Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Update on Flawed CSOPE Curriculum from Ken Mercer Texas State Board of Education Member

Ken Mercer Update on CScope - Part II of III
When the Lights Suddenly Turn On –
The Roaches Run and Hide!

16 March 2013

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"I believe that if moms and dads do not have the right to see what their children are being taught in school, then we are no longer living in a place called the United States of America."
Ken Mercer

Ken Mercer on CSCOPE:  Part II of III
When the Lights Suddenly Turn On – The Roaches Run and Hide

On Nov. 18, 2012, I tried to “turn on the lights” regarding CSCOPE, the embattled curriculum utilized by 875 school districts in Texas.  With the support of hundreds of concerned parents and educators, I requested my fellow Members of the State Board of Education to approve a motion recommending the Texas Legislature give the SBOE oversight and review authority over CSCOPE.

My friends, I was shocked when my motion was defeated by a vote of 9-6.  However, within one week CSCOPE had made national news, including segments by Glenn Beck and Fox News that outlined controversial lessons and problems with the online curriculum program.

In January 2013, the lights again were “turned on.”  State Sen. Dan Patrick, the new Chair of the Senate Education Committee, announced he would hold a public hearing on CSCOPE.  Among his reasons

There are questions about CSCOPE as it currently exists in many of our districts that need to be addressed.  We need total transparency concerning any program that is now in the vast majority of our schools in one form or the other…

Any system where the Chairman of the State Board can't get a password to explore the CSCOPE site in detail for 6 months, requires teachers to sign an agreement that could subject them to criminal penalties, and is not easily transparent to parents, needs to be closely examined by the legislature.

With Sen. Patrick’s bold announcement, the political “roaches” began to run and hide.

On Jan. 31, Sen. Patrick’s committee discovered that even though 875 Texas school districts use CSCOPE, there has not been any outside review and oversight of CSCOPE to ensure its lessons align with the SBOE-adopted curriculum standards.

I need to add that in 2011, lobbyists used the new funding allotment in Senate Bill 6 to take away the power of the SBOE to review and approve “digital” curriculum (such as CSCOPE).  Before SB 6, a school district could use state funds to buy only instructional materials that had that had gone through the Texas State Board of Education’s public review process and had been reviewed and certified by the SBOE as “conforming” to state standards.

In 2011, however, lobbyists worked to delete the requirement that state funds be restricted to “conforming” textbooks and instructional materials.   The lobbyists used SB 6 to create a means to bypass the SBOE’s review of these materials.  Those changes opened the door for digital materials such as CSCOPE to bypass the authority of the elected SBOE.

Now in 2013, the Senate Education Committee is investigating CSCOPE.
State Sen. Donna Campbell opened her sharp questioning at a recent hearing on the curriculum system by asking:
  • Who owns the proprietary property of CSCOPE?
  • Was it developed using public funds -- "Do the people of Texas own it?" 
  • Why doesn’t the general public (including parents) have easy access to CSCOPE in the same way they do with copyrighted textbooks?
  • Where are the checks and balances to verify the curriculum content of CSCOPE?

Senators Larry Taylor and Ken Paxton were deeply troubled about a student project in CSCOPE in which students were to role play and design a Communist/Socialist flag.  Was this a lesson in education or indoctrination?

Other lessons that upset the Senate committee included references to the Boston Tea Party patriots as "terrorists” and a lesson on Christopher Columbus that purposely deleted every reference in his personal diary to his belief in God.

A classroom educator testifying against CSCOPE provided the senators a copy of the legal document passed out during a CSCOPE 2012 summer training session that states:  "To support implementation of this detailed curriculum, districts must have processes and people in place to insure that there is sustained monitoring of the curriculum and that individual teachers do not have the option to disregard or replace assigned content."  Apparently, CSCOPE requires that educators lay aside their professional expertise and does not allow them freedom to waver from the scripted lessons to provide any individualized instruction to their students.

Sen. Patrick and his committee clearly were outraged that CSCOPE was developed by a collaborative of Regional Education Service Center directors who acted without the proper authority to set up such a structure. This collaborative, known as TESCCC, is considered by the Texas Attorney General to be a governmental body, except it:
  • uses public funds to develop its product and then sells CSCOPE materials to public schools, so that the taxpayer is hit twice.
  • uses public dollars to pay its ESC employees.
  • has no TESCCC business office.
  • does not post its agenda.
  • does not allow the public into its meetings.
  • does not allow public access to its minutes. 

I share that outrage over the lack of transparency and the possible “double dipping” of taxpayer funds while going around the established authority, review, and oversight of the elected members of the SBOE.

I applaud Sen. Dan Patrick and his colleagues on the Senate Education Committee for wanting further scrutiny of CSCOPE and the TESCCC collaborative.

Later this week I will publish a third and final report detailing the resulting actions and legislation proposed by the Senate Education Committee members to deal with CSCOPE problems.  I will need your help to ensure the Senate and the House pass that legislation.

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