Creationism degree programs suffer from lack of resources, and lack of legal standing

December 19, 2007

Texas’s creationism controversy continues, today with new articles in The San Antonio Express and The New York Times.

Melissa Ludwig’s article in the San Antonio paper gets right to the problem, that the Institute for Creation Research proposes to train educators to do what the law says they cannot do:

Science teachers are not allowed to teach creationism alongside evolution in Texas public schools, the courts have ruled. But that’s exactly what the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research wants them to do. The institute is seeking state approval to grant online master’s degrees in science education to prepare teachers to “understand the universe within the integrating framework of Biblical creationism,” according to the school’s mission statement.

Last week, an advisory council made up of university educators voted to recommend the program for approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in January, sparking an outcry among science advocates who have fended off repeated attempts by religious groups to insert creationism into Texas science classrooms.

“It’s just the latest trick,” said James Bower, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio who has publicly debated creationists. “They have no interest in teaching science. They are hostile to science and fundamentally have a religious objective.”

The 43-page site visit report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) is available for download in .pdf form at the San Antonio Express site (and thanks to the Express for making this available!). This report provides details that regulators should check carefully, such as the library for ICR is in California and unavailable to students. Up-to-date science articles are unavailable to these graduate students, it appears from the report. In science, journal articles provide the most recent research, and often the most interesting work. Graduate students would be expected to rely heavily on such sources for much of their work.

In the Times, the focus is on just getting the facts out. Perhaps understandably, some officials did not want to talk to the Times:

The state’s commissioner of higher education, Raymund A. Paredes, said late Monday that he was aware of the institute’s opposition to evolution but was withholding judgment until the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board meets Jan. 24 to rule on the recommendation, made last Friday, by the board’s certification advisory council.

Henry Morris III, the chief executive of the Institute for Creation Research, said Tuesday that the proposed curriculum, taught in California, used faculty and textbooks “from all the top schools” along with, he said, the “value added” of challenges to standard teachings of evolution.

“Where the difference is, we provide both sides of the story,” Mr. Morris said. On its Web site, the institute declares, “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week” and says it “equips believers with evidences of the Bible’s accuracy and authority through scientific research, educational programs, and media presentations, all conducted within a thoroughly biblical framework.”

Notable is the absence of consultation with the science community in Texas. Texas officials avoid meeting with scientists, as if they know what the scientists will tell them about programs to offer creationism.

The report to the THECB includes a section on legal compliance. ICR has required building occupancy permits and no obvious OSHA citations, the report says.

The legality of teaching creationism gets no mention. It’s not legal, of course. Generally, a program to train people must not train them to violate a state’s laws, or federal laws. If no one asks that question, the answer that it’s not legal won’t get made.

Carnival of Education #150

December 19, 2007

Working to be a better reminder: The 150th Carnival of Education comes to you from the Education Wonks, the organizers of the entire enterprise. 150 editions? We can call it an internet institution now, can’t we?

Self interest forces me to be more timely with this notice — a post from this blog is featured, a post on the astounding proposal to award degrees in creationism to educators in Texas.

But that’s one of the lesser reasons you should check it out. Education bloggers give insights on how to improve your classroom that you cannot get anywhere else in such timely fashion, nor so ready to cut and paste into your lesson plans.

Why read it?

That’s a small sampling. The Education Carnival is, week in and week out, one of the more valuable digests of blogs on the web. Teachers — and students and parents — are lucky to have it.

(By the way, is the Carnival of Education blocked from your school’s access? What’s up with that?)

Samangan School, Afghanistan, 6-8-2007 - USAID photo

Students in Samangan School, Afghanistan, June 8, 2007; USAID photo.

Test pressures hammer social studies instruction

December 19, 2007

He’s obviously a bright kid. He’s got good grades. It’s honors U.S. history, which is supposed to be rigorous, to prepare the kid for college studies.

But we’re drawing blanks from the kid on basic stuff: What’s the significance of 1776? Jamestown is in what state? Who was the commanding general of the American Revolution, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? During the Civil War, on which side did Robert E. Lee fight? Or was he that dude from the Revolutionary War? Was the 1849 Gold Rush in Texas or California?

During the practice tests, he’s got all the skills: Two-colored markers to analyze the reading passages, circles and arrows to show which parts are important to consider. He can break the test question and reading down into all the “proper” parts, it’s a testing procedure he’s been practicing since third grade. After 8 years, he knows it well.

But he’s not sure whether the British fought in the American Civil War.

It’s a composite picture, but not composite enough for any of us to breathe the relief sigh. Too many students I get in class do not have the basic facts down that they need to make sense of anything else in the history course — or economics or geography course — that they struggle in now.

Many of these students have good test scores, too. The test doesn’t phase them, but their performance is not what it ought to be. Instead of acing the annual state exam, they take a couple of hours and complain that it’s a stupid exam with stupid questions.

We’ve taught them “tricks” to analyze the test questions, but they don’t have the background in the subject that they should have in order to quickly answer basic questions. The tricks get them through an exam, but it’s a poor substitute for knowing the material.

How does this happen?

Many schools across the nation have shorted social studies. Confronting pressure to raise average school test scores, basic social studies has been cut back in elementary and middle grades (kids know that stuff anyway, right?). Social studies is crowded out of the curriculum in favor of testing skills, or instruction in science and math.

I suspect much of the instruction in science and math is similarly shallow. Students learn how to analyze the test question, but they don’t know how to do the math required.

We know that students learn more when they spend more time on the learning tasks. Learning time is reduced for testing skills instruction.

Social studies take the hit particularly hard. According to a commentary by Judith Pace of the University of San Francisco, in Education Week this week (subscription may be required):

Surveys have reported reduced instructional time in various states, and organizations such as the National Council for the Social Studies have responded with letters and statements to Congress. Social studies educators have begun to lobby their lawmakers. But the apparent mainstream acceptance of drastic reductions in the amount of time and attention given to one of elementary education’s core academic subjects is shocking. We are in danger of losing a generation of citizens schooled in the foundations of democracy—and of producing high school graduates who are not broadly educated human beings.

In my own state of California, where history/social studies is not tested until 8th grade, this trend began with the state’s Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, and has accelerated with the No Child Left Behind law. The social studies squeeze occurs disproportionately in low-performing schools with large minority and low-income populations that are under intense pressure to raise scores. And this, too, has alarming implications for educational opportunity and civic participation.

(More of Light’s commentary below the fold.)

One of the old saws of the quality movement in industry (now sadly abandoned in too many places) is “You get what you measure.” We measure average achievement. Consequently, we stifle outstanding achievement, and we don’t give most of the children the background they need to be good citizens.

I see it in students who just don’t know the basics. We should not need to spend time teaching that Abraham Lincoln was not at the Constitutional Convention, but was president during the Civil War.

Improving test scores may be hurting students’ core knowledge in essential areas.

What do we do about it? Comments are open, of course.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: