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House Bill 1775 critics attack private schools, home schoolers

Ray Carter, Center for Independent Journalism 

This year, state lawmakers approved and Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law.

House Bill 1775 which bans Oklahoma public schools from teaching certain concepts associated with Critical Race Theory, such as the idea that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist” or that individuals “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.”

During a recent panel discussing that law, critics not only proclaimed their opposition to its provisions, but insisted true indoctrination is happening in private schools and homeschool settings, rather than at public schools that embrace Critical Race Theory in the classroom.

“You want to see indoctrination, take a look at some of the things that are going on in some of our private schools,” said Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa. “Take a look at some of the material that’s being sold for homeschooling purposes and you’re going to find an awful lot of indoctrination.”

“The stuff that I read when the homeschoolers get their curriculum, that’s indoctrination,” said Lawrence Ware, a teaching assistant professor and diversity liaison in the Department of Philosophy at Oklahoma State University.

Both men made those comments as part of a panel hosted by the Oklahoma Conference of Churches titled, “Is America a ‘Fundamentally Racist Nation’? A Faith Perspective.”

However, college-admission-test results and academic analysis both undermine claims that private schools and homeschools are embracing educational hokum and indoctrination.

“You can look at NAEP, the National Assessment of Education Progress. You can look at ACT, SAT scores. And you can look at rigorous evaluations of private-school choice programs,” said Patrick J. Wolf, distinguished professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas. “And in all cases, the opportunity to attend a private school tends to improve achievement outcomes for students.”

When Oklahoma schools are ranked based on average composite ACT scores, private schools dominate. Of the 50 schools whose students generated the highest average scores in 2019, private schools hold 35 of the top spots.

Wolf said data on student attainment — which measures whether students graduate from high school, enroll in and graduate from college — shows that access to private schools benefits students from low-income households.

“The evidence is consistently positive,” Wolf said. “The opportunity to attend a private school increases the attainment of students, particularly students from low-income backgrounds. There’s a lot of evidence to contradict the argument that private schools have shoddy curriculum or are just engaged in religious indoctrination. They by and large do a very effective job of teaching students.”

Wolf said statements that private schools are academically shoddy are typically tied to anecdotal claims, and often arise if a private Christian school teaches creationism based on a Biblically informed worldview. However, he noted those schools typically teach creationism alongside the theory of evolution.

“It’s really a canard that many private schools teach creationism in place of evolution,” Wolf said.

When Oklahoma schools are ranked based on only the science portion of the 2019 ACT college-admission test, private schools again represent the majority of the state’s top schools.

The data for homeschool students is similar and shows that homeschoolers’ average scores on college-admission tests and similar measurements are better than the average scores achieved by traditional public-school students.

A 2015 analysis released by the ACT college-admission test reported that composite scores for homeschooled students “were consistently higher than those for public school students” from 2001 through 2014.

The website for A2Z Homeschooling shows the average composite ACT score for homeschooled students was higher than the average score for public-school students every year from 1997 to 2017.

A 2019 report issued by the Home School Legal Defense Association noted that when Oklahoma homeschool students take state standardized tests, their performance places them in the 88th percentile, meaning they perform better than the overwhelming majority of public-school students across the state.

Wolf said the academic literature is “very positive in terms of student achievement and college entrance-test scores and how well students do in college who have a homeschool background.”

Even as they suggested that private schools and homeschools provide a subpar education based on teaching materials of dubious merit, members of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches panel also claimed public schools have effectively done the same, saying public schools that have not embraced teaching aligned with the precepts of Critical Race Theory provide a second-rate education.

“Never growing up in our school system was I, as a white child, made to feel guilt over things that have happened in the past, but I have been taught a very whitewashed version of American History my entire scholastic career,” said Shannon Fleck, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.

“Historically, our curriculum has largely excluded the history of black and brown Americans,” said Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest. “It is from a perspective of ‘Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and he discovered America,’ and ignores the fact that there were already people living here. We have been indoctrinating students.”

NOTE: This news story first appeared here. It is reposted with permission. Ray Carter is director of the Center for Independent Journalism.

Rev. Shannon Fleck, Oklahoma Conference of Churches
Alicia Priest, President, Oklahoma Education Association
A2Z Homeschooling shows the average composite ACT score for homeschooled students was higher than the average score for public-school students every year from 1997 to 2017.