Thomas Ratliff Takes on Tea Party Over CSCOPE Panic

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Thomas Ratliff
State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff

As the Great CSCOPE Controversy of 2013 continues on its baffling way, State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff has emerged as the embattled program’s most outspoken defender at the state level—one of the very few elected officials willing to wade into tea party waters and pick a fight.

Democrats have mostly stayed out of the controversy over the state-produced curriculum tool and its supposedly un-American, anti-Christian classroom lessons. As Rep. Dawnna Dukes put it on the House floor in May, “CSCOPE is not a concept that Democrats even know about.” So rural superintendents looking for a little cover from Austin have found support from Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant.

“I think Democrats are probably enjoying this,” he says, “because this is yet another example of the Republican Party eating its own young—and people like Dan Patrick are only accelerating the state’s conversion from red to purple.”

(New Democratic SBOE member Marisa Perez has been one entertaining exception, complaining about Patrick’s grandstanding back in May and, more recently, suggesting he’s trying to claim the title of “Academic Tool Czar online.”)

After declaring the end of the CSCOPE era earlier this year, Patrick has cranked the volume back up lately, after news that CSCOPE lessons are in the public domain, and would be free for any teacher. Now he and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst want to somehow police Texas classrooms to ensure no kids are learning any CSCOPE lessons.

Ratliff’s home turf—Mount Pleasant and nearby East Texas districts—happen to be where CSCOPE was born in the early ’90s. He was an early defender of the program, calling out its critics late least year for scaremongering about CSCOPE as an indoctrination plot.

Since then, he’s only gotten in deeper. After Patrick issued an open challenge to debate CSCOPE with any of its defenders, Ratliff emailed reporters last Friday to announce he had accepted Patrick’s challenge. Ratliff said Monday that so far, he hasn’t heard back—but he’ll keep reminding the lite guv candidate that his offer is on the table.

“The only reason why it’s still alive today is because Dan Patrick told everybody, ‘I killed CSCOPE’ when he didn’t. And now the tea party’s mad at him, and he’s got to take it up to the next level … to prove to the tea party that he’s not all hat and no cattle.”

Ratliff, meanwhile, came onto the SBOE with a mandate to represent the reality-based community’s interests in the culture wars, ousting Don McLeroy in 2010 and fending off a challenge last year from social conservative Randy Stevenson.

Since his first days on the board he’s been a tea party target. Conservative blogger Donna Garner has kept up a steady drumbeat writing that Ratliff isn’t eligible to serve on the SBOE, because he’s also a lobbyist. CSCOPE critics have taken up the Ratliff impeachment cause, despite the fact that Attorney General Greg Abbott clarified the law’s limits on lobbyists on the SBOE two years ago and the the state’s Public Integrity Unit has cleared him to serve.

Ratliff says he helped the SBOE’s then-chairwoman Gail Lowe draft the request for Abbott’s opinion, and went to the Public Integrity Unit on his own, hoping to put the question to rest. Of course, it hasn’t been that simple.

“This is the only thing they’ve got, so they just play that card over and over,” he says. “The tea party has opposed me from day one … and I can’t make ‘em any madder than they were three years ago or four years ago.”

Ratliff says there’s a simple, related reason he called out Dan Patrick:

“Throughout my life, I have never tolerated bullies. And if you’ve seen my physical structure, you know that’s been a dangerous place for me to be, because I’ve got a pretty big mouth, but I don’t have a very big body to defend my mouth when I open it. … This issue to me really isn’t about CSCOPE. It’s about standing up to a bully that wants to micromanage our schools from Austin at the same time as he rails against government overreach.”

“If you polled public education parents and asked them what CSCOPE is, or asked them if they thought their kids were being taught to hate America or convert to Islam, they’d laugh in your face.”

Patrick Michels is a reporter for the Texas Observer and a former legislative intern. He has been a staff writer and web editor at the Dallas Observer, and a former editor of the Texas Independent. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a competitive eating enthusiast.

