Witch Hunt Takes Down CSCOPE

by Dan Quinn

Once again, politics trumps education in Texas.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, the Republican chairman of the Texas Senate Education Committee, sounded downright gleeful today in making a surprise announcement that the state’s Education Service Centers will no longer provide lessons in their CSCOPE curriculum management system.

“The era of CSCOPE lesson plans has come to an end,” Sen Patrick declared at a Capitol press conference this morning. What remains of CSCOPE will essentially be a guide to scheduling instruction on the curriculum standards. The hundreds of small school districts that use CSCOPE will now have to find other resources for developing lesson plans for teaching those standards.

Officials with the Education Service Centers that created and managed CSCOPE released a letter at the press conference agreeing to stop providing lessons to school districts. The letter came after increasing pressure from Sen. Patrick, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and an assortment of Tea party and other right-wing pressure groups. Those critics have been absurdly claiming that CSCOPE has been indoctrinating students into Islam and Marxism and undermining Christianity and patriotism. (Current and retired teachers had been writing those lessons for CSCOPE. Who knew that so many Texas teachers were Marxists and Islamists? Shocking!)

We sent out the following statement from TFN President Kathy Miller after the press conference:

“Today political bullying resulted in hundreds of school districts getting thrown under the bus and essentially told to figure out for themselves where to find the resources to replace the service CSCOPE had provided them. The big lesson here is that if you can generate a witch hunt that includes enough incendiary and distorted claims, then there are politicians at the Capitol who are ready to throw their supposed commitment to local control out the window.”

All of this comes just days after the State Board of Education‘s special CSCOPE committee met in Dallas to appoint teams to review the curriculum management system. The state board was acting at the request of Sen. Patrick, who earlier this year brokered a deal in which the Education Service Centers agreed to submit their lessons to board review. Apparently, that deal wasn’t good enough for Sen. Patrick or the political activists who have wildly distorted CSCOPE lessons and policies since the start of this controversy.

Of course, some state board members might be relieved to know that they won’t have to review CSCOPE now. That’s because other board members nominated a number of fringe political activists to the review teams appointed last week.

The names of two of those appointees immediately caught our attention: Bill Ames and Stephen Broden. During the State Board of Education’s revision of social studies curriculum standards in 2009, Ames complained bitterly about an “overrepresentation” of minorities in social studies content. You can read more about Ames here. It’s unclear (but seems likely) that Stephen Broden is the Dallas pastor of the same name who, when he ran for Congress as a Tea party activist in 2010, suggested that violent overthrow of the U.S. government might be necessary if the elections that year didn’t bring a change in the nation’s leadership.

We should note that the state board’s CSCOPE committee seemed determined last week to ensure that the review process would be transparent. We applaud that. But perhaps they’ll be relieved that today’s announcement will spare them the embarrassment that was almost sure to follow when activists like Ames and Broden used the CSCOPE review as a public platform to promote their ugly political views.

But none of this is likely to comfort the hundreds of rural and small school districts that were using CSCOPE. Sen. Patrick and other state politicians who proclaim their support for local control clearly decided that they trusted the gross distortions and wild claims of political activists more than the ability of local school administrators and teachers to choose instructional materials that are appropriate for their students.

This witch hunt isn’t likely to end here, by the way. Right-wing activists are already pointing to other curriculum products they want state officials to investigate. Bringing down CSCOPE — and smearing teachers and local school officials associated with it — has only encouraged them to look for more witches to burn.