Of all states, it would seem that Texas would be the last to need reminding of the Supreme Court’s admonition in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that “children are not mere creatures of the state.” The Lone Star State was one of the few that did not sign on to the Obama-fostered Common Core program, foregoing the dangled federal funds. Yet Texas wound up with a program eerily similar to the centrally planned Common Core standardization system, and one even less transparent.
As with other scandals, it is was as much the cover-up as it was the Texas curriculum management system’s — CSCOPE’s — violation of public trust that caused the uproar. Not only have nearly 80% of Texas schools organized their lesson planning under one “collaborative,” but the CSCOPE curriculum software contract — the “I agree” button — convinced a number of teachers of criminal penalties if they shared lesson content with parents or school board members.
Even the Texas Education Board chair, Barbara Cargill, was advised by her attorney not to sign the educational software non-disclosure agreement if she wanted to discuss the material publicly. Compounding the outrage, it took CSCOPE six months to issue her permission and a password to access disputed data.
When screening classroom lessons from parents, CSCOPE officials defied a smorgasbord of rights, laws, and rulings grounded in constitutional due process. Two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions have declared a Fourteenth Amendment fundamental liberty interest in “bringing up children” and parental supervision of children’s education. Also, Texas Constitution Section 26.006(a)(1) provides that parents are “entitled to review all teaching materials, instructional materials, and other teaching aids used in the classroom of the parent’s child.”
Rather than addressing parental concerns by separating test material from lesson content so that parents could have access without compromising confidential teacher data — the one reasonable excuse asserted by CSCOPE — the collaborative instead chose to fight Texas Public Information Act citizen requests.
CSCOPE chose rather to use taxpayer money to fund an appeal to the Texas attorney general arguing that intellectual property laws should protect the “competitive interests” that teacher-developers had in the program — an awkward argument since taxpayers funded the creation and implementation of the curriculum for use in public schools.
In response, the attorney general’s office first made the significant determination that CSCOPE’s legal status was not like a private corporation, but was the same as other government bodies. This finding arguably placed CSCOPE in a position of accountability to § 551 Texas Open Meetings Act rules that require government meetings to be open to the public for purposes of “prohibiting secrecy.” Although the attorney general’s finding was issued in April of 2012, there is no record that CSCOPE moved to comply with these open meeting requirements until compelled to do so after January’s Senate Education Committee hearing.
In the second part of the finding, the attorney general’s office agreed that release of the “curriculum product” might harm CSCOPE’s “marketplace interest” and thus upheld CSCOPE’s denial of the two public information requests. However, Senator Patrick challenged CSCOPE officials who appeared before the education committee to say that this technical aspect of the finding did not relieve CSCOPE of the higher duty to separate any sensitive testing data from curriculum so that parents could access lesson content. Although CSCOPE has now formally agreed to do this, and parents will soon be able to obtain printed copies of the lessons at school, no date has been set for direct parental internet access.
After reviewing the CSCOPE materials that are available, it is easy to see why public scrutiny was anathema to both the mission and daily operations of CSCOPE. The practice of “plausible deniability” has worked very well for CSCOPE, its cloistered program designers and reviewers (not researchers, but teachers writing standards and lessons for classroom teachers that are reviewed by other teachers), and its twenty education service centers that charge between a $8 – $9.50 rent fee per student annually. The many complaints of poor quality, scant sourcing, anti-American bias, deferential treatment of counter-worldviews like Islamism and communism, and historical revisionism have been managed as teacher discretion gone awry since actual lesson plans that leaked could be dismissed as obsolete.
Recent examples come from the bizarre Texas education headlines that detail the photo and story of 9th grade girls donning burqas, Boston Tea Party protestors called terrorists, students asked to design a socialist flag, and a lawsuit filed last month over forced pledge of allegiance to the Mexican flag. It is the burqa flap and the ensuing saga that best illustrate why parents and the state school board have demanded oversight.
After this controversy broke, the Lumberton School District issued an official statement saying that the school district is subscribed to the CSCOPE curriculum management system but referred to vague wording in the state guidelines for world history (TEKS) to defend the Islamic teaching moment to justify the Islamic garb teaching moment: “The lesson encompassed diversity education so students receive a firm understanding of our world and why people are motivated differently.” What Lumberton school officials did not acknowledge was that CSCOPE framework serves to prompt exactly the kind of empathetic role-playing that was photographed in the classroom.
