Genetic Analysis Predicts Academic Achievement For The First Period8 hours ago
Teachers and parents may one day be able to use a genetic exam to predict whether or not a child will excel at or struggle with academics in the future, based on new research pioneered by scientists at King’s College London.
While the prospect may present a frightening vision of a future in which ability and potential will be determined by one’s genetic makeup, and indeed is tainted by a history of eugenics and racist science, the researchers say the tests will help identify, early on, the children who are at risk academically and help lecturers make special interventions for them.
Saskia Selzam, lead writer of the study, explains more in the video above.
“By using these polygenic scores, it is actually possible to identify those for example who are maybe at heightened danger for a learning disability, for example, ” she said. “So imagine a scenario where we could use a polygenic score very early on to give us information about whether someone might have some learning problems later on.”
But other experts who have also mined genetic testing to predict behavioral outcomes warn that we have a long way to go before genetic testing can predict individual educational achievement, and that research is the genetic tool’s primary utility.
How genetic scoring tool works
Scientists use a special kind of DNA analysis called a genome-wide polygenic rating. It aggregates the tiny effects of hundreds of thousands of genetic variants to create the scale that can predict academic achievement. In this case, the researchers from King’s College London borrowed the formula for a polygenic score that others had already used to predict academic attainment( the number of years of formal education a person completes ).
They then applied the polygenic rating to a population of 5,825 unrelated children to see if they could predict how those kids would score on tests.
The King’s College researchers looked back at students’ academic scores at ages 7, 12 and 16 and found that genes alone accounted for a growing deviation in grades that grew as the kids get older. At age 7, genes accounted for about three percent of grade changes. By age 12, the number was up to about 5 percentage. By 16 years old, genes explained about 9 percentage of the difference in grades.
While 9 percentage may not seem like much, past studies have linked gender to about 1 percent of the variance between boys’ and girls’ performance in math, while high scores of “grit, ” or resilience, account for about 4 percent of educational achievement.
To set it in terms of grades, by age 16, kids with high polygenic scores had grades that, on average, ranged between As and Bs. Those with low polygenic ratings tended to earn Bs and Cs. Finally, those with the highest scores were more than twice as likely to go to university compared to those with the lowest scores.
How close are we to utilizing these exams in schools?
“We are at a tipping phase for predicting individuals’ educational strengths and weaknesses from their DNA, ” Professor Robert Plomin, senior writer of the study, said in a statement about the research.
While Plomin’s statement and the results of his survey might stir dreads of self-fulfilling prophecies, or could even backfire( if you tell a child he’s smart, it may induce him fearful and afraid to fail ), Daniel Belsky, a prof at the Duke University School of Medicine, says we’re a long way from exams that can be used in schools and doctor’s offices to predict a child’s academic abilities. However, Belsky, who was not involved in Selzam’s study but has conducted his own on genetics and educational attainment, also points out that the time to discuss these issues is now — not when the tests eventually do arrive.
“Findings from this study, along with others, suggest the possibility that we might somedays have genetic tools that can predict important dimensions of children’s life outcomes, ” said Belsky. “We should begin the conversation about whether we want such tools now, before more accurate genetic predictions become possible.”
Selzam is of a similar mind to Belsky on this issue. In the video above, she maintains that while these genetic analyses will continue to be useful research tools, policy makers and scientists would have to discuss how and when to deploy them, if at all, should a version of the test become available to the wider public.
The real phase of these exams: social science research
But other scientists who research polygenic scores aren’t convinced about their utility as a tool to predict an individual person’s educational abilities or achievement. Daniel Benjamin, an associate professor at the Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California, who was part of the initial group of scientists who generated the score Selzam used in her analyse, says their promise lies mostly in research.
“It’s definitely premature to start thinking about utilizing it to tailor the educational experience, ” said Benjamin. “But its predictive power is definitely big enough now to be useful for predicting differences in samples in scientific studies.”
Specifically, Benjamin believes that a more apt employ of these genetic tests would be in social science research. Once scientists start using these tools to control for genetic factors, they’ll be able to more precisely estimate the positive or negative effects of experimental interventions like, say, free pre-school, on children. In other terms, scientists will be able to more precisely estimate how much of a classroom’s accomplishment is due to class environment versus genetic predispositions.
“Knowing more about which genetic factors matter and being able to incorporate them into analyses will help us to better identify the environmental interventions that can help stimulate people better off, improve their educational outcomes and improve their cognitive health, ” Benjamin explained.
In fact, Benjamin’s past research has focused on the environmental changes that downplay genes’ importance in educational attainment. For instance, his May paper found that polygenic ratings were less predictive of educational attainment in younger Swedish generations compared to older generations. This could mean that the country’s educational reforms enacted in the 20 th century were successful in creating more equal opportunities for people.
Belsky also agrees that the point of understanding DNA’s consequences on educational achievement is to help develop programs that benefit everyone, regardless of what’s written down their genotype.
“Just because genes predict life outcomes, doesn’t mean they decide them, ” Belsky concluded. “The key is to find the pathways — molecular and behavioral — that connect our DNA with outcomes like educational success.”
Read more: www.huffingtonpost.com
Apple pushed by shareholders to investigate iPhone’s impact on kids8 hours ago
In an open letter, two institutional Apple shareholders are asking Apple to better study how its smartphones impact kids. Children and teens may be using these devices too much, and parents may not know how to deal with that.
“As shareholders, we recognize your unique role in the history of innovation and the fact that Apple is one of the most valuable brand names in the world,” Barry Rosenstein, a managing partner with the hedge fund Jana Partners, and Anne Sheehan, the director of corporate governance at the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, write in their letter to the Apple Board of Directors. The two organizations jointly control $2 billion of Apple’s $898 billion market cap. “We have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner. By doing so, we believe Apple would once again be playing a pioneering role, this time by setting an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers.”
The letter authors point out a host of research that supports the idea that early use and overuse of smartphones and social media can be detrimental to the health and happiness of a developing brain.
According to a study by the Center on Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta, for example, teachers report that children are less able to focus on educational tasks, and are more likely to exhibit emotional or social challenges. Professor Jean M. Twenge, a San Diego State University psychologist and author of the book iGen, also found that teens who spend five hours a day or more on a mobile device are at higher risk of committing suicide than peers who spend less than one hour a day on mobile devices. They’re also more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep, a factor linked to long-term health issues such as weight gain and high blood pressure.
These days, the average American teenager receives their first smartphone at age 10and typically spends more than 4.5 hours a day on it. “It would defy common sense to argue that this level of usage, by children whose brains are still developing, is not having at least some impact, or that the maker of such a powerful product has no role to play in helping parents to ensure it is being used optimally,” the duo write.
Apple does offer some degree of parental controls on iOS devices. Parents can restrict what features their child has access to, including things like Safari, the camera, Siri, and the iTunes Store. Parents can also restrict the downloading or installation of apps or the downloading of apps beyond a certain maturity rating. You can also customize privacy settings, so things such as Location Services or Advertising are switched off when a child uses that device. While these controls give parents a granular ability to customize their child’s iPhone or iPad experience, it doesn’t, however, limit how much time they spend on the device.
They hope that Apple can develop more nuanced parental device controls beyond the “binary, all or nothing approach” available to parents right now. To accomplish this, Rosenstein and Sheehan outline five things Apple should do: Form a committee of experts to study the issue, partner with these and other experts on research, develop new tools and options based on this research, educate parents about these options, and follow-up with standardized reporting to ensure these measures are effective.
The letter’s asks are reasonable, and its reasoning logical. Hopefully, if Apple isn’t already working on measures to help teens moderate their smart device usage, it will consider this research and these organizations’ requests.
Update Jan. 9, 12:56pm: Apple responded to the open letter late Monday, saying that it does plan to enhance its parental controls in the future. “We are constantly looking for ways to make our experiences better. We have new features and enhancements planned for the future, to add functionality and make these tools even more robust,” Apple said in a statement. “We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them. We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids.”
Thousands take part in Glasgow Santa Dash – BBC NewsYesterday
Thousands of Santas took to the streets of Glasgow on Sunday for the city’s biggest ever Santa Dash.
The event watched 7,500 athletes making such a style along the 5km route which started and ended up in George Square, the venue for Glasgow’s festive market.
This year – the event’s 10 th anniversary – participants were raising money for the Beatson Cancer Charity.
The Santa Dash has raised more than 100,000 for various charities working in and around Glasgow since 2006.
Beatson Cancer Charity’s mascot Bella and Kingsley, mascot for Partick Thistle football club were among those taking part.
Joyce Ross, corporate partnerships administrator at Beatson Cancer Charity, said: “We are overwhelmed with the unbelievable supporting from everyone who contributed to the success of this year’s Santa Dash.
“The event wouldn’t be as special without the valuable support from volunteers, fundraisers, sponsors and, of course, the 7,500 Santa Dashers. Thank you to each and every one of you!
“All funds created from the event will provide vital specialist personnel posts including nursing, radiography, physics and research based staff as well as funding enhanced medical equipment, innovative service developings, research projects and educational initiatives to support the 8,000 new patients and their families who attend the Beatson and its related facilities each year.”
Read more: www.bbc.co.uk
Poland wants to outlaw phrases like ‘Polish death camps’Yesterday
(CNN)A law proposal making phrases like “Polish labor camps,” “Polish extermination camps” and “Polish death camps” punishable by imprisonment for up to three years has been approved by Poland’s Cabinet.
Read more: www.cnn.com
Supreme court to address Duane Buck’s ‘racially tainted’ death sentence2 days ago
Justices will hear oral arguments for a new sentencing hearing nearly 20 years after expert witness testified being black predicted future violence
Duane Buck attended in 1997 the sentencing hearing in Texas that would seal his fate. The jury was being asked to decide whether to have him executed for killing his former girlfriend, Debra Gardner, and her friend Kenneth Butler.
There was no disputing the conviction Buck had carried out the brutal murders on 30 July 1995. Even so, he was still astonished by what he heard coming from the mouth of a so-called expert witness.
Walter Quijano, a then psychologist who was frequently called to testify in Texas capital trials, was asked to give his professional opinion with regards to a key issue concerning whether Buck should live or die. Under Texas law, in order to put him on death row the prosecution had to convince the jury that the prisoner posed such a danger of future violence that life imprisonment would be too risky executing him was the only safe option.
The prosecutor put a blunt question to Quijano: You have determined that the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?
Yes, the expert witness replied.
Its like hes basically saying because you are black you need to die, Buck told his lawyers a few years later, by now on the eve of his appointment with the death chamber. I felt that was strange because my lawyer didnt say nothing, and nobody else, you know, the prosecutor or the judge, nobody did. It was like it was an everyday thing in the courts.
That question whether it is acceptable in the United States in 2016 to put a prisoner to death because he is black will be addressed by the US supreme court in oral arguments on Wednesday. Lawyers acting for Buck from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Texas Defender Service will call on the nations highest court to reverse what they will argue was a flagrant case of racial discrimination, demanding a new and this time fair and colour-blind sentencing hearing.
Unless such an outcome is attained, the lawyers say in their appeal to the supreme court, the legitimacy of the criminal justice system will have been seriously undermined. Such a racially tainted death sentence calls the rule of law itself into question.
Amicus briefs submitted to the US supreme court in the case of Buck v Davis locate Quijanos evidence that African Americans are statistically more likely to be a future risk of violence than white people within the long tradition of toxic racial unfairness that has permeated the judicial system since the days of slavery. In their submission, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law suggested the psychologists supposedly scientific testimony was more reminiscent of the 1890s than modern America.
Given the long history of the stereotype of blacks as criminal, the amicus brief continues, it is not surprising that one of the strongest implicit racial biases is that between blackness and criminality, violence, aggression, and danger.
That is not a purely academic viewpoint. Research by the University of Maryland criminologist Raymond Paternoster found that at the time of Bucks sentencing, prosecutors in Harris County, the jurisdiction that tried him, asked for the death penalty for black defendants at three times the rate of whites.
One of the many remarkable features of the Buck case that the supreme court justices will be asked to consider is that Quijano was called upon to present his highly contentious evidence to the jury not by the prosecution but by his own defense lawyers. One of them, Jerry Guerinot, had a dubious reputation for losing death penalty cases on behalf of his defendant clients, having seen no fewer than 20 death sentences notched up against him.
Guerinot and his co-defense attorney Danny Easterling decided to call on Quijano to give evidence at Bucks sentencing trial even though the psychologist had plainly stated in a pre-trial report seen by them that being black was a statistical factor that increased the probability the prisoner would commit further acts of criminal violence. Race. Black. Increased probability of future dangerousness, was how the expert pithily put it.
The defense counsel went on to request against the objection of prosecutors that the same report by Quijano be put into the record and thus made available to the jury as they deliberated their sentence. In the course of two days of deliberations, the jury asked to see files that included the psychologists report, before duly sentencing Buck to death.
Bucks lawyers will argue in front of the US supreme court that the decision of the defense attorneys to present Quijano to the jury amounted to an astonishingly glaring example of ineffective counsel. Mr Bucks lawyers not only injected racial bias into his capital trial, they appealed to the uniquely pernicious stereotype that blacks are violence prone, the petition says.
As a further twist in the case, a few years after Buck was assigned the death penalty, the then attorney general of Texas, John Cornyn (now a US senator for the state), publicly admitted that a breach of constitutional law had occurred in seven separate cases. In each of them, Quijano had been called upon to present his racially discriminatory view that being black was an indicator of potential violence.
Cornyn promised that the state would allow re-sentencing hearings in each of the seven cases. The state of Texas honored that promise in all the cases bar one: that of Buck.
The people of Texas want and deserve a system that affords the same fairness to everyone, Cornyn said at the time he revealed that racial prejudice had infected the judicial process. On Wednesday, the eight justices of the US supreme court will be invited to state that they wholeheartedly agree.
Read more: www.theguardian.com
Germany’s Duolingo competitor Babbel sets its sights on the US2 days ago
Language learning serviceBabbel is one of Berlins quiet startup success stories. While it was once on the brink of shutting down, today its a thriving company with hundreds of employees who work in a sprawling office in the middle of Berlin and its the market leader in large parts of Europe. Unlike competitors like Duolingo, though, Babbel is a paid service. You can get a free trial, but after that you have to pay up if you want to keep using it. It also puts a stronger emphasis on carefully built lessons over the more algorithmic approach of Duolingo.
Now that it has a lead in much of Europe, the company is setting its sights on the large U.S. market. To do this, one of the companys co-founders, Thomas Holl, moved to New York in 2015 to set up the companys U.S. office. At the beginning of this year, it also hired Julie Hansen as its U.S. CEO, who will take over from Holl the lead of the companys U.S. operations. Hansen is the former COO and president of Business Insider.
I joined Babbel because I felt that it was a great product and a great company with a mission that I completely bought into, Hansen told me but she also was quick to add that while Babbel is definitely mission-driven, its not something the founders wear on their sleeves. Instead, its just part of the companys DNA.And we have a strong product its actually better than its competitors, she noted. That hard work of making a great product has been done.
While she also acknowledged that language learning is different from the media business, she stressed that her background was originally in consumer products and Babbel, in her view, is also in the content business.
Now, its about bringing that product to a market that is very different from the European market and that competes with a free product that currently has much of the mindshare. Babbel also once started out as a free product, but it wasnt able to scale that model. As the companys co-founder and CEO Markus Witte told me a few weeks ago, advertising simply didnt bring in the money the team needed to stay afloat. As a last-ditch effort before having to shut down the company, Babbel started charging its users.
Having ads in an educational app presents some fundamental issues that go beyond monetization. While Duolingo also monetizes through other means by offering certificates, for example one of its main vehicles for keeping the service free is through advertising. Those ads, however, are designed to pull you out of the app. Duolingo recently launched a subscription plan that lets you pay to remove ads, but the Babbel team argues that ads are simply not the right way to monetize a language learning service.
Hansen tells me that the U.S. market is already Babbels second-biggest market, but its lagging behind Central Europe by a wide margin. Its the first inning for us in the U.S., but we can get there, she said.
To do this, she is currently building out the U.S. team and executing an aggressive marketing campaign that includes everything from TV to online ads, as well as ads in podcasts and even direct mail campaigns. While it may seem odd to see an ad for a language learning app on TV, Hansen notes that this is actually working quite well for the company. Babbel mostly runs these ads on news channels, where the audience tends to be relatively educated and hence more likely to be interested in its product. Its also putting a strong emphasis on the Hispanic market in the U.S., where there is a strong demand for its English classes.
Indeed, as Hansen noted, besides the large English as a second language market,motivations for learning new languages tend to be different in the U.S. than in Europe. In the U.S., people often want to learn new languages in order to travel, as a self-improvement project or to reconnect with their heritage, for example.
Our product is the best for them, Hansen said, and noted that the company employs hundreds of teachers and linguists to create its lesson. Indeed, nobody at Babbel I talked to was shy to bring up Duolingo, which in Babbels mind is too focused on algorithms and unrealistic scenarios to be useful as a language learning tool (something the Duolingo team would surely dispute). We have not built a game or a thing we translate over and over, but a product that builds on learning methodologies and that we built specifically with your language in mind, Hansen said. When people understand that the product works better which weve proven thats really powerful.
Children In The US Are Dying More Than Those In Other Rich Countries3 days ago
A public health study has found that children in the US have shockingly high death rates compared with those growing up in other developed nations.
According to publicly available demographics, babies born in America between 2001 and 2010 had a 76 percent greater likelihood of dying before their first birthday than their counterparts in 19 other wealthy, democratic countries including the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, and Canada. During the same period, children aged one to 19 years had a 57 percent increased risk of death.
The analysis, published in Health Affairs, examined mortality among children aged from birth to 19 years using data collected as part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The 20 countries participating in the OECD had similar rates of pre-adult deaths when the project began in 1961, and the overall trend continues to be improved survivorship. However, by the 1980s, American child mortality began to lag significantly behind the more dramatic decreases seen in the 19 other nations. Since the 1990s, America has consistently ranked at the bottom.
The authors, led by internal medicine resident Ashish Thakrar at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, attribute the divergence to a rise in childhood poverty rates that also occurred in the 1980s and to America’s convoluted health care system.
“Persistently high poverty rates, poor educational outcomes, and a relatively weak social safety net have made the US the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into,” the paper concludes.
The National Center for Children in Poverty reports that 21 percent of all US children currently live in households whose total income falls below the federal poverty threshold.
Another contributor to the unusually steep infant mortality rate is the frequency of premature delivery among American mothers. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that America actually has similar rates of survivorship for babies born very pre-term (24 to 31 weeks). However, babies born at 32-36 weeks and 37 or more weeks gestational age had the second highest and highest rates, respectively, of mortality compared to 11 other countries. These numbers matter because American women were the most likely to give birth prematurely.
When delving deeper into statistics on the deaths of teens, Thakrar and his colleagues uncovered more sobering news: Americans aged 15 to 19 are 82 times more likely to die from gun violence, and black teens are particularly at risk.
The release of this study comes at a particularly troubled time in US health care, after attempts to repeal and replace the Obama administration’s affordable care act failed. Consequently, the future of a widely used fund that provides coverage to 9 million low to middle-income children – the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – remains uncertain.
And even when coverage assistance programs like CHIP are up and running, the US spends less of its GDP on health and child welfare than other nations, according to the study.
“The care of children is a basic moral responsibility of our society,” the authors wrote. “All US policymakers, pediatric health professionals, child health advocates, and families should be troubled by these findings.”
[H/T: The Washington Post]
Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach What They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies.4 days ago
PORTLAND, Ore. ― It was late morning in an artsy cafe, the smell of coffee and baked goods sweetening the air, and Ashley Bishop sat at a table, recalling a time when she was taught that most of secular American society was worthy of contempt.
Growing up in private evangelical Christian schools, Bishop saw the world in extremes, good and evil, heaven and hell. She was taught that to dance was to sin, that gay people were child molesters and that mental illness was a function of satanic influence. Teachers at her schools talked about slavery as black immigration, and instructors called environmentalists “hippie witches.”
Bishop’s family moved around a lot when she was a child, but her family always enrolled her in evangelical schools.
So when Bishop left school in 2003 and entered the real world at 17, she felt like she was an alien landing on Planet Earth for the first time. Having been cut off from mainstream society, she felt unequipped to handle the job market and develop secular friendships. Lacking shared cultural and historical references, she spent most of her 20s holed up in her bedroom, suffering from crippling social anxiety.
Now, at 31, she has become everything that she was once taught to hate. She shares an apartment with her girlfriend of two years. She sees a therapist and takes medication for depression, a condition born, in part, of her stifling education.
Years later, some of the schools Bishop attended are largely the same, but some have changed in a significant way: Unlike when Bishop was a student, parents are not the only ones paying tuition for these fundamentalist religious schools – so are taxpayers.
These schools are among thousands in the United States that participate in private school choice programs, which most often come in the form of state-level voucher or tax credit scholarships. Voucher programs offer publicly funded financial aid to parents for private schools. Tax credit programs usually offer individuals or corporations tax credits if they donate to a scholarship granting organization, which in turn offers private school scholarships based on various criteria, including income.
President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have openly championed such programs and have encouraged states to embrace school choice, arguing that voucher programs give parents an alternative to low-performing public schools. Currently 14 states and the District of Columbia have voucher programs, and 17 have tax credit programs. DeVos has made it a top priority to push a federal school choice initiative.
Many of the private schools that participate in these state-led programs are run by evangelical Christian churches. They are sometimes unaccredited and can teach a curriculum similar to the one Bishop studied ― all with the help of taxpayer dollars.
The textbooks used at all of Bishop’s schools were published by three of the most popular, and most ideologically extreme, Christian textbook companies: Abeka, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education. The ideas in these textbooks often flout widely accepted science and historical fact.
But the number of schools using these resources is largely unknown, even in states where they receive support from publicly funded scholarships. No state or federal organization tracks the curriculum being used in private school choice programs. The religious affiliations of schools that participate in these programs are also not always tracked.
That means there are thousands of kids receiving an extremist and ultraconservative education at the expense of taxpayers.
Several months ago, HuffPost set out to create a database of every private school in the country that receives taxpayer funding. We also tracked the religious affiliation of each school and looked at how many taught from these evangelical Christian textbooks.
HuffPost obtained lists of schools that participate in private school choice programs around the country. We searched for the most up-to-date lists on either a state’s education or revenue department’s website.
Several states did not keep a list of which schools participate in choice programs. In those instances, we went directly to the individual scholarship granting organizations in each state.
Our list totaled nearly 8,000 schools across the 25 of 27 states that offer private school choice along with the District of Columbia. (Two states that do not allow religious schools to participate in private school choice programs were excluded from our analysis.)
Then we researched the religious affiliations of each school by scouring each school’s website. If a school did not maintain a website, we emailed school representatives and often followed up with a phone call.
Our analysis found that about 75 percent of voucher schools across the country are religious ― usually Christian or Catholic, with about 2 percent identifying as Jewish and 1 percent identifying as Muslim. There were gray areas: At least six schools identified as non-religious but used a curriculum created by the founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.
Since a plurality of schools in these programs (42 percent) are non-Catholic Christian schools, we dove deeply into researching the curriculum of those schools. We searched their websites for information on curriculum sources and sent out emails to school leaders if they did not make their academic plan public.
We did not assess Catholic schools, which made up 29 percent of Christian schools, since there is already a large body of research on the outcomes of students who go to these schools. Evangelical Christian schools are newer ― many popped up only a few decades ago – and remain less scrutinized.
Indeed, we found many of the non-Catholic Christian schools (32 percent) were using Abeka, Bob Jones or ACE textbooks in at least one subject or grade.
We found that Abeka was the most popular textbook source ― used in about 27 percent of non-Catholic Christian schools ― and Accelerated Christian Education was the least popular ― used in about 5 percent of these schools. We could not definitively ascertain the curriculum used by about 2,000 Christian schools, because they did not respond to requests for information. Around 200 Christian schools told us they did not use these three textbook sources.
With taxpayers footing the bill for religious private schools, the separation of church and state, a cornerstone of American democracy, becomes a murky line. So how did it come to be that taxpayers are footing the bill for an evangelical education?
