Many of the schools involved in lawsuits over state regulation use a curriculum designed by Accelerated Christain Education in Garland, Tex. Providing everything from furniture to class materials, ACE is used by 2,500 schools in the country, with 600 more opening this September, according to founder and president Donald Howard.
"We wanted our children to have a Christain education based on the philosophy of creationism," Howard said. Creationism, he said, 'is the opposite of evolution. We believe God created everything; it didn't just happen."
ACE students work in cubicles, called "offices," following packaged lessons called "Paces." Each pace is 20 to 40 pages long and the child is expected to complete at least two pages a day. The "offices" offer privacy and "give strong control in the classroom," he said.
In addition to the fundamentalist Christian philosophy that permeates all academic learning, the curriculum includes a heavy dose of patriotism. In many schools, if a child has a question on his school work he raises a state flag; if he wants to go to the restroom or has a nonacademic problem, he raises a U.S. flag. "It's a convenience," Howard said.
Uniforms are recommended, but not required. Howard believes children who wear uniforms make better grades.
The average ratio is one teacher for every 45 students, Howard said, and many schools have fewer than 50 students. "A church can open its school doors for $5,000" for that many students, Howard said, including materials and travel to Texas for a required one-week training program.
The schools have been criticized in court testimony for depriving children of the benefit of associating with their peers during the learning process and for not teaching enough to allow them to cope with the real world."They teach history as Biblical history, Biblical science, and so forth," said one critic, who asked not to be named. "It's very sincere but just doesn't equip a child for the world today."
In response, Howard says that an independent study of 200 ACE schools showed the children in them did better on the California Achievement Test than most public school students.
He said that the ACE curriculum, as do other fundamentalist church schools, teaches that there are absolutes, right and wrong moral values, and that the Bible has the answer for every question. The style of education he and his wife devised is based on "individualization," he said. "It's just like the old one-room schoolhouse."