Also, there is question as to how much latitude teachers have to deviate from CSCOPE. As teacher of thirty-three years Mary Bowen testified at the hearing, CSCOPE training materials urge “sustained monitoring of the curriculum” as needed to assure that “individual teachers do not have the option to disregard or replace assigned content.” The training materials assert that “educational equity” can only be assured by “tight alignment between the taught and the tested curriculum.” Teachers in some districts have also complained of spot visits by minders, some with cameras, making sure that they were teaching to the CSCOPE schedule and subject matter.
In an effort to confront the burqa controversy, CSCOPE provided a link to the original lesson on its website — for just a few days. I was able to review the actual “inactive” lesson plan before it was removed (the pdf file that I saved is identical to this screenshot).
Ironically, my conversation regarding lesson accuracy with CSCOPE public information officer Mason Moses may be the reason that the link disappeared.
As I explained to Mr. Moses, the lesson did not literally suggest that students adopt Muslim clerical religious codes for a day, but it did ask teachers to explore the many “similarities” between Islam and Christianity provided in the lesson, did provide hand-picked, idealistic passages from the Koran for passing out to students, and it did pose baffling questions for group discussion like: “Why do all the references about mercy [in the Koran?] seem against what we are seeing in reports from our ‘occupation’ in Iraq or in reports of events in Iran or Israel?”
Was this question a first draft? Was it vetted by a teacher/reviewer? One does not have to be child of a military member serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to understand the breathtaking offense embedded in this kind of question. The attempt to draw mercy-defined moral equivalence between the actions of a dictatorial and egregiously abusive government like Iran’s and a legitimately elected and accountable democratic government like Israel’s — on top of the unflinching selection of the word “occupation” to characterize U.S. involvement Iraq — cannot be explained away with the usual CSCOPE “passage was taken out of context” denial.
CSCOPE’s Vertical Alignment Document (VAD) for World History reflects the same kind of uninvestigated assumptions. Here is just one of several misleading factoids provided for discussion: “People conquered by Muslims chose to accept Islam because they were attracted by the appeal of this religion’s message, as well as not having to pay a poll tax.” The wording of the statement reveals the inherent question (even if one can know many centuries later how many were “attracted” by the religion’s “appeal”): One would first have to establish that the particular conquered people referenced did indeed have a “choice,” especially if the conquering was done by sword. Historical records — much written by Muslims based upon eyewitness accounts — describe the methods of Islamic conquest as savage depending on the time and tribe. For those that refused to convert, life was often that of a second-class citizen (dhimmi), or sometimes that of a slave. These issues are eligible subjects for debate and investigation, but only after more mature students are guided through research of historical records and reliable accounts.
This disturbing lack of footnotes and citations to authoritative reference plagues the viewable CSCOPE curriculum and framework. When internet searches are performed by extracting phrases from the VAD or when one follows links to recommended internet resources, the copy-and-paste extracted for use in the CSCOPE materials is often from another home-spun site that generates bullet points or slide shows. Many sites are clearly agenda-driven with no external sourcing offered for authentication of material.
Now that education is becoming textbook-optional, parents need to be even more vigilant. Web-based learning may sound sophisticated and advanced, but both CSCOPE and Common Core have demonstrated it can be anything but. When two of the most popularly linked resource sites are authentichistory.com and historyonthenet.com, it is not surprising that lesson orientation may be ad hoc, simplistic, erroneous, and eurocentric. Augmenting a lesson with sample postcards from a period in history or viewing cartoons that illustrated a political contest is a fun way to reinforce a lesson. But the lesson must first have a foundation in facts, dates, leaders, villains, and heroes. These are judgment calls that many of the featured websites are not willing to make and the default to cultural relativism shows that too many of today’s teachers-who-teach-teachers can be expected to prefer the shades of historical gray that come with easy copy-and-paste.
At the education committee hearing CSCOPE maintained that it had turned the proverbial corner, that it will provide full transparency, that curriculum coordinators will be reviewed – albeit by more senior teachers, and that teachers will always have a ready “feedback” button to press for complaints.
All of that remains to be seen. CSCOPE now bears the burden of proof but the parents in every Texas community bear the burden of oversight. Thanks to teachers like Mary Bowen, a state education chair like Barbara Cargill, and an education committee chair like Senator Patrick, the CSCOPE fraud has been exposed. Now it is up to grandparents, retired teachers, and home- and public-school parents to do their duty as responsible parents and citizens to monitor the content and conduct of the soon-to-be-reformed CSCOPE.