Most states have little oversight on the curriculum used in schools that participate in private school choice programs. Some states have zero regulations on the topic. Others require private schools to follow the state’s broad-based content standards but specify little else. (Rhode Island’s stipulations appear the most strict: Curricula in private schools must be submitted and largely equivalent to what is taught in public schools.)
Additionally, private schools that participate in these programs are not typically subject to the same accountability and transparency rules as public schools, although rules vary on a state-by-state basis.
It is difficult to ascertain exactly how many students use taxpayer funds to attend schools with evangelical curricula, but we do know that over 400,000 students nationwide currently attend school using money from a voucher or tax credit program, according to the education reform group EdChoice.
Some states are more transparent than others. In Indiana, about 4,240 students received over $16 million in scholarships to attend schools that use the Abeka or Bob Jones curriculum, according to 2016-2017 figures from the Indiana Department of Education.
These numbers could soon grow. DeVos is an advocate of school choice and religious education. While she failed in her first attempt to push a federal private school choice program via the Education Department budget, she has repeatedly said she will not stop trying.
The prospect of giving kids more access to these schools with public money is deeply upsetting to Bishop, who was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of bullying and corporal punishment she experienced as a child. After leaving high school and getting a taste of the outside world, Bishop fell into a deep depression. When she went to job interviews, she had no idea what to say about the education she had received.
What They Learned
HuffPost spoke to nearly a dozen former students and teachers at schools that relied on Abeka, Bob Jones and Accelerated Christian Education curricula. Many of these students, who consider themselves no longer religious, reported feeling traumatized by their educational experiences. A number of them communicate with each other via online support groups for survivors of fundamentalist schools, including Bishop.
Some say these curriculum sources left them woefully ill-equipped to thrive in a diverse society while instilling in them racist, sexist and intolerant views of the world. Bishop said her fundamentalist education made her wary of people from other religious groups whom her teachers and textbooks had demonized.
“Anything that wasn’t Christianity was a strange religion,” said Bishop, who made it a priority to study other religious practices after high school and even spent time with the Hare Krishna. “But even other denominations were evil. Catholicism especially.”
Another former student who spoke to HuffPost under the pseudonym Natasha Balzak, was taught at home that all Muslims hate America, she said. Teachers at her Florida school reinforced this idea, telling students to pray for Muslims and other non-believers, like atheists and gay people.
“When it comes to hateful ideology and rhetoric, I was taught a lot of things to skew my mind into believing ― I guess you could call it brainwashing,” said Balzak, 27, who is using a pseudonym to protect the identity of family members who are still deeply involved in their church.
Balzak recalled that her school, Coral Springs Christian Academy, used a mix of ACE and Abeka materials, but the head of the school said they were not aware of the school ever using ACE and that they currently used only Abeka in lower grades for phonics.
The school participates in Florida’s three private-school choice programs and currently enrolls 172 students on these scholarships. It received $554,418 in taxpayer-funded scholarships this year, according to a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education.
A HuffPost analysis of Abeka, Bob Jones and ACE textbooks confirms the recollections of these students. These materials inaccurately portray events in Muslim and Catholic history while perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes. The materials speak disparagingly of Native Americans and Native culture.
The chart below details some of the inaccurate and biased perspectives in these textbooks compared with the perspective of an academic who studies these issues.
A Bob Jones high school world history textbook portrays Islam as a violent religion and contains a title “Islam and Murder.” In the same textbook, when describing the Catholic Reformation, Catholic leaders are described as failing “to see that the root of their problems was doctrinal error.”
When describing the concept of Manifest Destiny, the term used to describe America’s 19th century expansion westward, an ACE textbook referred to the movement essentially as spreading the gospel: “It was considered God’s will that this vastly superior American culture should spread to all corners of the North American continent,” the passage reads. “The benighted Indians would be among the many beneficiaries of God’s provision.”
David Brockman, an expert on world religions, was presented with passages from the Bob Jones and ACE textbooks. Most Protestants would likely disagree with the theological and historical narratives portrayed in the books, he said.
“The textbook simply distorts history,” wrote Brockman, a non-resident scholar at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, after examining the selections. “And given the biblical command not to bear false witness, I would question whether a distorted history is consistent with Christian teaching.”
When Balzak attended a secular college in 2009, it was a shock to the system, she said. In her first environmental science class, she learned about climate change ― a concept she had been taught was a hoax.
“When I took my first real science class, a million light bulbs went off,” said Balzak, who had only been taught creationism in school. “Everything finally made sense.”
The experience made Balzak feel robbed of a fact-based education.
Indeed, Balzak’s former school, Coral Springs Christian Academy, includes a statement of faith in its parent-student handbook, which is posted on its website: “We believe God created the entire universe out of nothing.”
The handbook also describes the school’s attitude toward LGBTQ students. It says administrators will reject applicants or expel current students if they are caught “living in, or condoning, or supporting any form of sexual immorality; practicing or promoting a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.”
