AUSTIN, Texas (CBS Houston/AP) — A much-maligned curriculum system designed to help teachers adhere to state educational requirements and used by hundreds of school districts across Texas will stop offering lesson plans amid mounting pressure from some conservatives who claimed it was promoting anti-American values.
State Sen. Dan Patrick said Monday that the 20-member board overseeing the CSCOPE system will vote to effectively gut it later this week. He displayed copies of a letter signed by all board members pledging to scrap lesson plans by Aug. 31.
The announcement comes as the Texas Legislature was poised to pass a $1.1 million plan to provide strict state oversight for CSCOPE, which has drawn sharp criticism from tea party lawmakers — even though much of the general public has never heard of the curriculum system. That bill is now largely moot.
“The era of CSCOPE lesson plans has come to an end,” Patrick, a Tea Party favorite who heads the Senate Education Committee, said at a news conference.
CSCOPE offers Web-based lesson plans and exams designed to help teachers adhere to state curriculum, especially those working in small districts that have trouble keeping up with Texas’ copious rules. CSCOPE is used in 877 Texas school districts, or 78 percent of districts statewide, and is supposed to be flexible enough for teachers to alter content to meet their individual needs.
The system was created by the 20 state-run service centers around Texas which are designed to support school districts. It offers about 1,600 model lessons that districts can access for a fee of $7 per student, though additional training for teachers on how to use the system can increase the per-pupil price.
But because of intellectual property concerns, many lesson plans weren’t available to the general public. That irked some Tea Party groups, who worried about “bureaucrats shrouded in secrecy” corrupting state classrooms.
The criticism intensified when parents discovered a lesson plan in which Boston Tea Party participants were referred to as terrorists, and another asked students to design a flag for a new socialist country. Some conservatives also suggested other lessons promoted Islamic values and questioned American patriotism.
“We accept the concerns expressed by the leadership of our state regarding segments of the lessons that were perceived as contradictory to the values of our great state,” Mary Anne Whiteker, superintendent of Hudson Independent School District, said. “We will therefore eliminate the model lessons offered as examples of what was interpreted as the intent of the standards and focus on moving forward in a positive manner.”
Kyle Wargo, executive director of the education service center in Lubbock, said CSCOPE will continue to help districts manage their instructional calendar, but that lesson plans will disappear. He said Aug. 31 is the soonest they can be removed from the Web because of existing contracts.
CSCOPE’s creators were already voluntarily working with the State Board of Education to improve transparency and remove lessons that could be considered offensive — and the bill that had been on the verge of passing.
But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott threatened to subpoena CSCOPE records, tweeting Monday, “The more we dig, the more problems surface.”
Abbott, a Republican who is expected to run for governor next year, cheered Monday’s announcement via Twitter: “CSCOPE is now ended” and saluting Patrick for “leading the shutdown.”
Patrick’s critics, however, say conservatives don’t trust teachers and school administrators enough to let them create a curriculum system on their own.
Dan Quinn, of the watchdog group the Texas Freedom Network, said ending CSCOPE lesson plans “throws hundreds of school districts under the bus” and will leave districts scrambling to devise their own lesson plans.
“This is what happens when you get enough pressure from outside groups to gin up a witch hunt with extortions and exaggerations,” Quinn said. “School districts are now going to have to come up with resources on their own to replace a service.”
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