Texas SBOE Member Ratliff Tears into Sen. Patrick on CSCOPE Decision

by Dan Quinn

Thomas Ratliff’s defeat of creationist Don McLeroy in the 2010 Republican Primary for the District 9 seat on the State Board of Education was an important step toward getting politics out of Texas public school classrooms. Now Ratliff, who currently serves as the state board’s vice chairman, has released a blistering critique of state Sen. Dan Patrick’s comments at a Capitol press conference today regarding the CSCOPE curriculum management system. As we noted earlier, Patrick announced this morning that CSCOPE would no longer be providing lesson plans for school districts. That decision by CSCOPE’s developers at the state’s Education Service Centers came after months of intense pressure and political attacks from Patrick as well as other legislators and Tea party and other right-wing activists.

In a release headlined “Double Standards and Slippery Slopes for Texas Schools,” Ratliff tore into state Patrick’s comments at the presser. Following is Ratliff’s full press release. It is definitely worth the read.

I watched Senator Patrick’s press conference about CSCOPE with equal parts sadness, anger and confusion.  How did it come to this?  The answer is simple…..politics.

At the press conference Senator Patrick said, “I think this is the best move for everyone in the state.”  Who is he talking about?  He doesn’t have a single school district in his Senate district that uses CSCOPE.  Has he talked to the superintendents and teachers in Northeast Texas who tell me that CSCOPE is a vital tool in their toolbox?  In fact, I got a phone call from a teacher within minutes of the press conference, asking “What will you be suggesting to school districts now?”  Good question.

Senator Patrick went on to say, “What the legislature has learned…is we have to monitor what is being taught in our classrooms before the fact very closely with the same scrutiny as we did with our textbooks in the past.”  Monitor what is being taught?  What does that look like?  It sounds like a move away from local control towards a “controlling the locals” approach to public schools.  If Arne Duncan had this press conference in Washington D.C., Republicans would be rightfully outraged.  Why is it any different when a Texas Republican advocates for centralized “monitoring” over local schools?

Senator Patrick went also said, “We do not want to hold back technology… but we cannot just let anything get into the classroom without the parents having the right to see it, and without the legislature and the state board of education and the teachers and the local school boards and superintendents having a major say and the knowledge of what’s in that classroom.”  I for one want no part of censoring or having a “major say” in what happens in the 180 school districts in my SBOE district.  I value and trust the professional staff and locally elected school boards to reflect the value and priorities of their local communities.  This looks like a slippery slope to Internet filters, censorship, and other limitations on teachers in the classroom.  I support parents being able to see 100% of what their kids are being taught, but putting the SBOE and the Texas Legislature in every classroom in Texas is government control overkill.  Is Senator Patrick suggesting that a teacher can’t use an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal in his/her classroom unless the SBOE and Texas Legislature approve every article?  Where does this stop?

Senator Patrick, when responding to a question said, “What I would hope to see is that our larger school districts will partner with our smaller school districts and our mid-sized school districts….and there’s no reason not to because the TEKS are the same….I would like to see the state take a more active role in helping smaller districts with their curriculum.”  Isn’t this EXACTLY what the Regional Service Centers were doing?  School districts of various sizes combined efforts to save money and make a better product and because ESCs are subdivisions of the Texas Education Agency, the state WAS taking an active role in helping small districts.  This looks exactly like what the Senator said he wants, but he just had a press conference celebrating its death.  This is confusing to say the least.  Are these large districts going to do this for free or will smaller districts have to pay the large districts for this service, thus exacerbating our school finance inequities?

Lastly, ESC Director Kyle Wargo said, “The amount of resources that go into the development and maintenance of these lessons is not practical.”  He also said, “Lesson plans have a lot of subjectivity to them.  One size does not fit all.”  I couldn’t agree more.  With the elimination of CSCOPE, the amount of resources and human capital required to develop curriculum for those 875 districts just multiplied because they are all on their own again.  This is the very duplication of effort and waste of taxpayer dollars that CSCOPE had solved, at least before today.

The rural areas of Texas don’t want or need somebody from Austin telling us what’s best for our classrooms in our local schools.  We need flexibility and transparency to do what’s best for our local communities.

To be clear, this isn’t personal.  This is simply a disagreement over what is a “conservative” policy of governance for our INDEPENDENT public schools.