Dan Patrick and Thomas Ratliff Slug it Out Over CSCOPE

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Crowd at the CSCOPE debate at UT Tyler
Olivia Messer
The crowd at UT-Tyler's Ornelas Hall enjoys a Saturday night of brass-tacks policy debate over CSCOPE.

The year’s hottest education policy debate wasn’t about vouchers or school funding or teacher performance pay—it was about CSCOPE, the once-obscure curriculum program built for Texas schools that’s been targeted for destruction by tea party activists.

On a stage at the University of Texas-Tyler on Saturday night, Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and State Board of Education vice chairman Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant) debated the program as the crowd giggled, applauded and occasionally shouted reminders that “This is America!”

CSCOPE has been under fire for almost a year, for a supposed anti-American slant in its sample lessons. Patrick gave CSCOPE’s critics an early boost by grilling the program’s administrators in his first hearing as chair of the Senate Education Committee, drawing attention from Fox News and Glenn Beck. Ratliff is a longtime defender of the program, which he says is an important tool for rural school districts.

As a welcome to Saturday’s debate, CSCOPE critics had signs—and even a car parked outside—urging, “Impeach Ratliff.” But throughout the 90-minute event, Ratliff’s defense of CSCOPE—or at least school districts’ right to choose whether to use the program—drew much of the crowd’s applause.

Shortly into his introduction Patrick boomed, “This should not be a fight about issues between adults. The number one issue should be, regardless of which side you are on in this debate, what’s best for the students.”

A car with "Impeach Ratliff" written on the windows.
Olivia Messer
A car parked outside UT-Tyler’s Ornelas Hall, with a message calling for Thomas Ratliff’s impeachment.

He and Ratliff spent most of the debate clashing on CSCOPE’s financial transparency and its accessibility to parents asking to see lessons.

Ratliff credited Patrick with helping to force CSCOPE’s lesson plans—which were once proprietary documents only available to subscribers—out into the public domain. Now they’re available online.

But Patrick wasn’t satisfied. “You should be concerned that, for six years, CSCOPE was violating the law,” Patrick said. “We cannot turn a blind eye and say ‘It’s alright. We take public taxpayer money, form a private company, we don’t have an address, we don’t have anything.’ You couldn’t find someone who worked at CSCOPE. It didn’t exist,” he said. “It did not exist.”

Patrick stoked vague fears about what more CSCOPE could be hiding. “What don’t we know?” he repeated.

To many of Patrick’s accusations, though, Ratliff had an answer. When Patrick said that the Texas Tribune conducted a study finding that children in CSCOPE schools performed poorly, Ratliff countered that the “study” was actually conducted by a 9th-grade business class using the Tribune’s online data.

“He’s pointing to a 9th-grade spreadsheet. I’m pointing to an email from a superintendent right here in Tyler; the superintendent in Llano that just defended himself against a frivolous lawsuit; and two doctoral theses: one done by a private Christian university known as Baylor University, the other done at Texas Tech University,” Ratliff responded. “The facts are clear, and if you look at the facts, CSCOPE does not impair, but it enhances student performance.”

Thomas Ratliff and Dan Patrick debate CSCOPE
Olivia Messer
Thomas Ratliff and Dan Patrick debate CSCOPE onstage at UT-Tyler’s Ornelas Hall.

Patrick argued that a parent was charged $700 to access CSCOPE lesson plans, but Ratliff explained the charges weren’t for access, but for the paper copies the parent wanted to make. “I personally don’t want a school district giving somebody 10,000 copies for free. I want to educate kids, not be a copy machine for somebody who wants to look at this stuff.”

Ratliff referred often to an online repository of documents about CSCOPE, and encouraged people to fact-check him. (At Dropbox.com, log in as “[email protected]” with the password “CSCOPE”.) Patrick suggested this was just a distraction. “You can have the biggest Dropbox and all the documents you want. You’re just wrong,” he said.

JoAnn Fleming of Grassroots America, a CSCOPE critic and a panelist on Saturday’s debate, expressed concern that “with the NSA issue in the news,” CSCOPE might be making student information available to third party vendors.

“The only people that have usernames and passwords in CSCOPE are teachers. CSCOPE contains zero. Zero student data. … It’s just not true,” Ratliff said. “Any accusations of data mining are false, and it’s fear mongering designed to scare parents,” he continued.

