Curriculum discussion once again took center stage at Thursday’s Decatur School Board meeting.
For the parents who spoke during public forum, the biggest topic was the district’s curriculum management tool: CSCOPE. Parents have voiced complaints about the product over the past few years following the district’s approval of CSCOPE four years ago. Concerns expressed in the past, including at a public meeting on the district’s curriculum last January, have included that it doesn’t allow teachers to teach the way they want, students have trouble mastering the content, some students fail to learn basic concepts and it overworks teachers.
The concerns have been shared, but the district hasn’t addressed them, according to some of the parents who spoke.
“I’m not upset with CSCOPE,” Tony Mooney said. “I’m upset with the fact that we have kids leaving the district left and right. I’ve talked to five different parents over the last month-and-a-half who have pulled them out and moved them to Victory (private school in Decatur) or are bussing them an hour away to another district. And they state CSCOPE is the biggest issue.”
Parent Susan Roberson said CSCOPE has drawn criticism from all over the state.
“When you have a curriculum that is so controversial as this one is, you guys are elected officials and you should by all means look into it,” she said. “You have parents who are up in arms, you have a Lieutenant. Governor who is convening a hearing, you have a state senator who is convening a hearing, a state board of education that is convening hearings, it’s time to listen to us.”
Jeanine McGregor of Ballinger, who spoke to the board last fall about her research into CSCOPE, gave the board an update and outlined her six major areas of concerns: philosophy of social constructivism and ideology of progressive liberal education; the implementation of intimidation, fear, guilt and covertness; the cost, financial accountability and public relations to schools and taxpayers; quality and substance of materials; misrepresentation and inefficiency. She said she’s also concerned about the emotional distress to students.
Speaking of the educators who designed CSCOPE, she said, “They promote a socialist concept, social constructivism in the classroom, filled with lessons and test questions that have anti-American and anti-Christian slant, and veteran teachers see right through the substandard product.”
The CSCOPE issue has apparently been a hot topic on some local Facebook pages in recent days. Roberson claimed that board member Gary Clayton had posted that parents who complained about CSCOPE were “self-serving.” She handed out a screen shot of a Facebook post she attributed to Clayton, which included the line, “Sometimes our children’s problems are genetic and not totally the fault of DISD.”
“I am here because my children are ‘A’ students, and they hate school,” she said. ” … My GT student does not have a genetic flaw. I demand his resignation, and more so, I demand his apology to every parent who has a problem with CSCOPE.”
Clayton was not at the meeting and could not be reached Friday for comment or verification that he was the author of the post.
Also on the topic of Facebook, parent Teri Houchin said she attended a meeting last month with administrators and again on Monday with parents, teachers and administrators regarding curriculum matters, and she wanted to clarify some of the information that had been posted on the social network about that meeting.
“We did not attack the district or teachers,” she said. “We have genuine concerns, and we want what is best for everyone. The things that are being put on Facebook, that’s not doing anything to help our district. We need to come together and figure out a solution to the problem.”
Wade Watson, saying he was speaking for “the silent majority,” said he appreciated the work being done by the school district.
“I don’t know if CSCOPE is good or not, but I know that I put my trust in these individuals (the school board) and the administrators of this district and the teachers and principals,” he said. “I know they work tirelessly, and they try to do the best for all the kids that are in the district. I want to publicly thank the teachers and administrators for all that you do. There is a bunch of us who don’t say anything, ever, but we want to say we support you.”
Because the comments came in public forum, the school board could not directly address the issues with those who spoke. However, a curriculum update was included on the agenda and discussed later in the meeting.
Superintendent Rod Townsend said he and Judi Bell, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, met with a group of parents in December. The parents asked questions and shared concerns about the district’s curriculum. They requested the district put a committee together to address the curriculum issues. A committee was formed, including four of those parents who attended the December meeting, six teachers, board member Marsha Hafer, Townsend and Bell.
Townsend said the committee met Monday and tried to pinpoint if the majority of issues were with the curriculum itself or in other areas such as assessment, resources, state standards or instruction and delivery. What the group found was that most of the concerns fell under local assessment and instruction and delivery.
“We talked to elementary principals, and we want to make sure the taught curriculum, the tested curriculum and the written curriculum matched,” Bell said. “We feel like there has been a disconnect there somewhere.”
To address that problem, Bell said the district will look at its resources, tests and the written curriculum grade-by-grade to see what changes need to be made to make sure they all match up.
Townsend said prior to the curriculum committee meeting Monday that the district had already made some changes regarding CSCOPE, including addressing the concern that teachers must tailor their lesson plan exactly as it is spelled out in the curriculum.
“It’s just a management tool,” Townsend said of CSCOPE. “We’re giving teachers the freedom to teach how they want to teach. That was one of the biggest complaints was that it took away all the creativity and the ability for teachers to provide their own lessons, and that was not the intent.”
He said that teachers can teach the lesson and test on the subject the way they want to as long as they follow the scope and sequence of the lesson.
Also, Townsend said the district has enlisted outside help to look for other curriculum tool options to see if there is a better one that fits the district’s needs.
“If there is something out there that’s better (than CSCOPE), I’m all for that,” he said. “But I’m not for making a change just to make a change.”
That curriculum, he said, must be “a good, complete, comprehensive, viable curriculum that is aligned with the state standards,” known as TEKS, or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. These TEKS curriculum standards are what students are tested on each year through the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR program. CSCOPE, he said, is aligned with the state standards.
The problems identified were not solved by the end of the evening, but board member Jeff Elder said it is important for everyone to work together as they work to fix those problems.
“I think teachers, administrators, everyone involved, the parents, no matter how disgusted they are, it’s still (about) communication, and I think it’s important everyone stays positive, and we’ll push the cart in the same direction,” he said. “We’re all trying to accomplish the same goal. Being negative and tearing down things, that helps nothing at all.”