The online system that has helped hundreds of Texas school districts adhere to ever-expanding and increasingly-complex state curriculum standards has found itself squarely in the crosshairs of the 2014 Republican Primary for Lieutenant Governor, where, if recent history is any indication, the Tea Party faction will determine the party’s nominee.
In late May, as the 83rd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature was concluding, Senator Dan Patrick,R-Houston, chair of both the Senate Education Committee and the legislative Tea Party Caucus, proclaimed, “The era of CSCOPE lesson plans has come to an end.”
Effective August 31, Senator Patrick decreed, approximately 875 school districts in Texas could no longer use the framework known as CSCOPE for teaching the state-mandated curriculum.
Senator Patrick’s dictate caught most Texas school districts off-guard.
“CSCOPE has been a very viable product for small, rural school districts across the state,” said Randy Willis, superintendent of Granger ISD in Central Texas. “The loss of this is devastating.”
Why is CSCOPE so maligned by the Tea Party? Professor Steffen Palko of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth says it’s an example of the “thought police” in action.
Mary Ann Whiteker, superintendent of the Hudson school district in East Texas, contends that Senator Patrick and his Tea Party allies have taken some CSCOPE lessons badly out of context, including one CSCOPE curriculum lesson plan that suggests that students discuss the 1773 Boston Tea Party as a morally legitimate, but illegal act.
“When the State Board (of Education) tells you that you are supposed to teach the major religions and the beliefs of those religions, it’s then turned on you that you are promoting the Islamic religion because you teach students what the Islamic religion is,” Whiteker said.
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, is more blunt in her criticism: “Senator Patrick seems to think someone has appointed him Texas classroom czar, with the power to dictate to local teachers what they can and can’t do in their own classrooms.”
Regardless, Senator Patrick is touting his demolition of CSCOPE in his newly announced campaign for Lieutenant Governor, even advising on his Facebook page that he wants to be alerted to any on-going use of the online curriculum by Texas school districts.
Current Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who by all accounts had a politically miserable legislative session, isn’t going to allow Senator Patrick to take all the credit for dismantling an effective classroom tool that has been used by nearly 80 percent of all the school districts in Texas, and which has been especially beneficial to smaller districts that cannot afford central office curriculum teams.
“I’m going to step all over their face on this. We’re going to stop this,” the tough-taking incumbent Lieutenant Governor said in a podcast with Denton County Tea Party supporters.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, the two other announced Republican candidates for Lieutenant Governor, also say that they are opposed to CSCOPE, although neither is yet to elevate their political rhetoric to the face-smashing level.
Rhetoric aside, the top attorney with the Texas Education Agency says there’s still nothing in state law that prohibits school districts from using the approximately 1,600 CSCOPE lesson plans. TEA attorney David Anderson told the State Board of Education that CSCOPE is now in the public domain, meaning that its lesson plans can be used in any school district.
That’s what Somerset ISD superintendent Saul Hinojosa wants to hear. “We actually purchased the curriculum, so does the curriculum belong to the school district, or does it belong to the state?” Hinojosa asks rhetorically, crediting CSCOPE with helping raise student test scores in his small South Texas district.
With the Legislature floundering in its third special session of the year — and with the start of another school year just weeks away — Senator Patrick asked Governor Perry to place the issue on the legislative agenda, hoping to seal CSCOPE’s fate, once and for all.
Any pending legislative action clearly rubs Corrigan-Camden ISD superintendent Tom Bowman the wrong way because it flies in the face of the bedrock philosophy that political conservatives espouse: the desire for greater local control.
“For Dan Patrick to be deciding what’s going to be in our curriculum is all at the heart of the problem for me,” Bowman said. “I trust our local community and our local school board. I’ll take my chances with my community and with my school board when it comes to making decisions about what we’re teaching, and how effectively we’re teaching it.”
Andy Welch retired in June 2011 as Communication Director for the Austin Independent School District. This commentary is adapted from an EduLege column that he wrote for the Texas School Public Relations Association.