ABC News 13: Study finds many school Bible classes ‘problematic’

ABC News 13 and the Associated Press covered the research of SMU religious studies expert Mark A. Chancey. A new report by Chancey, “Reading, Writing & Religion II,” found that most of the 60 public school districts in Texas that offer Bible study courses aren’t meeting a 2007 state law mandating that the courses be fair as well as academically and legally sound. Weissert’s AP article was published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Chancey prepared the report for the Austin-based education watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. His study uncovered bias, factual errors and insufficient curriculum standards in Texas public school Bible courses.

An SMU Religious Studies professor, Chancey recommends the Texas State Board of Education develop Bible course curriculum standards and the Texas Education Agency be allowed funds for a teacher training program.

“As a biblical scholar and especially as a parent, I want our state’s public schools to take the study of the Bible’s influence as seriously as they do the study of science or history,” Chancey told The Dallas Morning News. “Academically, many of these classes lack rigor and substance, and some seem less interested in cultivating religious literacy than in promoting religious beliefs. Their approach puts their school districts in legal jeopardy and their taxpayers in financial jeopardy.”

Chancey, a professor in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, has devoted considerable attention to the constitutional, political and academic issues raised by religion courses in public schools.

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EXCERPT:

ABC News 13
Some 60 public school districts across Texas offer courses on the Bible, but at least a third aren’t meeting state requirements to be unbiased and academically and legally sound, a study released Wednesday concluded.

Written by Mark Chancey, a professor of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University, the study found that many districts’ courses favor conservative Protestant interpretations of the Bible. Many also present “problematic treatment of Judaism” while “promoting pseudo-scholarship, particularly regarding science and American history.”

“At a basic level, students are often being taught to experience Judaism only through Christian eyes,” said Chancey, who completed the study for the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the State Board of Education from a progressive perspective.

He said no courses in Texas were found to be favoring Jewish, Roman Catholic or mainstream Protestant views – only those held by conservative Protestants.

Statewide, 57 districts and three charter schools offered elective courses on the Bible during the 2011-12 school year. Chancey listed 11 of them as having the most successful classes, but concluded that 20 had the “most problematic courses.”

The total overall number of districts offering Bible classes is more than double the 25 districts that taught them during the 2005-06 school year. But Chancey further found that of the 25 that taught them back then, just nine districts still offered Bible classes last school year.

He said Bible classes tend to have a short half-life because they are generally offered in high school, when there’s little interest among students to take them. The courses also must meet a series of state requirements that make them difficult to begin teaching and then to maintain for more than a few years.

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