Don't blame vouchers for poor science instruction

Shutterstock.com

Article Highlights

  • .@MQ_McShane explains why vouchers will allow parents a way out if they don't like a school's curriculum.@MQ_McShane says don't blame vouchers for poor science instructionCreationism is taught in some schools; if you don't like that, vouchers can be a way out

    Tweet This

Re: “Science has a spot in voucher debates” (My View, April 16).

I share Brandon Haught’s desire for sound science education in Florida. I, too, am troubled that schools teach creationism, a nonscientific, ahistorical account of the origins of our world and our species.

Where Haught and I differ, though, is in our interpretation of the role school vouchers play in promoting such teaching.

Let me start with some facts.

Gallup polling consistently finds about 45 percent of the population of the United States believing in creationism. Note, this cannot possibly be attributed to the pernicious effects of vouchers, or private schools writ large, as approximately one half of 1 percent of students participate in voucher programs and at no point in the last 50 years have more than 12 percent or so of students attended private schools.

It appears that large numbers of students are graduating from public schools as creationists.

How could something like this happen?

Well, in a 2011 issue of Science magazine, Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer surveyed a nationally representative sample of public high-school biology teachers and found that only 28 percent of them consistently implement National Research Council standards for the teaching of evolution.

Thirteen percent of biology teachers explicitly teach creationism or intelligent design. Sixty percent hedge by neither strongly advocating for evolution or creationism.

In fact, public schools do not have a particularly good track record in teaching most scientific topics.

On the most recent administration of the National Assessment for Education Progress, only 28 percent of Florida students scored proficient or better on the science portion of the exam. This occurs even though the state has enumerated science standards and tests students regularly on them. Clearly, those administrative tools are not enough to ensure fidelity to sound science pedagogy.

But on the specific issue of creationism, the explanation is relatively straightforward. Public schools teach creationism because they are, at their core, political institutions. They are governed by elected officials. If a majority of the voting public in a particular jurisdiction believes in creationism, they will advocate for creationism to be taught in the public schools.\

In 2008, Louisiana passed the Science Education Act, which allowed public-school teachers to supplement science instruction with texts critical of evolution. In 2012, Tennessee passed a similar law. From 2005 to 2007, Kansas science standards promoted intelligent design and “teaching the controversy” about evolution and creationism. If you have time, watch the documentary “The Revisionaries,” which chronicles the Texas State Board of Education’s efforts to include creationism in public schools.

This is the cold reality of living in a big, diverse, pluralistic society — sometimes folks believe stuff that we think is dumb, and sometimes those folks win elections.

So what do you do if you are a person who lives in an area where the preponderance of the voting population believes in creationism? If you’re wealthier, you can move to the attendance zone of a school that teaches evolution or pay for your child to attend a private school that offers the correct interpretation of scientific history. If you’re poor, you’re out of luck. You will be legally compelled to send your child to a public school that teaches something you know is wrong.

That is, unless your state has a voucher program.

Then, you can use that voucher to attend a school that doesn’t promote creationism. Sure, schools that promote creationism will still exist, and will be supported by tax dollars, and that is unfortunate. But no one will be legally compelled to attend them, unlike now. All things considered, that is a step in the right direction.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael Q.
McShane

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
    MON
  • 28
    TUE
  • 29
    WED
  • 30
    THU
  • 31
    FRI
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression — 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.