Near the end of this year's regular legislative session, Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, announced that the state-developed curriculum system known as CSCOPE would no longer provide Texas public schools with lesson plans.
The decision came after outcry over a perceived anti-American agenda in the lesson plans, used in some part by 70 percent of Texas school districts. The lesson plans had been the subject of exhaustive hearings before legislative committees and the State Board of Education. Despite Patrick's announcement, questions to Texas Education Agency officials at a Wednesday SBOE meeting revealed that there is nothing to stop school districts from continuing to use the lesson plans produced by CSCOPE, which are now in the public domain.
Many educators say that concerns about the lessons, which conservative radio host Glenn Beck has featured on his radio show and have fueled outrage among activists in the state, are exaggerated and based on a few, outdated examples. And administrators at some school districts — primarily smaller, rural ones — say the decision to discontinue them has created financial hardship that will draw resources from other areas.
"It's now six weeks before schools starts, and they are in a free-fall," said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican SBOE member that represents much of northeast Texas, where he said 90 percent of the school districts use CSCOPE.
Ratliff asked TEA officials at the meeting whether there was anything to prohibit districts from using the lessons, because the state's education centers no longer held the copyright to them.
"The CSCOPE lessons are in the public domain in the sense that Shakespeare is in the public domain and anyone is allowed to use it," said TEA attorney David Anderson.
After Patrick announced the CSCOPE agreement, he posted on his Facebook page that he would report any school districts continuing to use the lesson to the Texas attorney general — something Ratliff said was "scaring the you know what out of a lot school districts" that would like to keep using the lessons.
TEA Commissioner Michael Williams said that to the extent he had looked at it, he was somewhat at a loss "as to what the nature of the action would be that the attorney general would file," adding, "I'm not so sure he was advised that he was being placed in that position."
(The Tribune has requested comment from Patrick, and will update this post when he responds.)
Other SBOE members were alarmed by the prospect of school districts continuing to use CSCOPE on their own.
"The parents in my district are livid about the lessons that are given to their students," said Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, R-Dallas. "If nothing else out of this meeting this week, I need a statement to take back to my constituents about how are we going to handle this very controversial issues that I was under the impression had been taken care of."
Miller said that it was her understanding that legislation passed during the regular session allowed the state board the authority to review and approve the lesson plans used by school districts. While Anderson said there was nothing stopping the SBOE from reviewing lessons, it was local school boards that made the final decision about how state standards were taught in the classroom.
Because of the confusion among SBOE members and school districts, Ratliff said he planned make a resolution for the board to issue a clarifying statement when it continues meeting on Friday.
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