CSCOPE Takes Another Awful Spin Around the News Cycle

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
Patrick Michels
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has vowed action against CSCOPE: “We’re gonna step all over their face on this.”

Near the end of the regular session, Sen. Dan Patrick, chair of the Senate Education Committee, headlined a “Mission Accomplished” press conference. He stood with other conservative Republicans to proclaim the end of the vile “CSCOPE era” in Texas, freeing us all from that long Texan nightmare of the last 20 years.

The state’s regional education service centers, which sell the curriculum management program to almost 900 of Texas’ thousand-plus school districts, agreed to discontinue the classroom lessons, placating tea party groups who believed that CSCOPE muddied children’s minds with critical thinking exercises about U.S. history, religion and gender. (One lesson did untold damage by placing “communism” at the top of a list of economic models, rather than at the bottom.) Our future, once again, was safe.

But that victory suddenly turned very hollow last week, when Texas Education Agency general counsel David Anderson told the State Board of Education that CSCOPE’s lessons were in the public domain now—accessible to anyone at all, for free.

The latest chapter in this controversy comes just in time for the lieutenant governor’s race, a fine chance to out-charm the right-wing fringe. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst vented his outrage over CSCOPE (and how the Internet works) on conservative activist Alice Linahan’s web radio show on Monday.

“It’s still sitting on the Internet, and it’s available for any and all of our school districts to uplift it and use it,” Dewhurst said, later adding, “I thought it was dead. And all of us thought it is dead. But it is sitting there, on the Internet.”

But Dewhurst told listeners that he’s tough—tough enough to handle these lesson plans, that’s for sure!

“You’re talking to someone who was in the United States Air Force as an officer at the end of the Vietnam War. You’re talking to somebody that was in the CIA and posted abroad. I didn’t think twice about standing up to this mob two times and stand them down. … If this curriculum is going to be employed and it teaches values that are contrary to what we believe, I’m going to step all over their face on this. We’re gonna stop this.”

One thing that makes CSCOPE such a great punching bag is that it’s hard to explain who or what it is. But now that Dewhurst has raised the stakes like this, it’s fair to wonder: Just whose face will he step on? The administrators who built and ran a program the vast majority of school districts still want to use? The retired teachers who wrote those lesson plans years ago? Or maybe the teachers who will continue using CSCOPE lesson plans in their classrooms next year?

News that CSCOPE’s lessons are fair game in the classroom is good news for teachers in Texas who’d been headed into a new school year without a key resource. One of the most daunting things about being a new teacher is the prospect of filling up all that class time, and wondering if you’re filling it right. Textbooks help, but they’re not a full curriculum. The state standards, the TEKS, help too—but they’re a list of what kids should learn, not how you should teach it. Over time, good teachers develop their own lessons and projects, and big school districts have resources to help their teachers, like lesson plans and schedules to make sure they cover the standards.

But without CSCOPE—or a more expensive alternative made by, say, Pearson—teachers in smaller school districts don’t have that. As Dewhurst keenly observed, once something’s been released to the Internet it’s tough to get it back. But Patrick, who hopes to oust Dewhurst in next year’s primary, is committed to the CSCOPE purity cause.

“I urge parents to monitor closely the decision of their districts who attempt to use any public domain material whether it is CSCOPE or another program,” he wrote on Facebook last week. On Wednesday, Patrick filed a bill prohibiting districts from using old CSCOPE lessons. He’s asked Gov. Rick Perry to add CSCOPE to the special session that ends next week.

Trying to police individual classroom lessons from the Capitol is not only creepy, but really impractical. What happens when a teacher uses a CSCOPE handout with a few names changed? What if a lesson they’ve been using a lesson for years happens to be like one in the CSCOPE package? There are so many classrooms in Texas and inside each one, hundreds of lessons. Who could possibly do that policing?

You probably know the answer to that one. Last weekend Donna Garner, an educator and a conservative writer, asked her readers to spread the word: “Any teacher who chooses to teach CSCOPE lessons after August 1, 2013 should expect to be opposed publicly at local school board meetings by assertive activists who do not want their school children indoctrinated by CSCOPE.”

Staff writer Patrick Michels covers school reform and crime for the Observer.

Published at 11:35 am CST