Patrick was not dissuaded. “First of all, I didn’t think the government was eavesdropping on the telephone. I didn’t know the IRS was going after conservative Tea Party groups and citizens. I didn’t know that the government could read my email,” he said. “And so while, Thomas, I agree at this point in time there’s no evidence of that, I’m very concerned about the future.”

CSCOPE critic Alice Linahan
Olivia Messer
CSCOPE critic Alice Linahan, with the conservative group Women On the Wall, outside the debate hall Saturday night.

When Fleming pressed further, Ratliff explained that teachers print out assignments and pass them out to students. “So, unless there’s a Xerox machine in the sky that takes those and mines that data, I can’t tell you.”

The debate marked a high point in the personal rivalry between Patrick and Ratliff, elected officials serving on separate bodies of state government who had, until now, only ribbed at one another over social media.

Patrick chided Ratliff Saturday night for never having reviewed more than a few of CSCOPE’s lesson plans. But when Ratliff asked Patrick how many he’d read, Patrick said he hadn’t read any. It was a surprising moment, highlighting just how far the politics of CSCOPE are removed from its use in the classroom.

After the debate, Patrick said that Ratliff “made some valid points,” but could not remember any of them specifically. “Overall, he could not answer any of the questions that I put forward,” Patrick said. “I was surprised that the educators were cheering on something that they don’t know a lot about, and that they’re not concerned.”

Ratliff said he was confused by Patrick’s persistence in going after the curriculum. “If the issue was transparency, mission accomplished. But he’s not stopping. And the non-CSCOPE schools are next, because as soon as the Tea Party finds something in their curriculum they don’t like, they’re going after them,” Ratliff said.

He said he was disappointed by the political antics Patrick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have used to prolong the CSCOPE controversy. “What this has become is a tug-of-war between two guys who want to be Lieutenant Governor,” Ratliff said. “And they’re using public schools as the rope.”

  • peggyvenable

    The debate exposed the lack of transparency by the Regional Education Service Centers in creating, selling and implementing CSCOPE. No public entity should create a nonprofit entity to facilitate skirting open meetings and public information requests. We have no idea where the tens of millions of dollars spent on CSCOPE went. It was encouraging to hear that SBOE member Ratliff shared that concern. But the debate failed to address the concerns of many teachers and parents that CSCOPE content is poorly written, error-ridden, not written sequentially, and some includes some plagiarized material. The simple fact that CSCOPE was paid for with public dollars, sold to vulnerable ISD’s by a state entity, and while the public paid for it many times over, the CSCOPE material now in the public domain is worth what ISDs now pay for it — nothing. Administrators who have so little confidence in their teachers to think they cannot create better lesson plans should not drive this debate.

    • http://kennethdfranks.blogspot.com/ Kenneth D. Franks

      The amount we have paid Pearson to test students is a larger concern to me. By 2015 we will have paid them $1.1 billion dollars according to the article, “The Price of Pearson.” We also pay more for testing per student than California. More spent on testing than California did you get that? We, the state, which means “tax payers” will pay them $95 million just this year. CSCOPE is now available for everyone to look at and search every single sample lesson plan. As a veteran teacher I didn’t need it or use it. Maybe some teachers especially new ones need a little help with creative ideas for lessons. The few controversial lesson plans are probably not worth scraping the whole program.

      • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/ Ed Darrell

        Compared to Pearson’s contracts and out-of-SBOE sales to school districts, CSCOPE’s a penny-ante bargain to taxpayers.

        I am troubled that Ms. Venable continues to hammer away at all those Baptist and Methodist ladies who teach our kids, claiming that they write anti-American lesson plans in history, algebra, and reading. Most Texas teachers are GOP, flag-waving, patriotic good neighbors trying to do a good job. The assault on our neighbors is inexcusable. I hope each of those teachers puts Neimoller’s famous poem into the curriculum, and I’m certain Ms. Venable will complain it’s “terroristic,” “anti-Christian,” and probably “communist” as well.

    • Angie

      Peggy, when are y’all going to go after Kilgo? You have to pay out the nose to even be allowed into one of her trainings & you definitely don’t get ANY of her materials unless you pay. And, she is the only one who develops her materials. Is that this transparency that you keep referring to? I think not!

    • Rebecca M.

