In the 70 percent of Texas public schools where a private curriculum has been installed, students are learning the "fact" that "Allah is the Almighty God," charge critics of a new online curriculum that already is facing condemnation for its secrecy and restrictions on oversight.
The program, called CSCOPE, is a private venture operating under the umbrella of the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative, whose incorporation documents state its independence from the State Board of Education of the Texas Education Agency.
Other reports previously have raised alarm over the curriculum's depiction of the Boston Tea Party as a terrorist act on par with the 9/11 attack.
According to documentation that has leaked out, the program describes the Boston Tea Party this way: "A local militia, believed to be a terrorist organization, attacked the property of private citizens today at our nation's busiest port. Although no one was injured in the attack, a large quantity of merchandise, considered to be valuable to its owners and loathsome to the perpetrators, was destroyed. The terrorists, dressed in disguise and apparently intoxicated, were able to escape into the night with the help of local citizens who harbor these fugitives and conceal their identities from the authorities. It is believed that the terrorist attack was a response to the policies enacted by the occupying country's government. Even stronger policies are anticipated by the local citizens."
There also have been reports that the curriculum – contrary to recent Supreme Court rulings – says the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the right to bear arms, is limited to state-run organizations.
"The collective right's advocates believed that the Second Amendment did not apply to individuals; rather it recognized the right of a state to arm its militia. It recognized limited individual rights only when it was exercised by members of a functioning, organized militia while actively participating in the militia's activities."
Now come concerns about what critics describe as a definitively pro-Islam bias.
The critics say the studies border on proselytizing.
In one scenario, students are asked to study the tenets of Islam, and critics say the materials provided exceed impartial review of another faith, extending into requirements of conversion and moral imperatives.
A computer presentation utilized as part of a study of Islam includes information on how to convert, as well as verses denigrating other faiths.
According to excerpts, under the heading, "Who Is Allah?," students are told:
"Allah is the Almighty God."
"Allah alone is the Creator. He alone deserves our devout love and worship."
Muhammad is described as having become "disillusioned with the corruption in the city and the growing gap between the urban dwellers and the Bedouins (nomadic herders)."
CSCOPE's geography curriculum also is being scrutinized.
A high school question on a geography test asks, "Which of the following has been a benefit of globalization?" Possible answers are as follows: a) pandemics, b) increased standard of living, c) loss of local culture, and finally, d) widespread environmental impacts.
The only "correct" answer accepted in the context of the test is "an increased standard of living."
WND recently reported the Texas State Board of Education was hearing concerns expressed by parents.
The debate carries national significance because of the influence Texas has on textbook and curriculum publishers as the only state that adopts uniform standards.
CSCOPE advocates say that the volume of information to which students now have access outside the classroom necessitates the move away from textbooks.
"If they're sitting in a classroom with a textbook, that's not the world anymore," said Anne Poplin, Education Service Center Region 9 executive director.
"We're moving to Bring Your Own Devices. It's a disadvantage (for children) not to have access to their devices. It's not a textbook-driven environment. If it is, they're behind," Poplin said.
An estimated 70 percent of Texas schools already are involved in the program.
But one of the concerns is that state law requires textbooks to be reviewed by the board of education, and parents are allowed to have access, since CSCOPE is considered a private venture it operates independently of state or local school board oversight.
The state attorney general's office has ruled that CSCOPE is a government organization subject to requirements of transparency, but because of loopholes in the Texas Public Information Act and Senate Bill 6, passed in 2011, CSCOPE has thus far been able to keep its content from public review. Even parents are denied access.
Kimberly Thomas, a teacher in the Lubbock school district, calls CSCOPE a "joke," identifying a ninth-grade lesson that asks students to circle capital letters in a sentence.
Her department was rated exemplary by the state prior to the installation of CSCOPE. As Thomas notes, CSCOPE "forces our own department to undo the proven, successful curriculum we have developed that gave us an exemplary rating."
Just days ago, Thomas Ratliff, a member of the state board and supporter of CSCOPE, said CSCOPE was "supplemental" and that textbooks still are being used.
"CSCOPE is not designed to eliminate textbooks or other instructional materials. It is designed to complement them for the benefit of the teacher and the student," he wrote in a prepared statement.
CSCOPE employees, on the other hand, claim the software is designed to replace textbooks and, indeed, has in many Texas school districts.
Addressing the issue of the program's secrecy, Ratliff slammed critics who say they want government to be "run like a business" but then get upset when that happens.
But critics argue private schools, the closest thing to a school being run like a business, still make instructional materials available to parents, something that CSCOPE refuses to do.
The "parent portal" provided on the public portion of CSCOPE's website has not allayed critics' concerns. Some of the lessons leaked to the public have contained wide disparities from the summary pages viewable in the public section of CSCOPE's website.
Ratliff defends this dichotomy by saying that, like iTunes or any other "business," some things must be placed behind a "pay wall" as part of a business plan. Ratliff claims that CSCOPE is created by "teachers, for teachers."
Complicating the issue is the fact that school districts usually purchase CSCOPE with state tax dollars.
While Ratliff calls the curriculum "instructional material" he said state oversight wouldn't help, and "I would much rather have 7,000 locally elected school board members decide what content is best for their students, not the 15-member SBOE. Allowing CSCOPE to be developed and implemented at the local level is the 'local control' Texans say we want. Injecting SBOE oversight into this would shift us into a 'controlling the locals' approach."
Critics say that's not the way the system is set up, and CSCOPE actually ends local input since it prevents, on penalty of copyright litigation, distribution of its content to parents.
A vocal critic has been Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle, a Republican.
"I did pretty well with textbooks. Benjamin Franklin did pretty well with textbooks. Are they going to say reading books is not effective? Should we all stop reading our Bibles?
"Call me old-fashioned, but there is something about the feel, smell, holding a book; there is a lot to be said for holding a hard copy," she said.
Separately but in a related issue, Attorney General Greg Abbott has released an opinion that is being quoted by critics as disqualifying Ratliff from the state board because of his connections to companies doing business with schools in Texas.