Live-Blogging the SBOE CSCOPE Hearing

We thought it might be useful to report some of the comments we’re hearing today at the State Board of Education’s ad hoc CSCOPE committee meeting. As of Thursday afternoon, 15 people had signed up to testify, but the committee is permitting other folks to sign up to speak today as well. (We should note that the Education Service Centers have renamed CSCOPE and now call it TEKS Resource System. “TEKS” stands for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state’s required curriculum standards. TRS no longer includes lessons. The old CSCOPE lessons are in the public domain now, and those lessons are what the committee is charged with reviewing.)

9:10 a.m. – A teacher (missed her full name; Rogers?) appeals to committee members to let school districts make decisions about CSCOPE. She explains that the social studies textbooks in classrooms today were published more than a decade ago even though the state’s curriculum standards have changed since then. CSCOPE has helped teachers cover those required standards. She explains that she has some issues, including problems with how it was implemented by school districts. But, she says: “CSOCPE has been a valuable resource for us. It isn’t perfect,” but teachers are able to modify it as needed to work at the local level.

9:20 a.m. – Now right-wing activist Bill “Overrepresentation of Minorities” Ames is up: “I’ve been fighting the Left’s agenda to hijack the curriculum since 2001.” He offers a recitation of how he has waged, almost single-handedly, this war for America. And then: “CSCOPE is one more example of the Left’s ongoing agenda to inject its radical political curriculum into Texas schoolrooms.” No SBOE members have questions for him. What would be the point?

9:25 a.m. – Anti-CSCOPE activist Jeanine McGregor launches her attack on CSCOPE, focusing on her complaints about plagiarism, what she thinks is poor alignment with the state curriculum standards, and readability and other issues of quality. SBOE Chair Barbara Cargill asks the Texas Education Agency’s counsel whether teachers are at risk of using plagiarized material He says they are not. Obviously, any plagiarized material should be removed from CSCOPE. But does Cargill remember complaints that SBOE members plagiarized material off the Internet when they were vandalizing the state’s curriculum standards for social studies in 2010?

9:33 a.m. – Here’s a blog post by McGregor that lays out many of her concerns, including supposedly “anti-American, anti-Christian slants” in CSCOPE.

9:43 a.m. – And here’s blogger and tea party activist Ginger Russell from Magnolia (north of Houston). She’s already attacking the “humanists” and “Marxists” behind CSCOPE. Good grief.

9:45 a.m. – Russell criticizes SBOE board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, for allegedly calling her an “extremist.” “I’m protecting our children,” she says. Then she launches into an attack on project-based learning. Good grief, again. She also denounces CSCOPE for removing lessons that she says have been controversial

9:47 a.m. – Committee chair Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, asks why would that be a bad thing. Russell questions why they were removed — as if the Education Service Centers are trying to hide something. “This would not have happened if I hadn’t gotten involved and exposed this kind of stuff,” she says. She and Bill Ames seem to have very high opinions of themselves. They’re saviors!

9:50 a.m. – Russell is not helping herself. She’s already got at least two Republican committee members sounding like they think she’s a strange conspiracy theorist. They are polite enough not to say so directly, of course. But their tone makes things pretty clear.

9:52 a.m. – Russell now criticizes the “religion of environmentalism” that she sees throughout CSCOPE.

9:53 a.m. – Barbara Cargill suggests Russell is correct that there are teachers who are scared to speak out against CSCOPE because they fear repercussions from their employers.

9:56 a.m. – Ms. Rogers, the teacher who spoke earlier, says she has never denied a parent’s request to see anything she uses in her classroom, including CSCOPE materials. Anti-CSCOPE activists claim that teachers have been forbidden from sharing their CSCOPE materials with parents. Rogers also explains that good teachers review all instructional materials, whatever their source, to determine whether it’s appropriate for their classrooms. All of that goes back to her earlier point: a state ban on CSCOPE lessons is an unwise limitation on local control and the ability of teachers to decide what materials are appropriate for their students.

9:59 a.m. – Royal Smith, who identifies himself as a retired psychologist, is up now. He says criticisms of CSCOPE haven’t yet been verified. He calls many of the criticisms of CSCOPE “inflammatory.”

