Bookmark and Share FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE [pdf] / LA Coalition for Science / Baton Rouge, LA, September 28, 2009 — On September 16, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) ignored the recommendations of science education professionals in the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and allowed the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a Religious Right lobbying group, to dictate the procedure concerning complaints about creationist supplementary materials used in public school science classes under the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). At BESE’s September 16 Student/School Performance and Support (SSPS) Committee  meeting, DOE presented recommendations for reviewing such materials (see attached DOE proposal). However, DOE’s recommendations were amended to include changes proposed by SSPS Committee chair Dale Bayard, the LFF’s point man at BESE (see attached draft). BESE committee members approved the changes without opposition after hearing testimony by creationists who attended the meeting. As a result, the prerogatives of the DOE professional science education staff have been severely undermined, as explained below. The audiotape of the meeting shows that Bayard and the LFF pulled off a royal snow job.

LFF director Rev. Gene Mills, whose own children do not attend public schools, attended the meeting but did not speak. Among the creationists testifying was University of Louisiana-Lafayette professor John W. Oller, Jr., who is a member of the “Technical Advisory Board” of the young-earth creationist Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas. He wrote anti-evolution articles for ICR’s magazine, Impact, for almost twenty years. [UPDATE 9/29/09: It gets worse. Further research has revealed that Oller is also involved with Answers in Genesis, the young-earth creationist outfit that operates the infamous "Creation Museum" in Kentucky. He was one of "eleven creation scientists" who attended a meeting there in 2006 and is shown in a photograph at the museum (left rear, in bright blue shirt). This museum has mis-educated thousands of children. See critiques of this facility here and here, along with a statement of concern by scientists (real ones).] Oller’s field is linguistics; he has no credentials in either biology or science education. In December 2002, he participated in the LFF’s effort to have evolution disclaimers inserted into state-approved biology textbooks (Advocate, 12/11/2002), a move that BESE at that time fortunately defeated by a 7-3 vote.

Also testifying at the September 16 meeting was Charles Voss, vice-president of the creationist Origins Resource Association, who attempted in 1994 to persuade the Livingston Parish School Board to adopt a creationist curriculum guide. LFF “consultant” Darrell White, who was also involved in the 2002 disclaimer effort and who promotes creationism on his website, testified, as did Wade Warren, a creationist at Louisiana College who works cooperatively with the Discovery Institute (DI), the creationist think tank in Seattle, WA, that helped write the LSEA. (See DI’s interview with Warren.)

Lenni Ditoro, who testified last year in favor of the LSEA before the Senate Education Committee, also spoke in favor of the changes to the DOE proposal. Ditoro is the former head of the LFF’s “Education Resource Council.” Oklahoma creationist Donald Ewert was brought in from out of state to testify. Ewert is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism“; his name appears on a list of “Intellectual Doubters of Darwinism” at the creationist IDEA Center website. In Oklahoma, Ewert promoted “academic freedom” legislation similar to the LSEA (SSPS audiotape, 9/16/09). He was involved in the creationist effort to influence state science standards in Texas in March 2009 (see below).

In its recommendation to the SSPS Committee, DOE proposed that, when a complaint about supplementary materials is filed, “the DOE will select three reviewers” who “should be experts” capable of determining whether the contested materials meet the necessary criteria for use in public school science classes. A meeting would be held in which both the complainant and the LEA (Local Education Agency, i.e., the school district) and their chosen representatives would present their positions and answer reviewers’ questions. Then, according to the DOE’s proposal, “the DOE will consider the report of the reviewers and make recommendations to BESE.” Further, the proposal specified that “the DOE may elect to support, reject or modify the recommendations of the reviewers or may substitute its own recommendation” to BESE. In short, DOE professionals, exercising their professional judgment, would do their jobs properly and preserve the integrity of Louisiana’s science curriculum.

However, on September 16 the LFF sought and obtained from BESE’s SSPS Committee a substantial change in the complaint procedure that diminishes the influence of DOE’s professional staff. As the revised draft of the complaint procedure now reads, “The DOE shall have the opportunity to appoint two reviewers of the materials. The challenger, the LEA, and the publisher (if any) shall each have the opportunity to appoint one reviewer of the materials.” Furthermore, rather than allowing DOE to consider the reviewers’ reports and then make its recommendation to BESE, the revised draft now requires that “the DOE will forward the reports of the reviewers to BESE,” even though “the DOE may elect to make its own recommendation.”

Consequently, the prerogative of DOE professionals to handle the review process and make a recommendation to BESE has been seriously undermined. There is no guarantee that the three non-DOE reviewers, especially the school district’s and the publisher’s appointees, will have the requisite expertise to evaluate contested materials. A school district that permits the use of creationist materials is likely to choose a creationist reviewer. The publisher of creationist materials is virtually certain to choose a creationist. Moreover, the involvement of the LFF in the response to such complaints is a certainty. Charles Voss has “published” on the Internet creationist supplementary materials that he calls “Textbook Addenda“, which the LFF promotes on its website as among the “many practical alternatives available today to the uncritical teaching of evolutionism.”

BESE’s amended complaint procedure guarantees that a creationist such as Voss himself or his supporters will be allowed to review their own materials. In fact, at the September 16 meeting, John Oller actually spoke in favor of a process that “provides the opportunity for people to produce supplementary materials along the lines that Dr. Voss has done” (audiotape of SSPS Committee meeting, 9/16/09). The same holds for reviewers appointed by publishers of materials such as the Discovery Institute’s stealth creationist textbook, Explore Evolution, and its creationist DVDs, which LFF also promotes on its website. Such reviewers would be manifestly unqualified to render judgments concerning materials for use in Louisiana’s public schools. In short, as BESE’s complaint procedure is now drafted, DOE’s expert reviewers will be in the minority, and DOE staff will not be allowed to independently assess the reviewers’ reports but must instead transfer the reports directly to BESE for evaluation.

Judging from BESE members’ consistent concessions to LFF creationists concerning the implementation of the LSEA, their evaluations will be unlikely to favor scientific expertise and professionalism. On the contrary, BESE’s actions since the passage of the LSEA indicate that the board will rubber-stamp anything that Bayard and the LFF recommend. The approved procedure will enable creationists and their allies to turn every complaint about creationist materials into a dog and pony show that they can manipulate and exploit. There are precedents for this tactic in other states.

In Kansas in 2005, creationists bogged down the revision of state science standards that were sent out for external review by the creationist-dominated Kansas Board of Education. They then staged a “kangaroo court” composed of creationists who testified about the standards before members of the state board. Earlier this year, creationists on the Texas Board of Education appointed their own “experts” (i.e., creationists) to the review panel charged with evaluating the draft of state science standards. At a hearing in March, Ewert presented pro-creationist testimony before the Texas Board of Education, just as he did at the SSPS Committee hearing on September 16 (SSPS Committee audiotape, 9/16/09). His Texas testimony is referenced on the Discovery Institute website by DI staffer Casey Luskin, who traveled to Louisiana to attend the May 21, 2008, House Education Committee hearing on the LSEA. Wade Warren also testified [pdf] before the Texas Board of Education. As a result of these efforts in Texas, creationist code language is now embedded in the standards and will remain for an entire decade until the next revision.

The LFF is using a similar tactic in order to control the policy implementing the LSEA, which they authored with assistance and legal advice from the Discovery Institute. The September 16 concession is the second time that BESE has allowed the LFF to dictate public school science education policy. On January 13, 2009, BESE voted 10-0 to delete vital safeguards against the teaching of creationism from the policy governing Louisiana school administrators in their implementation of the LSEA. In that case, too, the expert recommendations of the DOE were ignored. The very next day, on January 14, Mills told a religious news service that “Louisiana is open for business.”

This creationist-friendly policy is now in effect in Bulletin 741, the Louisiana Handbook for School Administrators. (See Bulletin 741, [doc] August 2009, p. 45). The September 16 draft of the complaint procedure will expand this policy. The passage of the LSEA — and BESE’s subsequent adoption of whatever policies the creationists at the LFF dictate — have damaged Louisiana’s already tarnished image in the rest of the country. In fact, these actions have done tangible harm to the state. In February 2009, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) notified Gov. Jindal that the SICB will hold its 2011 convention in Utah rather than in New Orleans because of his signing the LSEA. SICB will boycott Louisiana as long as the LSEA remains on the books. In August 2008, the president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which met in New Orleans in April 2009, had already called for scientists to protest such decisions “with our feet and wallets”:

I think we need to see to it that no future meeting of our society will take place in Louisiana as long as that law stands, nor should we hold it in any other state (are you listening, Michigan and Texas?) that passes a similar law. And I call upon the presidents of the American Chemical Society, the American Association of Immunologists, the Society for Neuroscience, and all the other scientific societies around the U.S. and the world, to join me in this action and make clear to the state legislators in Louisiana, the governor of the state, and the mayor and business bureau of New Orleans that this will be the consequence.  (ASBMB Today [pdf], August 2008)

In June, concerned citizens and scientists from across Louisiana sent dozens of letters to BESE asking board members to restore the integrity of the policy that had been gutted in January. Their requests were ignored. Rather than restoring the protections against teaching creationism that the DOE had initially written into the policy, BESE published the policy in Bulletin 741 without the necessary safeguards. With the SSPS Committee’s approval of the pro-creationist complaint procedure on September 16, BESE has once again allowed the LFF to dictate policy governing science education in Louisiana.

Louisiana Coalition for Science is a grassroots group working to protect the teaching of science in Louisiana. On the web at **Download press release here [pdf].

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