Coral Springs’ head of school noted that the institution had likely changed a lot since Balzak attended some years ago, although he has worked at the school for only a few years. He said that staff members do not recall the school ever relying significantly on Abeka materials, and says that the student body has become significantly more diverse,
“It’s a very different education I’m sure than 20 years ago,” said head of school Joseph Sanelli.
But in some ways, Balzak considered herself lucky. She said her childhood wasn’t traumatic, just deeply imperfect.
Bishop didn’t have such luck.
Some of the schools Bishop attended were worse than others. She faced the greatest difficulty from ages 11 to 13, when she attended Franklin Christian Academy in Georgia.
The school appears to no longer be open, according to the Georgia Department of Education list of private schools, and a series of calls to what Bishop said was an affiliated church were not returned.
The school consisted of three rooms, Bishop recalled, with most of the school’s 30-something kids spending all day in the same classroom. The school relied on an Accelerated Christian Education curriculum currently used by at least nine private schools in Georgia that are eligible for taxpayer funds.
ACE classrooms are uniquely designed. Students sit in cubicle-like offices, with barriers separating their desks. Teachers do not lead students in lessons or discussions. Instead, students spend all day silently sifting through a succession of readings and fill-in-the-blank worksheets. When students have a question, they raise either an American or Christian flag to get the attention of a class supervisor.
A 2012 training manual for administrators obtained by HuffPost lists an education degree as a “detriment” for the job. Indeed these supervisors’ lack of qualifications was once the topic of a “Judge Judy” episode about a decade ago.
At Bishop’s school, she dealt with intense physical bullying and verbal harassment. When she would complain about the harassment, school authorities told her to ignore it. They sometimes implied she was at fault and needed to get closer to Jesus, she said. The school did not employ professionals trained to deal with mental health issues, she added.
As a teenager she went nearly mute and thought about killing herself.
“I didn’t want to get out of bed. I did self-harm,” she said, speaking slowly and deliberately over coffee. “I just hated myself and I didn’t know what to do about it.”
It was also around that time that Bishop realized she was attracted to other girls. She repressed her feelings for decades, even spending most of her 20s married to a man.
An examination of ACE textbooks shows that its materials push strict ideas about gender roles and sexuality. Even now Bishop still sometimes finds herself shrinking in the presence of men, saying that it’s almost like “muscle memory.”
Balzak echoes these sentiments, saying that even her female teachers reinforced the idea that women are secondary to men. When describing the 1920s, a high school ACE textbook criticizes women for wearing short skirts and cutting their hair, calling it a violation of Scripture. Before the 1920s, when women were less likely to work outside the home, they “were comfortable to be discreet, chaste, keepers at house, good, obedient to their own husbands,” says the material.
School, Bishop said, made her want to give up on education. She spent some time being home-schooled, then at another Georgia school before moving to Roxboro Christian School in North Carolina. After less than two years there ― in which she spent much of her time hiding in the bathroom ― she dropped out and got her GED.
Roxboro currently participates in North Carolina’s voucher program, and representatives there confirmed that Bishop was once enrolled. The school also confirmed that they use Abeka, Bob Jones and ACE. Roxboro has received over $8,000 this year in voucher program and currently enrolls four scholarship recipients, per a report from the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority.
Two other schools Bishop attended are also eligible to receive monetary assistance via school voucher or tax credit programs. Bishop attended Beaufort Christian School in South Carolina and Neuse Christian Academy in North Carolina as a child. Beaufort Christian Academy uses materials from Abeka and ACE, per its website. A representative from the school confirmed that Bishop was once enrolled.
Neuse Christian Academy uses materials from Abeka and Bob Jones University, and it received $37,368 in scholarship money for 18 students, per the North Carolina Education Assistance Authority. The school was not able to confirm Bishop’s enrollment because it does not still have its records from that time.
How Did These Textbooks Come To Be?
Abeka, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education started selling textbooks in the early 1970s, a few decades before Wisconsin enacted the nation’s first voucher program. At the time, enrollment in fundamentalist Christian schools was booming. For one, recent Supreme Court decisions had banned school Bible readings and official school prayer. Groups of evangelical Protestants were alarmed.
The founders of these textbook companies dedicated their lives to pushing fundamentalist viewpoints. Abeka leaders Arlin and Beka Horton also founded Pensacola Christian College in Florida, which outlaws dancing and other “satanic practices.” They also founded Pensacola Christian Academy, a K-12 school that currently receives public funding for student scholarships via Florida’s tax credit program.
Bob Jones University Press is affiliated with Bob Jones University, which famously lost its tax-exempt status in 1983 after banning interracial dating, a policy it didn’t reverse until 2000.
Accelerated Christian Education was founded by Donald Howard, a Texas pastor. In his 1988 book, “World Awakening,” Howard describes AIDS as a plague sent down by God intended to punish gay people and other idol worshippers, like “feminists, prochoice, and Planned Parenthood advocates.”
ACE, Abeka and Bob Jones University Press leaders have largely similar educational philosophies, with a few subtle differences. The leaders of all three companies subscribe to an authoritarian vision of education in which students are taught not to question their elders. While ACE’s curriculum barely involves a teacher, Abeka’s promotes the educator as an absolute authority, per research from Binghamton University professor Adam Laats. They all have come under fire for providing children with an inadequate education.
Eleven separate reviews of the ACE program by experts and academics have repudiated the curriculum, according to research conducted by Jonny Scaramanga at University College London.
A representative of ACE responded to one of these reviews from 1987.
“Our material is not written with conventional viewpoints in mind. We do not believe that education should be nondirective or speculative, or that the final interpretation of facts and events should be left up to immature inexperienced minds as mainline secular curricula do,” wrote a former ACE vice president at the time.
The University of California system refuses to accept certain high school courses that rely on BJU and Abeka materials for credit. The Association of Christian Schools International sued the University of California System over this issue in 2005. A judge eventually ruled in favor of the UC System.
Still, American taxpayers continue to indirectly prop up these curricula through voucher programs.
It is unclear how the proliferation of private school choice programs has affected the bottom line for these textbook companies.
Representatives of Bob Jones University Press did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Representatives of ACE did not respond to requests for comment either, however its website claims they are in 6,000 schools around the globe, although a number of experts told HuffPost that they are skeptical of this number.
A spokesperson for Abeka noted that, while the company is aware its materials are used in private schools that receive public funding, “Abeka does not advocate or encourage the use of state or federal funding for private, Christian schools.”
“We recognize that academic scholars have differing opinions on historical/scientific content and that this frequently occurs in both public and private educational institutions as reported in the media. We are confident that our content is accurate, age appropriate, and academically rigorous,” wrote Brent Phillips, assistant to the president for business affairs, via email.
Educators Sound Off
Educators who use or are familiar with these resources told HuffPost that not all schools who use them have a fundamentalist approach. Indeed, not all schools who use these curricula are deeply religious, and they are used in a range of Christian schools. They emphasize that the quality of these publishers’ resources differ based on subject and grade level.
Bishop said that, while her “education did not equip me to get the most basic of jobs,” she praised the rigor of Abeka and Bob Jones vocabulary and reading comprehension lessons.
(Below, a passage on slavery from an Accelerated Christian Education textbook)
Dave Moore, executive director of Pittsburgh Urban Christian School in Pennsylvania, said that he does not use any materials provided by these sources but that “Abeka has excellent elementary grammar resources.” Pittsburgh Urban Christian receives scholarship money through Pennsylvania’s school tax credit program.
“I would still use it if we didn’t already develop our own curriculum. It does such a good job of it,” said Moore of Abeka’s elementary phonics and math resources.
If his school decided to use Abeka materials, he would direct teachers to be on alert for propaganda, he said.
“We do the same thing with secular textbooks,” Moore said.
Some educators told HuffPost they are happy with the education students receive with these resources. Stephen Lindahl, assistant director of Calumet Christian School in Griffith, Indiana, disagreed with characterizations of Abeka and Bob Jones University Press as pushing a far-right worldview. His school uses Abeka materials almost exclusively for elementary school and then a mix of Abeka and Bob Jones in some later grades.
“Abeka and Bob Jones and other biblically based curriculum try to approach academics from a biblical standpoint and from a moral, ethical view, which does not necessarily push any agenda outside of an understanding of God and who Christ is,” Lindahl said.
He noted that secular textbooks, too, often come with a specific point of view.
HuffPost also reached out to multiple national school-choice advocacy groups for their responses on our findings. None of them responded, even sometimes with weeks’ notice.
However, professors who have studied the curricula say they are dangerous tools for schools to wield.
“I want parents to know their children might be coming home with a book that looks like an ordinary textbook but the messages are not what people would ordinarily learn,” said Kathleen Wellman, a professor of history at Southern Methodist University who is working on a book about these publications. “Many universities don’t require history education, so for many Americans this will be their last exposure to history. And many students say they didn’t realize at the time how thoroughly indoctrinated they were being.”
Sometimes Bishop wonders what her life would have been like had she not attended evangelical schools. She tried taking online university courses once but dropped out after having trouble balancing academics with her job. She still thinks about trying college again from time to time but worries about the financial feasibility.
(Below, a passage on evolution from an Accelerated Christian Education textbook)
Growing up, her schools had never offered outlets for her interest in art or dance ― things that she maybe would have wanted to explore. The only thing she ever remembers wanting to do was perform, a far cry from her current job, working in the produce department of a grocery store. The only career paths presented to her revolved around the church.
“It would be kind of different if I was at a school that allowed me to head in a direction I wanted to go,” said Bishop, who lights up when talking about the dance classes she has taken as an adult. “I didn’t really get that chance.”
Kaeli Subberwal contributed to this report. Data and graphics by Alissa Scheller. Animation by Isabella Carapella.
This is the first piece in a HuffPost investigation on the policies and curriculum of schools that participate in private school choice programs.
Read more: www.huffingtonpost.com
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