SCOTUS to Texas: 'Children Are Not Mere Creatures of The State'

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.