Tuesday, June 21, 2011

'Stealth creationism bill' may be dead for this Legislative session

Posted By on Tue, Jun 21, 2011 at 8:13 PM

A proposal opponents call a “stealth creationism bill” failed to pass the Louisiana Senate Tuesday, June 21, potentially killing it for the session. HB580 by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, would allow public school boards in Louisiana to purchase textbooks that have not been approved by the state Department of Education’s (DOE) Textbook Adoption Committee, which is required under current law. The DOE and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) are charged with making sure all textbooks used in public schools address basic Grade-Level Expectations (GLEs), which are covered on standardized tests.

Baton Rouge Magnet School senior Zack Kopplin was in the Senate Tuesday when lawmakers failed to pass HB580 but put it back on the calendar for possible reconsideration later. “From right now we think we’ve got it,” Kopplin said. To pass the bill would require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. Supporters were seven votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill outright through the upper chamber. Lawmakers get three tries for reconsideration of the bill, but two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of hearing it again.

“I’m not declaring a total victory yet,” Kopplin said, “but what I’m hearing is it’s unlikely to be brought up again (this session). … This is great news for Louisiana. This bill, frankly, takes away the power from BESE and gives it to people without the oversight that’s needed.”

Earlier in the session, Kopplin mounted a campaign to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which the Louisiana Legislature passed in 2008. That law allows public school teachers to use “supplemental” materials in classrooms, clearing the way for creationism, or intelligent design, to be introduced in public schools. Forty-three Nobel laureates joined Kopplin’s effort to have the Legislature repeal the LSEA during the 2011 session, but those efforts failed.

If passed, Kopplin says HB580 could have a chilling effect on teachers all over the state. “If teachers are now being graded on students’ scores, how can we expect them to succeed when the textbooks are not in line (with what students must know to pass standardized tests)? This gives school boards who already are trying to teach creationism a way to do that without oversight.”

Ian Binns, a member of the Louisiana Coalition For Science (LCFS) and an assistant professor in Louisiana State University’s 
Department of Educational Theory, Policy and Practice argued against HB580 when it was considered by the Senate Education Committee last week. He says he has been very disappointed in how the Senate has handled both HB580 and the LSEA.

When he was testifying before the Education Committee, he says, vice chair Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, challenged Binns’ contention that HB580 would allow inappropriate materials (i.e. creationism) in the classroom. “I think he wasn’t remembering correctly, but since they allowed the repeal effort of the Louisiana Science Education Act to stop, they haven’t stopped inappropriate materials into the classroom. Because of the LSEA, we have allowed that to happen.

“This (HB580) would be a major detriment to the students in the state of Louisiana. … I’m just hoping that over the next 48 hours things will go OK and this will stop.” The legislative session must adjourn no later than 6 p.m. Thursday.

“We really shouldn’t be wasting our money and our time on legislation like this,” Binns says. “They want to improve education; this is not the way to do it. If people truly understood that science is not out to get religion and that science cannot be supernatural, they would not allow this. A lot of these arguments are attempts to redefine science.”

Kopplin says he already is engaging other high school students to take up the battle to repeal the LSEA during the next legislative session.

“I think we have a good shot at getting this repealed next year,” he says. “(Repealing) the LSEA will always be faster than (getting it overturned through) a lawsuit. This will be a long, tough, expensive one for the state of Louisiana.

“Eventually someone is going to look at the number of science conventions that are being lost because of this … and say, ‘That is a lot of money.’ We’re holding out hope the Louisiana Legislature will support our children’s future. I hope they do the right thing and vote to give Louisiana students the science they need.”

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