Dan Patrick Shades the Truth about His CSCOPE Witch Hunt

by Dan Quinn

The right-wing witch hunt over the CSCOPE curriculum tool used in hundreds of Texas public and private schools has been filled with bizarre distortions from the beginning. But weeks after the state’s Education Service Centers bowed to political pressure and announced that they would stop writing lesson plans for school districts, state Sen. Dan Patrick — the Houston Republican who bragged that “the era of CSCOPE lessons is over” — is still distorting the facts.

Over the weekend a Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial sharply criticized Sen. Patrick, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, for overreaching in his desire to police classrooms and take down CSCOPE. The editorial came just days after the Texas Freedom Network exposed Sen. Patrick’s efforts to harass teachers and school districts that choose to continue using CSCOPE lessons that already exist. The Star-Telegram’s editorial didn’t sit well with Sen Patrick, who posted a response on his Facebook page. His post includes so many misleading statements that we thought it would be instructive to go over them here:

Sen Patrick writes:
“The non-profit overseeing CSCOPE was formed without permission of the legislature or approval by the state. Public entities cannot use taxpayer money to form for profit, or non-profit companies. CSCOPE didn’t even seek an opinion from the Attorney General, or have any written opinion on the formation of the non-profit.”

The Education Service Centers have said that they got legal advice saying they could establish a nonprofit, the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative, or TESCCC, to protect the intellectual property (the lesson plans and other materials) in CSCOPE. Whether or not that was a good idea, the service centers agreed in early February, at Sen. Patrick’s insistence, to shut down the nonprofit. So that issue was already resolved and shouldn’t have anything to do with eliminating CSCOPE’s lessons.

“The Texas Tribune reviewed all of CSCOPE’s 877 schools and found students attending schools using CSCOPE lesson plans performed worse on STAAR exams than students who didn’t attend schools who used CSCOPE lesson plans.”

Not true. The Texas Tribune conducted no such review. Perhaps Sen. Patrick is referring to a “study” conducted by a ninth-grade business/marketing class in the town of Blanket near Brownwood. So is the chairman of the Senate Education Committee relying on a “study” conducted by ninth-graders to justify bullying the Education Service Centers into eliminating lesson plans hundreds of school districts were using? Seriously?

“It was the CSCOPE Board by a vote of 18-2 that decided to take the lesson plans out of the schools, not the legislature. They did so because I believe they came to conclusion there were many problems with the lesson plans. In addition they have notified their schools that they cannot legally use the lesson plans after August.”

This statement is terribly disingenuous. The Education Service Centers agreed in February (at Sen. Patrick’s insistence) to submit their materials to the State Board of Education for review, and that review was already underway. But after continued bullying from Sen. Patrick and other politicians, the service centers said after a meeting with Sen Patrick on May 17 they they would stop writing lessons altogether. At a press conference the following Monday (May 20), Sen. Patrick was gleeful over the end of CSCOPE lessons. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also bragged that he had helped “beat back CSCOPE.”

“Schools cannot violate a License agreement or contract and use CSCOPE lessons without permission. If a school district or campus violates any License agreement or legal contract with any company that is a potential legal issue under the AG office, not a legislative issue.”

It appears that the entity that could challenge teachers who continue using CSCOPE lesson plans doesn’t exist anymore. That’s because the Education Service Centers agreed in February — at Sen. Patrick’s insistence — to shut down the TESCCC nonprofit. Moreover, the old lessons aren’t part of the new CSCOPE service agreement. That’s because, of course, they’re no longer part of the program. In any case, neither Sen. Patrick nor the attorney general has the authority to tell teachers what lessons they may or may not use in their classrooms. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s editorial board members call Sen. Patrick’s attempts to harass those teachers with legal threats another example of his overreaching. They’re right.

“In terms of local control, the vast majority of teachers in these districts are glad to be rid of the lesson plans and contracts that subjected them to criminal penalties if they disclosed any of the lesson plans to the public.”

How can Sen. Patrick claim this is true? He hasn’t surveyed teachers around the state. To our knowledge, no one has. But we have seen plenty of educators who are frustrated over the end of CSCOPE’s lessons. At least one teacher has started an online petition critical of Sen Patrick’s actions on those lessons. Moreover, teachers testified before Sen. Patrick’s committee and a State Board of Education committee that they found CSCOPE to be a valuable tool.

Have there been teachers who didn’t like CSCOPE or the way it was implemented in their districts? Yes, no doubt. But their beef is (or should be) with their local school administrators, who made the decisions about whether and how to implement the program. That’s local control at work. Moreover, of the nearly 900 school districts using CSCOPE — nearly 80 percent of the state’s districts — none are in Patrick’s Senate district. So Sen. Patrick’s political bullying won’t affect any school districts he represents — just those elsewhere in the state. That’s hardly an example of supporting local control.

“The AG has already notified all districts if they charge parents to see the lesson plans they could be facing his office in court. There was documentation that some schools were charging parents to see the plans, which is illegal under the law. One school wanted to charge a parent over $700 to see the lesson plans.”

This is also disingenuous. CSCOPE agreed in early February (at Sen. Patrick’s insistence) to make all of its lessons available online for anyone — parents and other citizens — to review. But CSCOPE critics wanted school staff to print out the lessons — thousands of pages — and deliver them on request. Should school districts (and their taxpayers) be required to eat the cost of providing personal copies of instructional materials to anyone who requests them, even when those materials will be available online for free?

“There is a continuing review of the financial records of CSCOPE.”

What does Sen. Patrick mean here? A criminal investigation? An audit? For what? If there is credible evidence that the Education Service Centers were engaged in any financial misdeeds, then, by all means, look into it. But does Sen. Patrick have reason to think there is such evidence? If so, he should say so and explain why rather than making cryptic statements that unfairly call into question the honesty and reputations of staff members at the service centers.

“Many districts used the management tool, but not the lesson plans. Districts should call those districts and ask them how they addressed the lesson plan issue.”

Yes, larger districts have had the resources to create their own lesson plans. The Education Service Centers created CSCOPE to help smaller school districts that lacked such resources. Will Sen. Patrick support more funding for those school districts now? Don’t hold your breath.

“Teachers can write their own lesson plans.”

Many do. But many, especially younger and more inexperienced teachers, used CSCOPE lessons to supplement their own. Small and medium-sized districts decided that CSCOPE’s materials filled a need. Now Czar Patrick is issuing decrees about what local districts and their teachers should do instead. He’s a politician and a radio talk show host. What in the world does he know about teaching?

“The Texas Education Agency, TEA, provides free on-line lesson plans for most core courses. Private vendors also sell lesson plans.”

Yes, there are alternatives. ButĀ CSCOPE critics are already attacking some of them, too. Moreover, fees charged by private vendors will likely be much higher thanĀ  those charged by the Education Service Centers for CSCOPE. And none of those alternatives are currently subject to review by the State Board of Education — something Sen. Patrick and other critics attacked CSCOPE over. Besides all that, who gave Czar Patrick the authority to decree that CSCOPE isn’t an appropriate alternative for local school districts?

“We are not over-reaching in the legislature. We are responding to our parents and teachers who came to us on this issue. They are the ultimate local control in their districts.”

No, Sen. Patrick has been responding to a witch hunt generated by tea party and other right-wing activists who dishonestly attacked CSCOPE’s lessons as anti-American. And they have recklessly smeared the current and retired teachers who wrote those lessons. If Sen. Patrick really believed in local control, he would trust local school districts to decide what’s best for their students.