      When educational funding was cut due to the recession, Educational Service Centers were told to become self-funding. Well, CSCOPE ended up helping to fund the many services that these centers provide Texas schools, administrators, and teachers. The whole issue about the money involving CSCOPE is the fact that there are people in the legislature who want a piece of the money that the regional service centers have taken in through CSCOPE. Money, I might add, which was used to continually develop new lessons based on teacher feedback and to provide teachers with professional development trainings in areas of both content specific courses (like Preparing for EOC Success) and instructional growth (like Differentiation for Gifted Students and Vocabulary Development for English Language Learners). But yet, let’s vilify the only real support structure that our teachers have- because they sure are not getting help from anyone in TEA or the state legislature. Politician don’t know anything about teaching or what it takes to be successful in the classroom- no one should ever view them as any type of expert on education.

  • Conservative

    This debate is not about transparency anymore. This is a debate about gov control of our local districts curriculum. Write your own curriculum/lessons and we can choose to use them or not.

    • SoberMoney

      If I let the local teachers in Blanco ISD write their own curriculum, my kids would be fantasizing about feeding brontosauruses along side Jesus,
      .
      Sorry, but in the Hill Country they think the Beverly Hillbillies is a documentary – and the Flintstones is an animated science video.

      • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/ Ed Darrell

        And yet, CSCOPE critics like Dan Patrick attack those Blanco ISD teachers as “communists,” “socialists,” “one-worlders,” “pro-Islamists.”

        Doesn’t anyone actually read the lesson plans, besides the teachers?

    • SoberMoney

      Btw, “Conservative”, public school districts ARE government agencies. They are tax funded and their budgets come from public (government) funds.

      Oh, I forgot, conservative now means all government is bad – a good reason why Republicans should only be allowed in the private sector (rather than sucking on the govt tax nipple).

      • crewoldt

        Unfortunately, it IS the private sector sucking off the rest of us who pay taxes.

    • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/ Ed Darrell

      Not so simple: Is that lesson plan aligned with TEKS? WE spent years developing Texas standards, and each teacher is held responsible for teaching that stuff in their evaluations. CSCOPE offers alignment with Texas standards (why is Patrick opposed to Texas standards?) coupled with information that specifically details how and where each of the hundreds of Texas-approved textbooks has the material students need to read as part of the lesson.

      Local control? States took over with George Bush. The GOP-pushed testing-only regimens look like the culprit for any CSCOPE problems, but true to form, the conservatives blame the teachers instead, and are waging unholy war against those teachers and Texas kids.

      It’s telling that, when the announcement was made that CSCOPE would no longer provide updated materials, Pearson and other big-money, conservative-backing companies offered their competing products to affected districts, within hours (minutes in some cases) — at about double the cost.

      Follow the money in this controversy, and sadly you’ll discover the assault on CSCOPE and Texas teachers benefits no student anywhere. It is a tragedy.

  • Jaxon Heath

    I’ve yet to talk to a teacher,board member or administrator who, after actually reading lessons in CScope, have any concerns. While Dan Patrick and people like Peggy state that issue is transparency, now that they have it, they continue attacking the teachers of Texas. Teachers are (and should continue to be) free to chose from Cscope or any other resource that fulfills the educational plan…and let’s remember CScope lesson plans were WRITTEN BY TEXAS TEACHERS and no one else. So when they attack CScope, they ARE attacking Texas teachers. Two other issues, Dan Patrick brought up the “numerous” teachers that are against CScope…well, the two public meetings I attended with him teachers were IN FAVOR of keeping CScope to use as they see fit. Also, the teachers who testified at the senate education hearing were experienced teachers who had been put on growth plans due to poor performance or actually non-renewed. Isn’t it interesting that after Dan Patrick’s announcement that “CScope was dead.” many, if not all superintendents, received an email from Pearson (yes, the British testing firm who our legislature has allowed to make billions off of testing) saying that they are ready to step in and provide a curriculum to replace CScope. Wake up folks, this is not about transparency, there is much more sinister things going on. Why is Peggy not demanding Pearson’s relationship with our legislature be looked at? Where is Dan Patrick demanding that Pearson’s dealings with some legislators and TEA be looked into?

    • gingerdr

      Teachers are not free to teach as they wish! They teach what their administrators tell them.

      • Jaxon Heath

        Yes, that sometimes is true. Do you know why? That’s what their administrators are paid to do. Again, my kids teachers were not forced to use CScope and I had no problems with the lessons that they did use. I’ve also read the lessons people have complained about and there’s nothing wrong with them.

    • Angie

      Jaxon, you could not be more correct! Thank you for posting rational comments. I would love for your questions to be answered about Pearson. My question is, why aren’t they going after our state standards (TEKS)? CSCOPE is nothing more than an organization of the state standards. And, why are they not looking into every curriculum out there that districts use (Kilgo, Gateways, A&M Consolidated, etc.) including those written by districts? Why is it only CSCOPE? I would LOVE to know who is making contributions to Patrick’s campaign & who they work for. After all, that is public information & should be “transparent”. I would not be surprised to find some Pearson connections.

    • Roxmarti

      As a Texas teacher in who did use CSCOPE for three years (MissionCISD), I did not see ANY value in the curriculum nor have I ever met a teacher that did not despise CSCOPE. Our district (and Region) spent a great deal of monies on this curriculum. One major flaw was that it was never completed; some subject areas had absolutely no lessons plans while others were incomplete. As the year progressed, the lessons just stopped, left to teachers to finish in the spring when teachers begin to get frazzled with state testing. Our administrators would not answer our questions as to why that have decided on CSCOPE, they simply said they had no choice. We had to use CSCOPE. Even our superintendent came in to personally speak to anyone that was opposed to CSCOPE and reassure us that this was the curriculum our district would be going with.
      Another problem in all subject areas was the organization of CSCOPE. It did not follow a developmental skill pattern. (Please view the math lessons for elementary 4th & 5th grades.) Teachers were not allowed to use supplemental materials outside of CSCOPE – only what was provided. I do not recommend CSCOPE!!! It’s far too limiting. Instead, have the content leaders from each school meet with the district coordinators and adopt the best curriculum for each subject area. Who best to choose the curriculum than the teachers who will have to use it? No teacher votes for CSCOPE.

  • bthis

    Phrases like “supposed anti-American slant”, the length of quotes of Ratliff’s defenses far exceeding statements by Patrick, and the summation extensively quoting Ratliff clearly indicate the bias of this pro-Ratliff, pro-CSCOPE article and its author. Reader beware.

    • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/ Ed Darrell

      It would be more accurate to change it to “hallucinated anti-American slant.” I found the article pulling punches in discussing the scurrilous, completely unevidenced smears from Dan Patrick and the anti-CSCOPE mob.Despite their claims that CSCOPE turned them all into newts, not a single newt has been produced in evidence.

      • Joshua Smith

        They got better! But seriously, you are completely correct Ed.

    • crewoldt

      btthis, if that is your real name (LOL), learn the language before you attempt to write, especially about education.

  • SoberMoney

    Frankly I don’t completely understand all the pros and cons of CScope. But history tells me that I should support the opposite of what Patrick an Dewhurst think. That way, I’m guaranteed to be 95% correct.

  • Thomas Ratliff

    Senator Patrick says “You couldn’t find someone who worked at CSCOPE,” yet they were able to show up at his Senate Education committee hearing. How did you find them? Smoke signals?

    • gingerdr

      Ratliff, you seem a little nervous. Why? A bully would call out a private citizen and taxpayer from the stage of his own debate, not to mention a women. Unbelievable but telling of the mentality of the leftist we are dealing with.

      • Jaxon Heath

        Not to mention the woman who was yelling out trying to disrupt the debate.

      • Rebecca M.

        Really, Ginger. Dan Patrick and his lobby groups are the bullies. Ratliff is the only one standing up for teacher’s rights and the right of school districts to determine the methods by which they will instruct and meet the state instructional standards (TEKS).

    • Karen Houk Goad

      I worked for CSCOPE. Frankly, I am confused why there was ever any issue. The lessons and assessments were written by Texas teachers, including me! We had NO political agenda! Our job was to cover the TEKS that the government established.

      • Tommy Sewall

        CSCOPE for secondary science doesn’t properly cover the TEKS, especially the process skills. Many of the experiments do not work or have no valid point. Many of the test questions are incorrect or misleading. Assumptions are made that students will have a level of mastery that they do not have. Of course the TEKS for chemistry were garbage in their first incarnation. They are marginally better now. Get rid of Pearson, CScope, and any other canned curriculum. They are worthless.

  • Chris O

    Alice Linahan is a paid political hack. She’ll oppose anything as long as you pay her. She is a lobbyist and should register in accordance to Texas Gov’t Code 305, but she does not.

  • Rick

    1. Depending on the validity and strength of their argument, lawyers will either pound the law, pound the case, or pound the table. Mr. Patrick pounded the table. He was poorly prepared for this event and tried to use emotion to win. His lack of critical thinking skill was evident as the event wore on into the evening. I fully expected him to say, “because I told you so” on one or two occasions.

    2. Let’s talk money – How much money has Pearson harvested (yes, this is a term used by business) from the taxpayers of the state of Texas since they were awarded the contract for state assessment? How much of this money has found it’s way into the pockets of politicians like Dan Patrick? Do you think Pearson (a London based company) perceived CSCOPE as a threat that was cutting into their profit margin? Perhaps the taxpayers of Texas should take a look at the Pearson boondoggle. Texas children and teachers have been under the boot heel of an assessment program advanced by Pearson which was founded on a false assumption that American students were poor performers on standardized tests. This narrative has just about run it’s course and now the data suggests the assumption may have been incorrect all along (http://www.epi.org/publication/us-student-performance-testing/).

    3. The tiny sliver of loudmouths represented by Dan Patrick are shaking in their boots as they start to understand the sleeping giant that has been awakened in Texas. It is time for these folks who have hijacked the agenda to feather their nests to pack their bags. The times they are a’changing, again!

    • Soapie

      Nail hit squarely on the head. Thumbs up.

    • Angie

      Right on! Thank you for your rational thoughts! Isn’t it funny how Patrick and his followers are completely going against everything the conservative tea party is supposed to be for? When you tell local districts what to do & how to do it, that sounds like big government to me!

  • Soapie

    Good news from the Commissioner of Education today! Local school districts will be required to hold a public hearing if their schools choose to use CScope. A clear victory for those of us that are true Conservatives that believe in less government, local control and a quality education for Texas school children! I trust our local educators to monitor what is being taught in our classrooms, not politicians that have fallen victim to hysteria and are pandering for votes. Better local oversight and monitoring of these lessons is and was always the solution. CScope is a great resource developed to help Texas teachers (especially new ones) by Texas teachers, to help students in mastering the rigorous state mandated testing in a collaborative, cost effective way. CScope should never have been targeted entirely because it had a few lessons that were construed as objectionable by some. As a taxpayer, the thought of wasting the tax dollars that went into developing it is infuriating to me! And, please my fellow Texans…before you make your decision whose side you are on….talk to your local teachers and administrators. They are the experts and deserve to be treated as such. The misinformation and falsehoods out there on the topic through social media by self-proclaimed experts is astounding. Just because they type it, doesn’t make it so. And lastly, thank you Mr. Ratliff for your strong leadership, your service, and for standing in the gap for Texas school children. God bless Texas today and always.

    • channelclemente

      One might also say, because you say doesn’t make it so either.

    • Rebecca M.

      Thank you for your post! Best advice I have read so far.

    • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/ Ed Darrell

      Hold on. The Commissar of Education “reminded” districts of a new state law that requires hearings for significant policy changes.

      Curriculum selection? I’d argue that it’s not major, and the selection of curriculum program is a task assigned to the Superintendent under Texas law.

      But, in the off chance the anti-CSCOPE bullies do get someone, a shill, a puppet, a Greg Abbott, to send nasty letters to superintendents, I’d remind you that the decision to DROP CSCOPE then automatically becomes an issue that requires hearings. You want to campaign against CSCOPE? You’ll have to do it in public, no aliases, with real facts, in front of 900 Texas school boards. They are not obligated to listen to your whines.

      The new school year is already started. Major actions, like stopping the use of Texas-bred, Texas-made, Texas-balanced curriculum programs should not only require a hearing (for the 2014-2015 school year — we’re too far into this one), but any district who has proposed to abandon CSCOPE must also hold such a hearing.

      What a waste of time, resources and talent — and all for a witch hunt. Sill GOP: All the witches were caught at Salem, 250 years or so ago.

    • crewoldt

      You want less Government, move to Mexico. This is America, government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

  • SoberMoney

    I’ll say it again:

    “I don’t completely understand all the pros and cons of CScope. But history tells me that I should support the opposite of what Patrick and Dewhurst think. That way, I’m guaranteed to be 95% correct.”

  • Joshua Smith
    • Patrick

      Thanks Joshua! Added the video to the bottom of the post as well.

  • portia dar

    The real issue is the underlying one of transparency and how the cscope system was set up in the first place. We, as taxpayers, need to ask if the ESC’s are really doing what we pay them to do? Umbrella clusters for profit within the system is not acceptable. The lessons are not the most critical piece of this puzzle-the real question is the formation and arrogance of the cscope system.

  • ttoe

    Don’t rural school districts typically turn out better over all scores than non-rural public schools? So why the need for this program in specifically rural schools?

    Well, simply, it’s because the left wing has less of an advantage in indoctrinating kids in those schools.

    This program, much like Common Core, tells our children how they’re supposed to think.