discipline to succeed in learning using only instructional modules on a computer; they need the constant and frequent guidance and supervision of trained adult teachers, and most parents do not have this training.
Let's face it: virtual charter schools are designed to educate home-schooled children, of which there are between 70,000 and 150,000 in Texas, using public funds. If this program were enacted, it would cost $10.6 million a year by 2006, money either taken directly from state support of public schools or raised by new taxes. The costs of computers and new curriculum materials are prohibitive in an era of budget deficits and tight funding. The lack of conformity to state curriculum requirements, assessment by standardized exams, and educational accountability are enough by themselves to reject this program. Virtual charter schools cannot meet the national "No Child Left Behind" guidelines that require a "highly qualified teacher" in every classroom. Finally, any curriculum that permits religious instruction at state expense would be unconstitutional, i.e. illegal.
For all these very important reasons, I urge this committee to reject the proposed virtual charter school program.
[November 8 Update: The University of North Texas removed itself from this program on November 4. Although university charter schools (and regular state charter schools) are permissible--and their existence fully supported by TCS--the rule change to allow virtual charter schools for universities was removed from the SBOE Planning Committee agenda, apparently because UNT backed out. TCS does not know if the rule change to allow virtual charter schools will be brought up again in the future. If it is, TCS will be there to speak against it.]