Members of the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) “ad hoc” committee appointed to oversee the review of CSCOPE — the curriculum management system used in hundreds of Texas public and private schools — say they want that review to be fair, open and based on facts. But the official form reviewers will use to evaluate the program’s social studies lessons seems designed to further fuel the absurd, manufactured controversy over CSCOPE, not end it.
Tea party and other right-wing activists have claimed that CSCOPE’s lessons are anti-American and anti-Christian and promote Marxism and Islam. Reporters have accurately noted that critics have provided “scant evidence to back up those assertions.” But the SBOE committee’s evaluation form asks reviewers to make numerous subjective, politically loaded judgments about the CSCOPE lessons in any case. Some examples:
“Does this lesson present positive aspects of US heritage?”
“Does this lesson present unbiased materials and illustrations?”
“Does this lesson present generally accepted standards of behavior and lifestyles?”
“Does this lesson promote respect for citizenship and patriotism?”
“Does this lesson promote the free enterprise system?”
During a meeting of the SBOE review committee last month, board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, defended these kinds of subjective questions in the review forms. If some folks have problems with instructional materials promoting the values implied in the review questions, Cargill said, then she has a problem with those folks.
But does anyone really doubt how anti-CSCOPE fanatics the committee has included on the review teams will answer such questions? It’s not hard to imagine the bitter arguments likely to erupt among the reviewers. And those arguments will become public shortly afterward (if not immediately).
The subjective nature of evaluations like this one has always been a problem for the heavily politicized SBOE itself. Until 1995, SBOE members often demanded that publishers make numerous changes to textbooks before they would approve them. Those demands often were based on little more than the personal and ideological beliefs of board members themselves.
During the 1995 health textbook adoption, for example, board members objected to textbook content about birth control and even simple line drawings that illustrated a woman doing a breast self-exam for cancer. Some social conservatives demanded that a photo of a woman carrying a briefcase be replaced with one of a woman baking a cake — illustrating a more traditional gender role for women.
Texas legislators that year, fed up with the political battles on the SBOE and the demands made of publishers, stripped the board of its authority to edit textbook content. New legislation limited the board to determining only whether textbooks covered the state’s required curriculum standards, were free of factual errors and met required manufacturing specifications. Board members have tried ever since to get around those limitations, with varying degrees of success. (In fact, anti-evolution activists and their SBOE allies this year are pressuring publishers to revise proposed science textbooks by adding discredited arguments against evolution.)
The review form created by the SBOE’s CSCOPE committee opens the door once again to political warfare over content in instructional materials. SBOE members should reconsider this approach and simply ask reviewers they appoint to evaluate whether CSCOPE lessons cover the state’s required curriculum standards and are free of factual errors — just like the board does in a textbook adoption. If they don’t do that with CSCOPE, we could be headed toward yet another embarrassing political mess for Texas.
Moreover, local school districts and teachers don’t need overseers in Austin deciding for them whether or not instructional materials are politically acceptable. Aren’t educators qualified to make such decisions for their own classrooms?
Following is the CSCOPE review form created by the SBOE committee: