Ron Matus is now the Assistant Director for Policy & Public Affairs at Step Up for Students, the organization that administers Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. Before that, Ron was an award-winning education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, where he was the lead reporter covering the evolution education debate during Florida’s science standards process in 2007-2008.
Among his other duties at Step Up for Students, Ron edits a blog, redefinED. In a piece posted on that blog yesterday, Ron publicly wrestles with the work his organization does, its importance to the low-income students it serves and the problems with science instruction at some of the private schools these students attend:
It’s old news that many religious schools teach creationism and intelligent design – and that some of those schools accept students with vouchers and tax credit scholarships. But the recent New York Times piece on tax credit scholarships gave school choice critics fresh excuse to pick up and hurl. Teachers union president Randi Weingarten immediately tweeted, “Public money being funneled to creationist, anti-science religious schools.” A few days later, a left-of-center think tank in North Carolina, out to stop a legislative proposal for tax credit scholarships in that state, described the Times story as concluding that “redirected public money” is being used to “spread fundamentalist religious theology like creationism.”
I’m in the science tribe. The evolution-is-fact tribe. But I don’t share their outrage. During my own evolution on school choice, I’ve had to grapple with the fact that many private schools are at odds with what the vast majority of scientists consider good science.
I’ve come to this conclusion: Even if we disagree about creationism, we shouldn’t be so blinded that we forget all the other lessons these children receive in all the other classes they take, in all the years they attend school. We should not overlook whether these children are learning to read and write and succeed in life. I’m hoping that people who do value scientific literacy would be more likely to look at the issue with a sober analytical eye. I’m hoping they might even be willing to place scientific learning in a broader societal context, where many public school students are suffering in part because they lack the foundational learning skills that also handicap them in the arena of science.
The fact is, not many traditional public school students are doing well right now in science. It pains me to say this, because I had amazing biology, chemistry and physics teachers in my public high school. What I learned from them has benefited me personally and professionally. But the facts are informative. In 2009, 21 percent of high school seniors scored at proficient or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in science. Break those numbers down into subgroups, and depressing morphs into apocalyptic. Only 8 percent of low-income and Hispanic students reached that bar. Only 4 percent of black students did.
Read more here.