Texas Curriculum Parents Can’t See Faces Legislative Scrutiny

Published April 1, 2013

A set of Texas curriculum and tests has become controversial for lesson plans suggesting the Boston Tea Party could be considered “a terrorist organization,” having children design flags for an imaginary socialist country, and barring parents from access to the online-only materials.

Eighty-five percent of Texas school districts use CSCOPE (not an acronym), a nonprofit districts created and fund that sells K-12 lesson plans, tests, and student records software back to them. This arrangement has raised questions about whether CSCOPE double-charges taxpayers. Districts pay $7 to $9 per student, per year to use CSCOPE.

“We are deeply disturbed by the CSCOPE content and have significant legal concerns about the program’s operations,” wrote Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot in a letter to state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) last week. “Inexplicably, CSCOPE’s officials still have not taken any real steps to address the very concerns that have been raised thus far.  It is time for the veil of secrecy to be eliminated and we will continue working collaboratively with the Legislature until CSCOPE is held accountable for any potential improprieties.”

The Texas Board of Education held the first in a series of public meetings on CSCOPE Friday. Since the Texas legislature held a hearing on CSCOPE, the organization has agreed to hold board meetings in public, dissolve its nonprofit status, and allow parents to access materials by this summer. The Texas House will hold hearings this week on Senate Bill 1407, which requires all these changes and would give the state school board oversight of CSCOPE.

Back Off, Parents
A primary complaint against CSCOPE has been that parents could not see what their children were being taught unless they viewed the lessons on a school computer under teacher supervision. Texas and federal law gives parents access to all instructional materials their children encounter at school. CSCOPE officials argued that giving parents access at home would violate their copyright and make tests available to parents before students took them.

Parents weren’t the only ones pushed back by tight CSCOPE security. It took Texas Board of Education Chairman Barbara Cargill six months to get access to CSCOPE, reported Ann Work in the Times-Record News.

Nonprofit Black Box
CSCOPE officials initially claimed that, since the materials were technically owned by a nonprofit and not a government agency, even though government schools created the nonprofit and all its funds come from taxpayers, they did not have to respond to public information requests or hold board meetings in public. Abbott instead ruled its parent organization is a governmental body that should operate publicly.

Because CSCOPE is billed a “curriculum management system” and not curriculum, and is entirely online, this exempts it from state board of education review, which is required of all curriculum used in Texas.

“It’s the public who has a right to know,” said Peggy Venable, Texas director of Americans for Prosperity, at the board of education hearing. “It’s our dollars being used to educate kids.”

Teachers in school districts that use CSCOPE must sign strict nondisclosure forms.

Pushing Progressive Teaching
During the last legislative hearing on CSCOPE, a long-time algebra teacher broke down in tears as he testified that he quit his job rather than continue providing students low-quality instruction with CSCOPE.

CSCOPE lessons use what is known as the 5-E instruction model: Engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate, Work reported. This style of instruction has teachers functioning as facilitators who raise questions and stimulate class discussion rather than teach children knowledge.

Although few teachers teach traditionally, where the teacher considers it her goal to authoritatively impart knowledge, research has shown kids learn more under this style of “direct instruction.”

“Direct instruction has the teacher driving the lesson plan and not the students deciding when and if they want to learn,” said retired Texas teacher Donna Garner. “In constructivist classrooms, the students walk in and immediately take over the classroom, sitting in close proximity to each other [in circles].They then become chatty and feel the teacher is of no real value since she is the facilitator.”

Without first establishing class discipline, no quality instruction can occur, she said.  

Image by The Texas Tribune.