This is a bad thing, by the way. One of the tells that education ‘reform’ is about everything other than student learning is that most reformers are absolutely silent on the issue of creationism and other religious intrusions into the classroom. For those who don’t follow education closely (that is, you’re a normal person), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has had a voucher system for a very long time. In this system, students can use public money to attend a private school, which can include a religion-affiliated school, such as a Catholic school. As you might imagine, this doesn’t really lead to increases in student performance on tests, which isn’t especially surprising, given research in the area (once you adjust for socioeconomic status, the national NAEP data don’t show any advantage for private schools).
Ruth Conniff describes one Milwaukee charter school (boldface mine):
“Academy of Excellence” is spelled out in snap-on plastic letters above a phone number on a temporary-looking sign on West North Avenue….
Pastor George Claudio of the StraightWay Vineyard Christian Fellowship greets us inside.
He has been serving as principal here since September, although he has no background in education, he explains.
“I’m not a trained principal, so my approach has been more of a business and leadership approach,” he says. “I don’t know much about academics, so I’m on a crash course, relying on the teachers in the building.
“Everybody here is way below the poverty level,” he adds, as we peer into a classroom where four-year-old kindergarteners are lying down for a nap on the dirty indoor/outdoor carpeting. A teacher snaps out the lights.
Despite the dirty carpet and peeling walls, and a first-floor bathroom with no toilet paper, no paper towels, and heavy scribbling in the stalls and over the sink, Pastor Claudio is proud of how much better things look here since school started in September, after a major cleanup. Last fall, he tells us, the lights didn’t work….
“We use the Bob Jones University curriculum,” he says….
“We have two-thirds of our kids who would probably benefit from special ed,” Pastor Claudio tells us. But there is no special education program here. Instead, the pastor makes an effort to connect kids with tutors: “college kids, people who are interested in education. They sit down for individual instruction with them. Plus we have people from all the churches—I’m connected with so many churches.”
“Welcome to Middle School Science,” says a sign on an upstairs classroom door. Eleven eighth-grade boys are sitting in the science class. Another poster at eye level on the door says: “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth—Genesis 1:1”
The teacher, Mr. Mosconi, walks over and closes the door as we look in.
On the same hallway there is another large poster that says: “God can see your heart and he knows that it is wicked.”
Fundamentalism religious indoctrination? Check. Inadequate facilities? Yep! Not using professionals to assist those who need special help? You betcha! The only thing missing is some Randian Prosperity Gospel. Wait, what’s that you say? Let’s go to another voucher school:
Founded in 2002 by millionaire home-builder and former Republican Congressman Mark Neumann, the HOPE Prima school is the oldest of five HOPE Christian schools he runs in Milwaukee. Neumann’s business, Educational Enterprises, Inc., also runs charter schools in Phoenix and St. Louis….
Bulletin boards advertise scholarship awards from colleges to the graduates of HOPE High School: “Bethany Lutheran College with a $20,000 academic grant!!!”
And then there is this: All over the walls in the hallway are big, green million-dollar bills.
A child’s face peers out from the center of one million-dollar bill, announcing that he is a member of the “Millionaires Club,” having taken a computerized test to show he knows one million words.
“Can you be the next millionaire?” a poster over another kid’s face asks. “Winner, winner millionaire!!”
And there’s the low end Prosperity Gospel too:
The last stop on our tour is Carter’s Christian Academy, in a building that could pass for a corner store…
Third-grade teacher Annette Davis, a former guidance counselor in the Milwaukee Public Schools, has been teaching a lesson that involves a poster of a Van Gogh painting, a list of biblical principles, and some financial information labeled “Resource: Money Kit.”
Remember–this is funded by public tax dollars–and it does no better than the public schools (not surprisingly). What originally started out as a way to provide a lifeline for some students to attend ‘Saint X’ schools has turned into something very, very different:
In Milwaukee, eighth graders are attending what purports to be a public school to study science and learn creationism.
Third graders are absorbing a strange home brew of art, finance, and bible passages.
Immigrant children straight from refugee camps in Myanmar are landing in a school that looks like a refugee center, to be immersed in English and a harsh religious ideology that teaches them that their hearts are wicked.
All of this is supported by the public with tax dollars.
It looks like the end of society.
Amen selah to that.