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CSCOPE opponents aren’t the ‘thought police’

By Angie Browning and Sharyn Helm | Published Saturday, May 4, 2013

We believe that TCU Professor Steffan Palko meant well when he expressed his opinion (“CSCOPE curriculum review smacks of thought police”) in the April 6 Messenger. Like Professor Palko, we also never thought we would find ourselves writing on the subject of CSCOPE.

We have no hidden agenda. We are not Tea Partiers or far right-wing Christian Conservative activists, and we are not selling anything. We have no ties to the education business or process. We have no personal grievances. We just know that our children are receiving a substandard education.

We are not alone, either. Concerned mothers and fathers, school superintendents from other districts, elected leaders and legislative bodies are all speaking out against CSCOPE. Opposition comes not only from those who dislike its pointed and often obscure political ideology. In Decatur, many parents see it as just a failed curriculum and assessment system.

We could point out the state and national attention CSCOPE has drawn for politically inciteful and potentially directed lessons. But most parents in Decatur need only to look at the reams of homework and the dreaded six-weeks unit assessments to see the gaps, mistakes, misspellings, poor sequencing and so on.

The most damning evidence that CSCOPE is failing our children is when we pick them up at the end of the day and see their beaten-down spirits. We do not want to open our children’s backpacks with them anymore. We do not want them to relive the failure of a system that is failing them. We hope we’re painting a picture that this is not politically motivated.

We have concerns that have not been addressed, and questions that receive only ambiguous answers. The fact is, CSCOPE has been under investigation by the State Board of Education since at least November. In the board’s November meeting Patricia Hardy, Region 11 representative, said when the state cut funds several years ago to Region Service Centers, they had to find a way to fund themselves – hence the creation of CSCOPE. Now our children are guinea pigs for a curriculum and assessment system that is still in development.

What if in the not-so-distant future, this experiment fails? Are our children expendible? Much is at stake.

Many parents in Decatur share similar concerns about CSCOPE. Our students range from Gifted and Talented to some with learning disabilities. Many of us have been publicly vocal in our concern about the poor academic quality of CSCOPE, and some of us have engaged in conversation with Decatur ISD Superintendent Rod Townsend and the board of trustees, and many parents have individually emailed administration.

Many of us have been criticized for having done so. As we write this, some of those parents are in the process of moving their children to other schools or home-schooling. We know of parents who are pulling what would be third- and fourth-generation Decatur graduates out of the district – not just because of the poor academics we associate with CSCOPE, but also the plummeting morale it has brought to students and teachers.

We encourage everyone to research CSCOPE on the Internet. They will find that powerful people in our state are just as concerned as we are. CSCOPE is now under investigation by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, and many districts, including Van and Prosper, are discontinuing CSCOPE because of both academic and content concerns.

There are investigations into the financial aspects of the curriculum. People question the relationships between TASA (Texas Association of School Administrators) and the Region Service Centers that are the administrators of this curriculum.

We have administrators in Decatur who serve on committees and represent Decatur at CSCOPE conferences, and our district pays membership dues to the Service Center. Recently the TESCCC, to which the Region Service Centers turned over management of CSCOPE, relinquished its 5013c nonprofit status, effectively prohibiting parents and taxpayers from seeing exactly what is being taught to our children and how.

Multiple bills have been filed in this legislature due to the failure and obscure nature of CSCOPE. Some of these legislators may be concerned with political ideology, but all are concerned about the poor academic quality of CSCOPE.

Together, all of these points should make any informed parent question whether CSCOPE is a political trough of pork and wonder who is feeding off of it while our kids are starving from academic deprivation.

Shaky foundation

The bulk of the concern about CSCOPE lies in the elementary grades. We have no idea how this lack of foundation will affect students as they move into the upper grades.

CSCOPE was adopted by the Decatur ISD board of trustees in 2009, so it has been in place for four years. Those of us who have children in the sixth grade and under are most familiar with the gaps and lack of building blocks that are so vitally important to achieve prior to moving on to conceptual and abstract learning.

CSCOPE’s scope and sequence, content and assessment system has severely hampered our children’s educational growth and in some cases, broken their academic spirit. There is a significant lack of focus on building blocks of learning. A student in any given elementary grade level can have 20 learning concepts thrown at him in six weeks due to the haphazard bundling that CSCOPE uses to scope and sequence the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) – state-mandated grade-level mastery skills.

We love our children’s teachers, but CSCOPE ties their hands with its erratic timeline. The push to stay on sequence leaves students without a mastery of subjects and concepts so critical to move on to the next level. We fear that CSCOPE will render a generation of kids unable to critically think, read, compute. They will simply be left behind. Often, teachers have spoken off the record that they have no choice, and they empathize with us.

Again, we encourage parents to research CSCOPE. See if you can find the authors of the lessons, who edited the lessons, how long CSCOPE was researched and how was it proven to be so successful that it spread like wildfire into 70 percent of Texas school districts in such a short amount of time.

Professor Palko says CSCOPE is cost-effective for districts that cannot afford curriculum development staffs. But CSCOPE is not cost-effective if it is harming the educational growth and killing the academic spirit of our children.

We can’t speak for other school districts, but for at least 95 years, Decatur ISD did a great job of educating people who love this community. Multi-generational families live here with thriving businesses – such loyalty is a rare thing for any small community in this day and age.

In CSCOPE, we’re asking elementary-age students to use abstract reasoning when they are just beginning to understand and learn basic building blocks. They’re still learning to read – they’re not equipped to judge whether the information being presented by their teacher is accurate or biased. It’s like asking first-year medical students to perform brain surgery.

Blaming TEKS, the State Board, the Legislature, standardized testing, etc. is just passing the buck. We understand what the TEKS are, but we also know that basic math, language arts, science and social studies have not changed. When did all the history that happened more than five years ago become irrelevant? What is so 21st-century about skipping basic math skills? Why has good penmenship been thrown out with grammar?

The board of trustees and the superintendent, who have heard our concerns and failed to respond, are responsible. The buck stops right here in Decatur.

Professor Palko refers to the U.S. Constitution protecting our freedom of thought, speech and religion. If he were to look closer at CSCOPE lesson plans, he would see that as the TEKS mandate, all major world religions are taught in social studies. Anyone who watches the news can see that Islam is trending in Texas public schools. Perhaps this is because of the tension that exists between the United States and the Middle East, or perhaps because the authors of CSCOPE feel that American students are already familiar enough with Judeo-Christian theology, so their time is better spent on the unfamiliar.

Or maybe the anonymous CSCOPE writers are indeed trying to influence our children to the Islamic culture/religion. Parents will never know because we aren’t allowed to look into CSCOPE. If it was in a textbook, we could open it, see the authors, editors and publishers. This is not possible with CSCOPE.

We would expect Professor Palko is confident that his university is producing teachers who are capable of teaching based on the TEKS without the use of a one-size-fits-all curriculum like CSCOPE. We would expect that he is training administrators to lead and, if necessary, weed out teachers who cannot function without reading from a script.

Our students deserve better. Our teachers deserve better. No one is trampling on teachers’ rights or their freedom of thought, speech or religion. What is being trampled is the academic spirit of students with a zest for learning.

That’s the legacy of this terrible curriculum.

Angie Browning and Sharyn Helm are parents of children in Decatur ISD. They were invited to write this piece for the Messenger.

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