The anti-CSCOPE witch hunt marches onward, now with the “official/unofficial” help of the Texas State Board of Education. Unless responsible parties act soon, the state board’s “review” could turn into yet another embarrassing political circus for Texas. We just sent out the following press release.
The president of the Texas Freedom Network warns that the State Board of Education’s coming review of a curriculum product used widely in Texas schools highlights problems that have plagued the highly politicized board for decades.
Acting at the request of state Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, last month state board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, appointed an “ad hoc” board committee to review a curriculum management system called CSCOPE. Used in more than 800 public school districts as well as a number of private and religious schools, CSCOPE is a product of Education Service Centers that were created by the state in the 1960s. CSCOPE’s purpose is to help teachers cover all of the state’s curriculum standards.
In recent months tea partyers and other conservative activists have claimed that CSCOPE – which includes lesson plans written by current and retired Texas teachers – promotes Marxism and Islam while undermining patriotism and Christianity. At their meeting on Wednesday in Austin, state board members discussed the procedures that will govern the CSCOPE review. TFN President Kathy Miller said the discussion left her with serious concerns about transparency and the role politics will play in that review.
“One of our biggest worries all along has been that any valid concerns regarding CSCOPE are being overshadowed by a political witch hunt that features hyperbolic and unsubstantiated attacks from political activists,” Miller said. “Now state board members are setting up a process that could make that problem even worse.”
Among Miller’s concerns is that the state board’s CSCOPE review does not appear to be sanctioned or limited by any state laws or formal rules adopted by the state board itself. Cargill – who has been highly critical of CSCOPE – declared on Wednesday that, as chair, she reserves the right to make final decisions about reviewers and board recommendations regarding the program. (See the relevant discussion on this at about the 1:35:30 mark here: http://streaming.aanet.org/ramgen/tea/smil/TEA_FB041713-90.smil.)
In addition, board members – including the chairman of the board’s ad hoc review committee – said they oppose releasing the names of individuals who will review CSCOPE materials. That could make it impossible for the public to judge the qualifications of reviewers and to know whether the review panels are packed with CSCOPE’s political critics and others with conflicts of interests. In fact, one of CSCOPE’s most prominent critics sells her own curriculum materials. The Texas Education Agency has regularly made public the names of individuals serving on review teams for past adoptions of textbooks and curriculum standards.
“It would be shameful for the state board to allow politically motivated reviewers, under the cover of anonymity, to smear the work of Texas teachers and question their religious and political motivations,” Miller said. “But that’s exactly what could happen if the board refuses to follow the same standards for transparency that it has applied to the review of textbooks and curriculum standards in the past.”
Finally, the criteria reviewers will use in examining CSCOPE includes the kinds of highly subjective standards that the Legislature barred the state board from using in textbook reviews nearly 20 years ago. According to information released by the state board on Wednesday, those criteria include asking reviewers to judge whether CSCOPE lessons promote patriotism, “unbiased” illustrations and “accepted standards of behavior/lifestyles.” Prior to 1995, board members regularly used such subjective standards to demand that publishers change or censor textbook content. After watching those demands turn textbook adoptions into hyper-political battlegrounds, state lawmakers in 1995 passed legislation that limits the board’s authority to determining whether textbooks cover required curriculum standards and are free of factual errors.
“This CSCOPE review threatens to turn the clock back and replay the same kind of political battles the Legislature tried to stop nearly 20 years ago,” Miller said. “That’s particularly worrisome because those political battles could bleed over into the board’s adoption of science textbooks this year.”
The state board’s CSCOPE review this year will focus on social studies materials and is scheduled to be completed by August. The state board plans to review other subject areas later.