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Texas Public School Bible Courses Sparsely Offered, Poorly Taught

Six years after lawmakers agreed Bible courses could be offered in Texas schools, the Texas Freedom Network finds that course offerings are neither "legally appropriate nor academically sound," according to a report released today.

Lawmakers, after much wrangling that included input from Jewish Houston Rep. Scott Hochberg, passed down a bill in 2007 that directed school districts to offer one of two options: the Bible as history or the Bible as literature.

Today, about five dozen school districts and charter schools offer some type of Bible course, including the Goose Creek, Klein, La Porte and Conroe school districts locally. But Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network says lawmakers probably wouldn't recognize some of the lessons being taught in Texas classrooms.

Nor has a deluge of requests to offer such a course rained down on the Texas Education Agency, as some lawmakers predicted. In fact, the number of districts that offer some aspect of a stand-alone Bible course now sits at 57 school districts and 3 charter schools out of just over 1,000 districts and charters across the state.

"If the kids in your classroom are relying on Hanna-Barbera cartoons on Bible stories or films about extra-terrestrials being angels, then you have a problem," said Quinn. "The legislature included some really good guidelines on how to do this course in the most appropriate way, and many have failed to implement guidelines."

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A review of class offerings by Mark Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, uncovered a sectarian bias toward conservative Protestants, some pseudo-scholarship beliefs such as Noah's sons begatting the races of the world and even a dash of new earth creationism.

In short, little has changed since Chancey last reviewed the courses six years ago.

Quinn attributes the problems to a lack of guidance from the State Board of Education on course content and no funding from the Texas Education Agency on teacher training. Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said the SBOE had offered broad guidelines, if not specific learning objectives, for the courses.

"We did not receive funding to implement professional development when the bill first passed, but we did include development of an online course to be offered through Project Share as part of the deliverables for professional development related to implementation of the new social studies TEKS," Ratcliffe said. "The course has been developed and is undergoing review right now."

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