Star-Telegram, By Will Weissert (AP), 07/18/13
The curriculum system designed to help teachers adhere to state educational requirements was trumpeted as disbanded in May by conservatives who criticized it as promoting anti-American values.
But a top Texas Education Agency attorney suggested Wednesday that CSCOPE is now in the public domain, meaning its lesson plans and exams can be used in any districts where school boards authorize it.
Addressing the State Board of Education, agency general counsel David Anderson said there’s “no statute” that would require districts to refrain from using CSCOPE.
The revelation could rescue many districts that had relied on CSCOPE and were scrambling to build new alternative curricula before students return to school.
Republican board member Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant said more than 90 percent of his constituent school districts had relied on the system.
“They are in a free-fall across East and Northeast Texas because they have no less than six weeks before kids show up and they’ve been told they can’t use those lesson plans,” Ratliff said.
Education Commissioner Michael Williams told the board that 25 districts statewide had unsuccessfully sought waivers or at least inquired about doing so, hoping to be temporarily excused from state accountability ratings since they were losing CSCOPE’s lesson plans.
Controversial teaching plan
CSCOPE offered internet-based lesson plans and exams designed to help teachers, especially those working in small districts, adhere to the state curriculum. It had been used in 877 school districts, or 78 percent of all districts statewide.
The system was created by the 20 state-run service centers around Texas that are designed to support school districts. It offered about 1,600 model lessons that districts accessed for a per-student fee.
Because of intellectual property concerns, many lessons weren’t available to the general public. That irked some tea party groups, who worried about bureaucrats secretly corrupting classrooms.
The criticism intensified when parents discovered a lesson plan in which Boston Tea Party participants were referred to as terrorists and another that asked students to design a flag for a new socialist country. Some critics also suggested CSCOPE promoted Islamic values.
As pressure mounted, state Sen. Dan Patrick announced May 20 that the system’s governing board had agreed to remove all lesson plans by Aug. 31. Patrick declared the era of CSCOPE over and even asked parents to alert him if school districts continued to use the system so he could pass word onto Texas’ attorney general.
But Monday’s board discussion indicated that the CSCOPE governing board simply dropped intellectual property concerns and allowed the lesson plans to enter the public domain.
That drew objection from board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, who said she thought “CSCOPE had pulled down the lesson plans and basically the thing had been put to bed.”
“Now I’m hearing something a little bit different,” said Miller, R-Dallas. “The parents in my district are livid about the CSCOPE lesson plans that have been given to their students and their children.”
Ratliff asked Williams whether the attorney general could do anything if districts continue to use CSCOPE.
Williams responded: “Let’s leave it to the attorney general to decide what action he may or may not take.”
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott is a fierce critic of CSCOPE and has threatened to subpoena its records. He is currently traveling the state, campaigning to replace Gov. Rick Perry, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Patrick, a tea-party backed Republican from Houston and head of the Senate Education Committee, is running for lieutenant governor. His campaign didn’t return a message seeking comment.