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CSCOPE scrutiny prompts program’s defense, critics’ disparagement

CSCOPE, the controversial curriculum used in more than 70% of Texas schools, continues attracting attention.  After a contentious full-day hearing before the Texas Senate Committee on Education, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston and education committee chair, in conjunction with CSCOPE officials announced “sweeping” changes for the program – some taking effect immediately with others requiring a more long-term approach.  The changes to CSCOPE are underway and predictably, not all are pleased with efforts to bring transparency and accountability to this taxpayer-funded program.

The secretive nature of CSCOPE’s governing board, the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC), has been a common criticism.  The TESCCC board comprises the 20 executive directors employed by Texas’ publicly-funded Education Service Centers (ESC).  Nonetheless, access to this public entity’s meetings, even its meeting minutes, has been denied prompting a legal battle between the agency and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

One of the immediate CSCOPE changes is properly posting and opening to the public TESCCC board meetings as per the Texas Open Meetings Act.  A 1:30 p.m. meeting scheduled Monday, Feb. 18, at the Region 13 ESC (5701 Springdale Road in Austin) will offer the public’s first opportunity to attend a TESCCC meeting.  The Secretary of State’s web site says the meeting’s agenda will be posted Wednesday, Feb. 13.

The CSCOPE web site has generally acknowledged criticism of its program as “misinterpreted,” a “misunderstanding” or “misconception” and expressed steps to “remove any real or perceived barriers to parent access.”  The routine invoking of these positions at the Jan. 31 hearing prompted Patrick to tell three CSCOPE officials “if you were an airline, you’d be grounded.”

In a Feb. 6 news release, CSCOPE Response to Lesson Regarding Economic Systems, the curriculum’s economic content is defended – specifically a highly-publicized lesson in which students were asked to design a flag reflecting “characteristics of socialism.”  The lesson is described as follows:

The goal of this activity is to address the content and skills standards that have been adopted by the State Board of Education, and it is absolutely not promoting a way of life contrary to what we value as Americans. In this activity, students examine four different flags, beginning with the US flag, and analyze the colors, the design, and the graphics as symbols of each country’s characteristics and economic systems. Students then design a flag to demonstrate their understanding of the characteristics of socialism, as the standard requires (WH.18C).

The release continues:

CSCOPE has a significant emphasis on the free enterprise system. The other economic systems are only addressed as required by State Board of Education. Additionally, every lesson and activity in our system is customizable. The teacher in the classroom is the final authority on whether or not the lesson should be customized for his or her students and community.

The customization ability, classroom teacher’s autonomy and community standards components were points specifically and repeatedly refuted at the CSCOPE hearing.  That CSCOPE would promote this narrative one week after the legislative hearing during which CSCOPE officials failed to make their case for competency or credibility in spending public dollars for the benefit of Texas students, parents and taxpayers underscores the importance of the program’s current and upcoming scrutiny.

Additional insight as to the education industry’s response is found in a Texas American Federation of Teachers (Texas AFT) Changes in Store for CSCOPE, Under Legislative Pressure post.  After describing Patrick’s announced changes and the hearing as “some ideologically motivated critics and senators sympathetic to their views also attacked a handful of CSCOPE sample lessons for being insufficiently patriotic or too generous in their treatment of Islam,” the Feb. 8 post concludes:

Texans familiar with the mess that far-right-wing SBOE members recently made of the state’s social-studies guidelines—earning rebukes from conservative scholars as well as progressives for importing their personal biases into the curriculum guidelines—may be forgiven for wondering whether SBOE members have any business editing lesson plans. Lawmakers mindful of this concern may want to have a say in the matter, rather than leave it to a deal between Sen. Patrick and the CSCOPE vendor (the consortium of regional service centers).

Awkward phraseology aside, the Jan. 31 CSCOPE hearing presented a troubling picture of a taxpayer-funded curriculum whose administration seems outside any normal taxpayer accountability and government oversight channels while the course content suggests anti-American, impractical and poorly-crafted lessons.  Its campus-level implementation appears as another cause for concern as it seemingly attempts to enforce a regimented, indoctrination-oriented approach to classroom instruction.

CSCOPE’s administrators are free to see these issues as misinterpretations, misconceptions, perceived rather than real concerns.  Texas AFT possibly finds the curriculum supportive of its goals. Nonetheless, Texas students and parents along with taxpayers – the one’s paying the tab – deserve the opportunity for a long, hard look at what appears to date a black hole of education performance and funds.

Lou Ann Anderson

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist. As a contributor at Raging Elephants Radio and Examiner Austin, she writes and speaks on a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the creator and online producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses probate abuse via wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney as well as other taxpayer advocacy issues.

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