AUSTIN, Texas – Texas is such a politically and culturally conservative state that it’s been said even their Democrats are Republicans.
That’s why news reports of Texas K-12 students being taught left-wing lessons have resulted in a huge public outcry throughout The Lone Star State.
Last fall, there were reports of a lesson plan that had been used in Texas schools that required students to view the Boston Tea Party as an act of terrorism.
Another lesson plan reportedly asked sixth-graders to design a flag for a newly formed socialist nation. A watchdog website published an excerpt from the lesson plan which instructed students “to represent aspects of socialism/communism on your flag.”
And earlier this year, it was reported that high school girls in one Texas school were required to wear burqas (a garment worn by Muslim women that conceals everything but their eyes) as part of a lesson about Islam.
According to one student, the teacher told the class, “We are going to work to change your perception of Islam.”
As stories of these incidents spread throughout the media, Texas’ parents, taxpayers and lawmakers began demanding to know why children were being exposed to left-wing, anti-American ideas in the classroom.
One name kept popping up at the center of each of the controversies: CSCOPE.
CSCOPE is an online “curriculum management system” that takes state-mandated learning standards and plots out the grade levels that Texas schools should be teaching certain topics. Essentially, it’s a big calendar that helps teachers cover all the material that students will be tested on by the state.
About 75 percent of Lone Star State’s 1,227 school districts currently use CSCOPE, which is produced by state-operated Education Service Centers – through a non-profit consortium – and sold to school districts, reportedly for $7 per student.
CSCOPE, by the way, only appears to be an acronym; its letters don’t contain any actual meaning.
While there’s some criticism about public organizations using tax dollars to create an educational product to sell back to taxpayer-funded school districts, that’s only a side controversy.
Left-wing lesson plans
The biggest trouble surrounding CSCOPE stems from the 1,600 sample (or “exemplar”) lesson plans and assessments it offers to teachers. The lesson plans and assessments cover all major subjects from kindergarten through high school. The materials are written by current and retired Texas teachers so educators can navigate more easily through the state-required learning standards.
CSCOPE critics point to the controversial lesson plans and conclude that some left-leaning teachers are trying to promote their ideology in Texas’ classrooms.
Historian David Barton analyzed CSCOPE’s trove of social studies lesson plans and found they ignored concepts such as “American exceptionalism, the study of federalism and majority rule, along with patriotic symbols like the Liberty Bell,” reports the Blaze.
Barton also reviewed a CSCOPE lesson plan for grades 1 through 3 that contained a list of American “heroes.” Of the 14 heroes listed, 11 were individuals who represented a secular-progressive political ideology, while only three represented a conservative or moderate political viewpoint, the Blaze reports.
Another CSCOPE lesson about Christopher Columbus suggested the explorer was an “eco-warrior.” The lesson plan removed all references to God and Christendom from the explorer’s journal, reports the news site.
While CSCOPE officials have not responded to Barton’s findings, they have pushed back against criticisms of their other lesson plans, specifically the “Boston Tea Party-as-terrorism” and the “pro-Islam” lessons.
An announcement on the CSCOPE homepage says the controversy comes from those who have “misinterpreted” the lessons and taken them “completely out of context.”
“It is worth noting (that) neither the lesson on Islam, nor the terrorism lesson ever received any feedback or complaints from CSCOPE users,” the announcement reads. “However, both lessons were no longer aligned with state standards, so they were removed in a timely fashion.”
Here come the review panels
CSCOPE officials add that teachers are in no way required to use the sample lesson plans, and are always free to amend them however they see fit.
But David Bradley, a member of the State Board of Education, wrote in a recent op-ed that a “document handed out during a 2012 CSCOPE summer training session called for rigid compliance with CSCOPE content, stating that steps should be taken to ensure that ‘individual teachers do not have the option to disregard or replace assigned content.’”
The Texas Education Agency – the state department of education – oversees the Educational Service Centers responsible for selling CSCOPE to individual school districts.
TEA officials, eager to tamp down the controversy, recently announced the formation of 14 review panels that will scrutinize the CSCOPE social studies lesson plans and assessments for any political biases they may contain.
TEA officials are inviting residents to join the review process and began collecting applications from interested individuals earlier this month. The review panels will meet during the summer, and will make any recommendations for changes to CSCOPE officials by early August.
The beleaguered “educrats” behind CSCOPE have been so rattled by the public outrage that they recently reached an agreement with Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick to post all lesson plans online for public inspection and to give serious consideration to any input provided by the review panels.
CSCOPE leaders have also agreed to make all of its meetings open to public inspection.
Patrick, who has been one of CSCOPE’s leading critics, praised the group’s new-found spirit of cooperation, but is pushing legislation that would enshrine the agreement in state statute.
“The agreed-to reforms were a step in the right direction, but they still have much to do and need to do it sooner rather than later,” Patrick said in a March 7 press release. “If they don’t get their act together soon, they run the risk of having the entire program shut down.”
Is CSCOPE effective?
CSCOPE is well on its way to being enshrined as a permanent feature of Texas’ public education system – provided it survives the current firestorm.
That leads to a practical question: Is CSCOPE working?
It depends on who is asked, of course.
But a 2011 scholarly analysis published in the National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal concluded “there were no significant differences between the adjusted mean scores of CSCOPE districts and non-CSCOPE districts in either mathematics or science.”
A less-scientific study echoed those sentiments. According to a recent survey of educators in Texas’ Tyler Independent School District, 75 percent of teachers said CSCOPE “does not adequately prepare students for the next grade,” reports KETK NBC.
It appears the CSCOPE is better at creating controversy than it is at fostering student achievement.
After Texas’ review panels complete their review of CSCOPE’s lesson plans for political bias, perhaps taxpayers should ask their local school board members to conduct their own review of the curriculum management system.
It could turn out the CSCOPE is way more trouble than it’s worth.