10:05 a.m. – A new batch of testifiers is up, including TFN’s Kathy Miller. First is Randy Willis, superintendent of Granger ISD northeast of Austin. Willis explains that CSCOPE is, contrary to claims of critics, aligned to the state’s curriculum standards. He also criticizes the excessive number of those curriculum standards, which have been adopted by the State Board of Education. The great number of standards undermines the education of Texas kids. We should note that others have pointed out in the past, repeatedly, that complaints that there are too many CSCOPE lessons ignore the fact that CSCOPE is trying to cover all of the numerous, complex and convoluted (and politicized) curriculum standards passed by the SBOE. The problem there isn’t CSCOPE. It’s the SBOE.

10:14 a.m. – SBOE member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, discussing the numerous curriculum standards, acknowledges: “We [SBOE members] are the guilty party.”

10:16 a.m. – Cargill says the SBOE has started a process of looking at how to streamline the curriculum standards and lower their number. She suggests finding an outside consultant to help. We’re not sure the SBOE needs to contract with any consultants on this. Perhaps they could simply stop using the curriculum standards to promote their political pet causes. That would cost taxpayers nothing.

10:22 a.m. – Another local school district official (missed her name and district) explains that her district has found CSCOPE to be a valuable educational tool. She asks the committee to certainly identify any factual errors to lack of alignment with the state standards but asks the SBOE to leave the decision about using CSCOPE lessons to local school districts.

10:23 a.m. – TFN President Kathy Miller is up now. She applauds all efforts to identify and correct any errors in CSCOPE and to improve any issues with transparency regarding the program (although she notes she’s never had any problems getting information from her daughters’ teachers). But she says she’s sad that the CSCOPE tool has essentially been dismantled.

10:26 a.m. – Kathy also expresses her concerns that the committee’s review of CSCOPE doesn’t expand beyond the SBOE’s statutory authority to identify errors and alignment with curriculum standards regarding instructional materials. Moreover, she’s worried that this process could set a precedent that opens the door to SBOE review of other instructional materials that teachers choose, on their own, to use in their own classrooms.

10:28 a.m. – Committee chair Marty Rowley says he does not contemplate his committee doing more than providing a forum for Texans to express their concerns about CSCOPE: “That will probably be the gist of our responsibilities.” He says the committee doesn’t intend to make this a review of CSCOPE’s alignment with standards and alleged factual errors. Kathy notes that his response seems to go beyond the board’s statutory authority. Rowley replies that the committee is operating under the authority of the SBOE chair (Cargill) to appoint ad hoc committees. (This is a fairly friendly exchange, by the way.) Cargill weighs in now, explaining that the board is having to deal with lesson plans when the board typically deals with curriculum standards and instructional materials like textbooks. She says the board was asked to look at content and bias in CSCOPE, which the board may not do with textbooks. Of course, this is precisely the problem Kathy is worried about: the SBOE should not be involved in something so subjective as determining whether lesson plans are “biased.” The SBOE lost authority to do that with textbooks back in 1995 (through legislative action) because board members had repeatedly abused it. What happens when political activists identify another set of lesson plans or classrooms they don’t like and to which they have political objections? Cargill replies that this is a unique situation. But unique situations sometimes set precedent.

10:42 a.m. – Rowley says he doesn’t envision the SBOE committee itself issuing an opinion about CSCOPE. The committee will leave that to reviewers the committee appoints, and reviewer reports will be made available to school districts and the public. Kathy asks that the public be told who serves on the review teams, at least whether they are educators or what backgrounds they have so that the public (and school districts) can better judge the validity of their reviews. Having seen what has happened with the science textbook reviews in Texas this summer, that would seem absolutely necessary.

10:45 a.m. – SBOE member Ken Mercer weighs in again, claiming that teachers have told SBOE members that they fear being fired if they say anything bad about CSCOPE. That’s absurd. And frankly, if that’s really true, the problem is with local school district officials, not CSCOPE.

10:51 a.m. – Another local school district administrator is testifying now. She explains that teachers in her district (Lorena ISD) have found CSCOPE useful.

