Venable: CSCOPE or C-SCAM?
Posted: Saturday, May 18, 2013 4:00 am
CSCOPE is among the most controversial topics in the Lone Star State. Surprisingly, many Texans have never heard of it.
CSCOPE is a curriculum management system that has been sold to more than 850 Texas public, private and charter schools. It was developed by a division of the Texas Education Agency, which went to great lengths to avoid public oversight over the process.
Directors of the agency’s regional Education Service Centers created a nonprofit shell organization called the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative, which exists in name only, and made themselves directors of this organization, which served only to move CSCOPE development out of public view. Since then, the directors, whose salaries are taxpayer funded, have met and worked in secret, using the nonprofit agency as a shield against open records and open meetings.
CSCOPE is controversial by virtue of its veil of secrecy, its financial trail (or lack thereof) and its contentious lesson plans.
Teachers had been required to sign a form that prohibited them from discussing CSCOPE and from publicly criticizing the lesson plans. Parents have not been given access to the lesson plans. Even the elected State Board of Education chairman was not given access to the curriculum for six months.
Some curriculum specialists claim CSCOPE helps schools utilize Common Core Standards, a set of general education standards pushed by the Obama Administration and that Texas has soundly rejected. Common Core Standards take control away from local educators and increase costs without adding rigor or improving student outcomes.
The leadership of the 20 service centers has worked to avoid transparency and review of CSCOPE, and in doing so have betrayed the public trust.
Texas Senate Chairman Dan Patrick held a full-day hearing on CSCOPE early this year and issued a statement urging the service centers to open their meetings to the public, shut down the nonprofit collaborative and allow parents to see the lesson plans.
The latter is a requirement of the state that lesson plans be made available to parents, something the CSCOPE program failed to do in violation of the law.
Aside from the cloak and dagger tactics, CSCOPE is costly. It was developed using public money, yet the lesson plans are “rented” to the school districts per pupil, per year, eating up even more taxpayer dollars.
Texas taxpayers and educators across the country have been talking about CSCOPE for months. Now the light of public scrutiny is finally being shed on the operation and the lesson plans.
Thankfully, sound-minded lawmakers in the Legislature are working to end this sham. Sens. Patrick and Donna Campbell authored a bill that would provide public review for CSCOPE lesson plans, which passed the Senate 31-1, and a similar bill originated by Rep. Steve Toth was approved by the House Public Education Committee last week. Lawmakers should get this legislation passed to start protecting students and parents from an unaccountable, centralized teaching authority.
Education is big business in Texas. The Lone Star State has 10 percent of the nation’s students and spends over $54 billion a year on K-12 education. This call to action on CSCOPE has been spearheaded by parents and courageous teachers who were willing to risk their careers to bring to light problems they found in the curriculum, despite the money and power involved. These parents have exhibited their passion to protect their children and their education.
It is appropriate that this review process proceed and that the practices of the Education Service Centers be investigated. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has indicated he is doing so, and last week Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he would request an audit of their financial records.
Texans are no strangers to education battles. We are known for our “textbook wars” when the public debates educational approaches, ideologies and philosophies in textbooks. It is what citizens do when they care deeply about our kids’ education.
What is taught in today’s classrooms will shape our country and our economy tomorrow. That makes this controversy an important battle for our children’s education.
— Peggy Venable is Texas state director of Americans for Prosperity.