Louisiana Science Education Act survives another challenge
|May 5, 2013||Posted by News under News|
A Louisiana law that allows public school science teachers to use supplemental materials in their classrooms will remain on the books, despite criticism that it’s a back-door way to teach creationism.
The Senate Education Committee voted 3-2 Wednesday against the proposal by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, in what has become an annual debate before the panel.
House Bill 26, which was sponsored by Senator Karen Peterson, was an attempt to repeal the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act. By deferring the legislation, the senators effectively killed it in committee.
The 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act, which was signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal, expressly forbids the promotion of any religious doctrine in the classroom, but allows teachers to “use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner,” including evolution and origin-of-life theories. Additionally, teachers using supplemental resources must first “teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system,” and the State Board of Education reserves the right to veto any inappropriate supplemental materials. Guidelines adopted by the state education board further stipulate that any supplementary information presented by teachers must be “scientifically sound and supported by empirical evidence.”
Voting for the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act were Senator Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge and Senator Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte. Voting against the repeal were Senator Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, Senator Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, and Senator Mack “Bodi” White, R-Denham Springs. Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel did not vote, abstaining for the second year in a row, although in 2011 he opposed a similar attempt to repeal the Act.
Leading the repeal effort is Zack Kopplin, a Rice University student from Baton Rouge who has been lobbying for years to overturn the Louisiana Science Education Act. However, Kopplin was forced to acknowledge, in response to a question from Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel and Senator Mike Walsworth, that no complaint had ever been lodged about creationism being taught in schools since the law was passed in 2008.
Kopplin has claimed that the Louisiana Science Education Act is hampering science education in his native state. “This law is about going back into the Dark Ages, not moving forward into the 21st Century,” he said.
In fact, the State of State Science Standards 2012 report gave Louisiana an overall science grade of “B”, which places it near the top of the list of the USA’s 50 states. Louisiana’s overall score of 7 out of 10 is broken down into two components: Content and Rigor (score: 5 out of 7), and Clarity and Specificity (2 out of 3). The score for content and rigor (4.7 out of 7, to be precise) was averaged over several science subjects: Scientific Inquiry & Methodology, Physical Science, Physics, Chemistry, Earth & Space Science, and Life Science. Life Science was awarded an almost perfect score of 6 out of 7. The score would have been even higher, but for the fact that the Louisiana’s Life Science curriculum standards for Kindergarten to Grade 8 don’t explicitly mention the word “evolution.” Instead, they simply state that “life changes over time.” The omission of the magic “E” word annoyed the report’s authors, who support the teaching of Darwinian evolution in schools.
Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, in his closing argument for Senator Karen Peterson’s repeal bill, asserted that the Louisiana Science Education Act had harmed the state of Louisiana, stifling business and preventing scientific organizations from convening in his city. However, Russell Armstrong, an education adviser for Gov. Bobby Jindal, denied the claim, noting that the Act had not prevented companies such as IBM, Sasol and General Electric from coming to the state.
However, the Senate Education Committee 3-2 vote against Senator Karen Peterson’s attempt to overturn the Louisiana Science Education Act was her narrowest defeat in three years: in 2012, similar legislation was defeated 2-1 and in 2011, it was defeated by a margin of 5-1.
Freedom of critical inquiry in Louisiana’s schools has survived another day.
The image at the top is a photo of Louisiana’s State Capitol building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, courtesy of Wikipedia and Chris Miceli.