The era of CSCOPE lessons has come to an end, Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said Monday at a news conference.
Since November, the state-developed curriculum delivery system used by 70 percent of Texas school districts has generated hours of testimony in multiple hearings before legislative committees and the State Board of Education. The debate comes as a result of concerns about a perceived anti-American agenda in its optional lesson plans and a lack of transparency behind its operations. Some educators have also objected to the prescriptive way districts have implemented the system, which can involve governing every aspect of teaching.
On Monday, Patrick said that as a result of an agreement brokered over the weekend, representatives of the state-funded coalition of education service centers that oversees CSCOPE would notify the 875 school districts using the system that it would no longer offer lesson plans or produce them in the future. CSCOPE, he said, would return to the "original business plan of providing a management tool for teachers to stay on schedule" teaching the required state curriculum.
"I hope our superintendents and school boards have learned that as we move into an era of new technology where online learning [is going to play a greater part], we have to monitor what's being taught in our classrooms before the fact very closely with the same scrutiny that we did our textbooks in the past," Patrick said.
The CSCOPE lesson plans have long been in the crosshairs of conservative grassroots activists, led by a mother-and-daughter team that run the blog sites txcscopereview.com and redhotconservative.com. They believe the plans promote a "progressive pro-Islamic curriculum," pointing to questions like one that asked sixth-grade students to draw a flag for a socialist nation using symbolism after showing images of flags from the U.S., Soviet Union, United Kingdom and China. Another lesson asked students to compare participants in the Boston Tea Party to terrorists and attracted a mention on the Glenn Beck show late last year.
"We've learned one thing — lesson plans have a lot of subjectivity to them," said Kyle Wargo, a board member of a regional service center in the CSCOPE coalition. "When we talk about the subjectivity of those lessons, every lesson needs to be developed at the local level by a teacher who understands the needs and values of that community."
State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, proposed legislation that would require the State Board of Education to review all lessons offered by the management system. On its way to passage in the House last week, Senate Bill 1406 was blocked on procedural grounds. It was eligible to be reconsidered Monday, but Toth said at Monday’s news conference that he would pull the bill down following the weekend's developments.
Patrick's announcement quickly came under fire from Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal watchdog group.
“Today, political bullying resulted in hundreds of school districts getting thrown under the bus and essentially told to figure out for themselves where to find the resources to replace the service CSCOPE had provided them," Miller said in a statement. "The big lesson here is that if you can generate a witch hunt that includes enough incendiary and distorted claims, then there are politicians at the Capitol who are ready to throw their supposed commitment to local control out the window.”
Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican who sits on the State Board of Education, also reacted with disappointment to the news. In a statement released after the conference, he said parents should be able to review "100% of what their kids are being taught," but that Patrick's proposal, which he called "government control overkill," looked like a "a slippery slope to Internet filters, censorship, and other limitations on teachers in the classroom."
"Is Senator Patrick suggesting that a teacher can’t use an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal in his/her classroom unless the SBOE and Texas Legislature approve every article? Where does this stop?" he said. "The rural areas of Texas don’t want or need somebody from Austin telling us what’s best for our classrooms in our local schools. We need flexibility and transparency to do what’s best for our local communities."
In place of CSCOPE lesson plans, Patrick said he would like to see larger school districts partnering with smaller districts to provide plans. He added that he would also like the Legislature to "take more of an active role" in the oversight process, which currently falls under the State Board of Education’s purview.
"I don't think the Legislature wants to be in the situation in the future where we have parents and teachers and others coming to us with a question or complaint or a problem with the lesson plans in our schools and saying we don't have any control over that or any say in that," he said. "And so we have to step very carefully letting the SBOE take the lead in this, but also letting the Legislature have some oversight."