OPINION COLUMNS

CSCOPE ‘fix’ is anything but

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Texas Senator Dan Patrick and his colleagues in Austin looked almost giddy at Monday’s announcement of… well, I’ll let Patrick tell you in his own words:

“I’m very pleased to announce this morning that the era of CSCOPE lesson plans has come to an end,” he said.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

I half expected to see balloons and confetti drop from the ceiling. After all, it seems that much of this legislative session has been devoted to ending the controversial curriculum tool.

It was clearly a political victory for Patrick and all those who believe that CSCOPE is a Marxist, socialist tool to brainwash our youth into becoming liberal zombies.

No longer will students be forced to consider a different point of view from their own to understand why the British might see the Boston Tea Party as anything but a patriotic show of defiance or be forced to learn the basic tenets of Islam – the second largest religion in the world – because it might lead students to reject Christianity. (Those were two of the biggest complaints about the lesson plans.)

But there are a lot of people who aren’t celebrating, including some local critics of CSCOPE.

I contacted Sharyn Helm, who has expressed concerns about Decatur ISD’s use of CSCOPE and who co-authored a recent guest column for the Messenger on the subject. Here’s what she had to say:

“The concern remains about any online curriculum that may be on the horizon and the lack of oversight that it may have,” she wrote in an email. “Local parents remain concerned and involved at the state level in the efforts to reduce the number of standardized tests that our children our held accountable to.”

I think Sharyn goes right to the heart of the problem, and it has almost nothing to do with CSCOPE. If you strip away the culture-war aspect of the CSCOPE criticism, you’re still left with many concerns including the use of an online curriculum, oversight issues, content assessments, standardized testing and the ability to give teachers the resources they need to provide a quality education.

These are the issues I wish Senator Patrick and his colleagues would have spent more time addressing. But those topics won’t win them as many votes as saying they ended an “anti-American, anti-Christian” education product.

Just to make it official, Patrick’s Senate Bill 1406 yesterday passed the House after being passed out of the Senate last month. That bill would require lessons developed as part of a curriculum management system by a regional education service center (as CSCOPE was) be subject to review by the State Board of Education.

Interestingly, one local educator told me plans were already being put in place to create an oversight board for the nearly 1,600 CSCOPE lessons on the books. The SBOE was struggling to come up with enough people to serve on these review committees. And who knows how much money this additional level of government oversight would add to the budget? The fiscal note on the bill said, “The Texas Education Agency is expected to incur some costs related to implementing the provisions of the bill, but those costs are not estimated to be significant.”

I wonder what would constitute “significant?”

And what about all the large school districts, which actually serve a larger number of students than those schools using CSCOPE, who write their own curriculum with no state oversight? Why wouldn’t oversight be applied in those cases?

I have no problem with oversight of curriculum materials. It makes sense. We need to make sure the educational materials our teachers use are free from errors and contain the information needed to teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

Politicians seem to be good at identifying and eliminating so-called “bad tools” (CSCOPE), but not so good at identifying helpful resources for educators.

Take textbooks, for instance. It used to be that the state would approve textbooks, and then school districts would buy their textbooks directly from the state. But somewhere along the way, the state fell behind in adopting textbooks that include the TEKS. So the state came up with the instructional materials allotment that allowed school districts to purchase books, computers and technology-related services on their own.

By doing this, the state lost much of the control it had previously, and schools, finding textbook resources lacking, turned to other sources. CSCOPE is what rushed into that vacuum.

CSCOPE has drawn plenty of criticism, and many of those concerns are valid. But CSCOPE is more a symptom than the disease.

The heart of the problem is a failure to adapt to change in the way we collect, distribute, receive and analyze information.

When I was in school, teachers used a textbook as the primary teaching tool. It seemed like the best way to learn at the time.

But times have changed. We live in an information society, and that information is transmitted almost instantaneously. The Internet has had a tremendous impact on how we learn about the world around us.

Let me ask you this: the last time you wanted to look up information about a subject – let’s say how to build a playhouse – did you go to the library and check out a book giving you instructions, or did you go to a search engine and find pages and pages of different resources showing all different kinds of playhouses, from simple to incredibly complex?

Not only that, but with online resources, you were also probably able to read online comments from people who had tried the plans and could tell you if it was helpful or not.

Newspapers know quite well how technology, particularly the Internet, can take a business model that has been successful for hundreds of years and suddenly throw your world into a state of shock. Education is in a similar boat.

The challenge for politicians and the SBOE is how to apply the important issue of oversight to material that is now being produced, shared and seen by people around the world in the time it takes to hit “send” on an email, Tweet or Facebook post.

So while Senator Patrick and other politicians are patting themselves on the back for a job well done, I hope they realize their work has only just begun.

In fact, it should have started already.

Brian Knox is special projects director for the Wise County Messenger.

One Response to “CSCOPE ‘fix’ is anything but”

  1. Brian, you are correct on so many points. As we have heard repeatedly from our school district, TEKS standards, STAAR tests, and state lack of fill-in-the-blank seem to account for all of our educational woes. I often wonder why we don’t just forget about the state standards and do education the way it makes sense to us, focusing on high academic standards in a logical and traditional sequential order.

    The answer, I suppose, is that we have to meet certain standards to receive state monies. I suppose that the district is rather desperate for said funding. This may be hard to recognize in light of all the ipad purchases, new administration building projects, etc. but no matter. Apparently we are in dire straits.

    That being said, I guess we’re just going to have to accept all the awful nonsense handed down from the state or the TESCC or whomever until we can manage to elect school board members who: 1. Have any experience in education whatsoever and 2. Are willing to ditch the academically inane curricula available out there and focus on what should be the goal of education in this town: academics.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly and have repeatedly warned CSCOPE activists that this is just the tip of the iceberg. A symptom, if you will, of the absolute chicanery that has become public education.

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