Thursday, June 4, 2009

Louisiana Science Education Act...

The Louisiana Science Education Act encourages the use of 'supplemental materials' attacking the science of evolution, origins of life, climate change, and research on stem cells and cloning.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is approving a policy to implement it very soon, and the last day for public comment is June 9th. Below is a draft letter, provided by NCSE, that points out the flaws with the act and recommended changes that would support evolution education and remove the threat of creationist teachings in Louisiana state schools. Please feel free to use the below letter as a guide to form your own letter to the state Board, or simply copy this letter into another document and sign it.

NOTE: Comments must be sent by mail, and should arrive no later than June 9 at 4:30 pm. Please address them to:

Nina A. Ford
State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
P.O. Box 94064
Capitol Station
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9064

The Paleontological Research Institution will be sending a letter to Ms. Ford and the state Board later this afternoon on behalf of the institution, its staff, and national members. But every voice is very important, so please take a moment of time and contact your state Board with a version of the letter provided, and share this with any other concerned citizens in the great state of Louisiana.


Dear Ms. Ford:

Act 473, the Louisiana Science Education Act, is written so loosely as to allow creationism and other religious concepts to be taught in classrooms. In order to protect the civil liberties of students and to protect local educational authorities from costly litigation, BESE's policy implementing this act, which was adopted on January 13, 2009, must close any loopholes that might allow non-science into classrooms. In particular the following aspects of the policy passed in January, 2009, require revision.

Section C should have the sentence "Religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of critical thinking" restored. This language is based on State Superintendent Pastorek's letter to LEAs on August 27, 2008, and serves as an important warning for teachers and administrators.

The process for challenging supplemental material laid out in section D of the proposed policy is unclear, ill-conceived, and onerous. The instructions for the Department of Education review are vague and confusing, and they unnecessarily complicate what should be a straightforward decision based on the professional expertise of Department of Education staff. In considering citizen input concerning supplementary materials, the process should not require a "meeting" at which "any interested party" could "present their arguments" (D.3). Such a meeting places a needless burden on the finances and time of concerned parents, teachers, and staff. It would be better to employ the extant system of public comment on textbooks for adoption, which allows written comments to be submitted by a set deadline. In the absence of any clear deadline for resolution of a challenge, it is likely that inappropriate material would remain in a classroom indefinitely after a challenge. A better procedure would allow the LDoE to generate a list of clearly inappropriate material based on their expertise and experience as educators, and provide that list to BESE for approval. Citizen challenges to those materials would be automatically sustained, while challenges to other material should be reviewed by LDoE staff based on a speedy process involving public comment and peer review by recognized experts in science and science education.

In addition, section D.4.b requires only that material be "scientifically sound and supported by scientific evidence." Materials which contradict the Louisiana Content Standards should be subject to additional review to ensure that they are not outdated or otherwise lacking in scientific credibility. Science classes should endeavor to give students a context to understand the current state of scientific knowledge, recognizing that "[f]or scientific ideas to become widely accepted, peers must review, analyze, and critique results through journal articles, replication of experiments, and presentations at scientific meetings" (Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Grade Level Expectations for Science §301.B). Scientific claims which have not been reviewed by the scientific community, or which have been found lacking after such review, do not belong in science classrooms. Works which deny widely agreed upon scientific concepts like evolution and anthropogenic climate change are thus not appropriate for science class. Section D.4.b should thus require that information contained in the supplemental materials must be accepted by the community of scientists as valid, current, and
rigorous science.

Finally, the LSEA Advisory Committee had recommended a prohibition against teaching creationism in Section D.4.d, reading:

"Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes."

This much-needed clarification was unfortunately removed from the policy before it was passed. It would prevent the use of inappropriate and unconstitutional teaching materials, and should be reinserted into the policy just as the LDoE's experts recommended.

Thank you for your consideration and your efforts to improve science education in Louisiana.

1 comment:

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