Friday, April 5, 2013

More on CSCOPE

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about curriculum, with some info about CSCOPE, the Texas version of Common Core. I went to a presentation about it Monday evening and learned a few more things. The full presentation is available at King Street Live, with speakers radio commentator Ben Streusand and Peggy Venable of Americans for Prosperity-Texas. Some details I picked up by monopolizing Mr. Streusand’s time afterward with my questions; if I have things wrong, however, please assume I got it wrong while gathering info during conversation without taking notes.
Ben Streusand, Peggy Venable, and Catherine Engelbrecht
I learned that it has been used for nearly a decade in some districts, mostly rural. In fact, it’s more a problem in rural areas than in cities—although my large suburban district has been using it, at least for some subjects. (Fun fact: CSCOPE isn’t an acronym for anything; it just seemed like an appealing name.)
There are Education Service Centers, (ESCs) across the state, where districts can combine, maybe county-wide or bigger, to share information, curriculum, and other resources. In cities, there are so many districts within a county that this simply isn’t an issue. Of those districts using ESCs, 80% use CSCOPE; they pay a hefty chunk of taxpayer education dollars for access to the materials.
To review, CSCOPE is supposedly a collection of lesson plans, 1600 or so, submitted by teachers, former teachers, and curriculum writers across the state. Submitters had to sign away their rights to review their materials and how they were used. No organization previewed the entire set of materials before implementing them, possibly not even the board of CSCOPE. And there are rumors that many of the materials were written by the same curriculum writers as the federal Common Core.
Teachers and others who use CSCOPE are required to sign an oath not to share the materials with the parents of students or anyone else. Supposedly this was for copyright protection of materials that are only digital. But it appears more secretive than that purpose deserves. Curriculum is subject to review by the State Board of Education, but CSCOPE sidestepped that requirement by claiming it is just “lesson plans,” not curriculum.
I looked up an official definition of “lesson plan”:
A detailed description of the individual lessons that a teacher plans to teach on a given day. A lesson plan is developed by a teacher to guide instruction throughout the day. It is a method of planning and preparation. A lesson plan traditionally includes the name of the lesson, the date of the lesson, the objective the lesson focuses on, the materials that will be used, and a summary of all the activities that will be used. Lesson plans are a terrific set of guidelines for substitute teachers.
What’s the difference between that and curriculum? Nothing. A lesson plan is just a small unit of curriculum. It’s like saying, “That’s not bread; it’s a slice.” Pretending it’s something else by using a different word is kind of a creepy way to get around having oversight, especially when you look at it in tandem with the no disclosure policy. Under those circumstances, we’d be remiss not to be suspicious.
Dan Patrick, my state senator and the head of the Senate Education Committee, introduced a bill to create oversight. As of today, the bill looks like it’s making progress. A public hearing was held Tuesday, and SB 1406 was approved in the Education Committee Thursday (voted 7-0 in favor). Next it moves on to the full Senate for a vote. Then it moves on to the House. It looks like it has a good chance. (There’s a similar bill in the House, HB 760, referred to the Education Committee, but not making as much progress yet.)
The legislation is the result of an agreement with the CSCOPE board, to implement oversight. Dan Patrick’s press release on February 8 describes what the legislation is designed to do.  In short, the agreement includes:
·         the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review all the materials;
·         CSCOPE board meetings must be public meetings;
·         teachers who submitted lesson plans will be allowed to review and reveal the plans;
·         parents will be allowed to review the lesson plans online.
Of course eliminating the curriculum entirely would be better than just overseeing it. Senator Patrick would have preferred legislation to eliminate CSCOPE altogether. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get enough votes to make that happen. It’s not really a problem of persuading Democrats to join in; Dems tend to represent larger inner city districts that don’t use ESCs, and therefore aren’t very interested in CSCOPE in the first place. It’s the GOP representatives of rural districts that are the challenge.
If you’re looking for someone to influence, a polite call or email to the following, suggesting they take into account your disapproval of CSCOPE, could be helpful. It’s too late to put forth legislation this session to eliminate CSCOPE (with the unlikely exception that SB 1406 could be amended to the point that it essentially gets substituted with elimination, but I don’t foresee that). But approval of SB 1406 at least improves the situation and gives us a first step.
·         Senator Robert Nichols, District 3
·         Senator Kevin Eltife, District 1
·         Senator Craig Estes, District 30
·         Senator Kel Seliger, District 31
·         Senator Robert Duncan, District 28 

Here’s one more opportunity for you Texans. This bill creates a method of review of the extremely large mass of lesson plans. The SBOE members aren’t going to be doing that alone. You could become one of the reviewers. Contact your representative on the State Board of Education and offer your services. The review is starting with social studies first, and then will move on to science. I don’t yet know all that being a reviewer entails. Pretty certain this would be volunteer work. But it could be extremely valuable.
It’s possible that, as we speak, the CSCOPE powers-that-be are scrubbing the materials of the most blatantly objectionable content. But if problems are found, those portions can be eliminated. Presumably if massive portions are objectionable and overall value is seen as negative, maybe the SBOE can disapprove of CSCOPE as a whole.
You can also find out if CSCOPE is used in your district and go directly to your local school board to insist on it being eliminated. No need to wait for the next legislative session, if we assert the power of parents, where the power belongs.
Americans for Prosperity-Texas provides basic information as well as links to more details. Also review Glenn Beck's March 7 story.

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