  • kedmiston

    Texas Taliban, complete with thought control! My thanks to Mr. Ratliff- one of only three sane Republicans in the State of Texasistan, for standing up to the crazies…

  • SoberMoney

    Anyone who takes on the social misfit Texas Taliban is a respected person in my book. I’m not surprised the Democrats are playing dead on this. They are doing the same thing nationally with Obama’s totalitarian liberal spy state – as well as his persecution of Snowden, and the other investigative journalists and whistle blowers who are trying to save us from our own ignorance and denial.

  • kedmiston

    this appeared in the Burnet newspaper, an ad for a meeting about CSCOPE…more like a witch-burning if you ask me. curriculum-burning!

    • gingerdr

      witch burning? Please! Ratliff is the one that is doing away with textbooks for online learning.

  • Rick Bentley

    The CSCOPE manufactured crisis is a ruse designed to divert attention to an agenda advanced by ALEC to privatize all public schools. Patrick and others think hitching their wagon to this bizarre extremist group will help their political careers. When ALEC is successful by implementing the philosophy espoused by Milton Friedman then local control, school boards and parental involvement will be a relic from a bygone age. The new bottom line in the new schools funded by Chinese investors (see Florida) will be the profit margin and shareholder dividends. Student learning and teacher development will disappear.

  • ★ StaceinTexas ★™

    lol Alinsky 101: Raliff plays the victim.

  • ★ StaceinTexas ★™

    Ratliff’s minions follow him around to every article cheering his faux community driven soul. #Comical.

  • Jed

    this is awesome.

    nobody tell these whackjobs about college, where students are actually assigned to read marx (probably even at UMBC, but look dan patrick turned out OK).

  • Chad in TX

    Rick Bentley: CSCOPE is not a manufactured crisis. It is closely related to Common Core. As a matter of fact, it is Common Core in different packaging. Don’t have to look as far as China when Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation GDP is larger than China’s. It is a fact that Bill is an admirer of the UN, UNESCO and other “One worlders.” Sounds like a good Mel Gibson movie line, but the more research done on all types of source sites, the more those facts are confirmed. I’ve often asked myself, “Why does Bill need MORE money?” I still cannot come up with a logical answer for that question, but yet, he has spent a sizeable percentage of his overall wealth to support groups that have a deep interest in changing the historical approach to education that our Country has followed for years. Do we need to improve? Sure, it’s always good to set being the best as a goal. What we need to ask ourselves as a State and Nation is, “Are we ready to do what it takes to make sure that our children receive a world class education without throwing away that which has made this Country exceptional for over two hundred years?” There are lots of good pieces of info out there including how Finland is doing it (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html?c=y&page=2)

    My only beef with this CSCOPE tool is how it was initially funded, developed, implemented and how it continues to hold the emotional sway of its supporters as if it’s the only ‘silver bullet’ tool out there. So, in that sense, I guess you’re right. That is manufactured. I’ve been shown by some petty high rankers in a district that is using the tool that its not hard to write scope and sequence for your kids and get “exemplary” results. Just ask little Mabank ISD…….

    • Angie

      What do you mean CSCOPE is Common Core? Do you know what Common Core is & what CSCOPE is??? Are you sure you don’t mean that the TEKS are Common Core? They are both standards for learning. CSCOPE is an organization of the TEKS – a scope & sequence. CSCOPE did not come up with its own set of learning standards – it uses the TEKS. It just amazes me how you wanna be know-it-alls have no clue what you are talking about.

  • ★ StaceinTexas ★™

    I realize this will hurt the democrats supporting Ratliff, but he has acknowledged the lessons in question are REAL and they all are not removed from the system. See: http://www.texastribune.org/2013/08/14/tribcast-cscope-campaign-debt-primary-challenges/comments/

  • ★ StaceinTexas ★™

    I apologize if this comment appears more than once. It vanished moments after adding.

    I realize this may hurt democrats around Texas, but Thomas Ratliff acknowledged the CSCOPE lessons in question were REAL and not all removed from system. http://www.texastribune.org/2013/08/14/tribcast-cscope-campaign-debt-primary-challenges/comments/