10:56 a.m. – Another local school district educator (from Grand Prairie ISD) is speaking in support of CSCOPE and the academic freedom of districts and teachers to choose and develop their instructional materials for their classrooms. She explains that some teachers in her district like CSCOPE while others don’t but that newer teachers tended to find CSCOPE most useful. She’s followed by another educator at Grand Prairie who also explains that many teachers find CSCOPE useful. We should note that the educators speaking today clearly understand that support for CSCOPE isn’t universal among teachers. No curriculum tool is universally popular. But that’s why it’s important to leave decisions about these things to local districts and teachers.

11:15 a.m. – Another educator (who explains that she finds CSCOPE lessons valuable) is followed by a Corpus Christi parent. She suggests that CSCOPE lessons she and other critics found objectionable have been edited, but she’s upset by that (implying, we suppose, that CSCOPE developers were covering something up). Then she objects to a lesson about Islam, which she suggests inaccurately portrays the religion in a more favorable light than she thinks it deserves.

11:37 a.m. – Now we’re hearing complaints (from the same Corpus Christi parent) about specific lessons, which is what the committee had asked testifiers to provide. She has problems with lessons on a variety of matters, including Islam, environmental issues and the oil and gas industry.

11:57 a.m. – One of the testifiers (Ginger Russell’s husband) says CSCOPE is “a mess” and should be junked entirely. He wants CSCOPE “removed from the schools NOW.” So which dictator will go to every teacher in the state and forbid them from using CSCOPE lessons that are in the public domain? And what other lessons will this dictator go after next? The “project-based lessons” that Ginger Russell thinks are evil? How about leaving to local school districts and teachers the decision about what’s appropriate for their local classrooms?

12:18 p.m. – Cargill goes down a list of the criteria that reviewers will use when they examine the CSCOPE social studies lessons. Almost every one of those criteria requires subjective judgments by the reviewers. This simply throws open the door to activists who get appointed to those review panels politicizing lesson plans. In fact, the Legislature acted in 1995 to strip the SBOE itself from being able to engage in such subjective reviews of textbooks and other instructional materials.

12:23 p.m. – The committee has adjourned.

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3 Comments

  1. Michelle Brinkman
    Posted September 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    I participated today. Questions emerged for me, but I was most confused about procedures. According to what I read as I prepared for my participation…A. Speakers were going to be given 3 minutes and 3 minutes only. B. content of comments were to be limited to Social Studies lessons only. C. If you were citing specific lessons, then you were to bring copies to reference. Copies of these rules/procedures were made available prior to the hearing, and they were reviewed at the start of the hearing. What I observed… A. If certain members liked what you had to say then the 3 minute rule didn’t apply to you. B. if you wanted to talk about lessons other than Social Studies lessons then that was okay, too. C. If you didn’t bring copies of the lessons you were referring to then that was okay. Just tell the ad hoc cmte members about where they were located and they would try to find them on their own later. Wow! The conduct of the meeting was in my opinion unacceptable. Why have the protocol if you aren’t going to follow it? Not sure I was given the same opportunity to share my fact based experiences with the lessons as others – especially those that were there to speak against the lessons. And – I thought we were there to give our testimony on the lessons, not the process by which CSCOPE came into existence.

  2. Posted September 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Dan, thanks for live blogging this. You created a valuable resource. I listened to most of the webcast and was as appalled as you appear to be. An archived video of this hearing will soon be available on the Texas Admin website. Part 1 is already posted.

    My favorite comment from a number of the SBOE members was congratulating the testifiers and each other for creating the new “openness” and “transparency” of the CSCOPE evaluation process, something that indeed was lacking earlier and about which I myself complained. Let’s hope they have the same enthusiasm for creating the same openness and transparency for the science instructional materials adoption process. Right now, that doesn’t exist since TEA is claiming that the textual changes to materials “negotiated” (i.e. extorted) between the TEA and the publishers based on reviewers comments will not be open to public scrutiny. They provide a bogus reason to prevent those changes from being revealed (third-party copyright infringement!). This is a reversion to the corrupt 1970s and 1980s when publishers were forced to make changes to textbooks in secret “negotiations” between them and the TEA Commissioner: “I’m gonna make [you] an offer [you] can’t refuse.”

  3. Posted September 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I had to miss the hearing and am so glad you shared this!

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