Texas lawmakers have decided they want to rein in a controversial public school curriculum content and management system that at one point taught "Allah is God."
Most of the state's classrooms, some 80 percent, are using the CSCOPE program that also has raised eyebrows because educators had refused to allow parents and others to see what being taught.
Twenty-five state representatives now have signed onto a proposed oversight statute that would target CSCOPE, the online system that set up firewalls and passwords so that parents would not be able to see the curriculum.
Bill author State Rep. Steve Toth said, "It's imperative that we bring CSCOPE under the direction and oversight of the locally elected members of the State Board of Education. Repeated instances of impropriety along with a decidedly liberal leaning agenda makes this move of the utmost importance. ISDs all over the State of Texas have been misled as to what CSCOPE is and what it contains. We've got to get this right."
The action followed a recent hearing by the Texas State Senate Committee on Education, where lawmakers expressed alarm and more.
The hearing was chaired by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and concerned CSCOPE's secrecy and lack of transparency, as well as complaints that teachers are contractually prohibited from revealing classroom content to parents.
The committee consensus appeared to focus on the fact that parents and the public have not been allowed access to CSCOPE instructional materials. The committee also argued that Texas' TESCCC (CSCOPE's de facto parent company) is funded with state dollars, and therefore, CSCOPE content "belongs to the people of Texas." The TESCCC is a "public entity," as is CSCOPE, and must therefore submit to state oversight, they also said.
Senators also found the way CSCOPE was set up, it exposes teachers to legal action if they revealed CSCOPE content to the public. CSCOPE representatives admitted to this, but claimed it was unintentional – a mistake in language.
During the hearing, four panels were heard by the committee..
The first panel was composed of three CSCOPE representatives: Linda Villareal, executive director for the Region 2 Education Service Center; Terry Smith, executive director for ESC 13; and Wade Labay, state director for CSCOPE.
Senators raised questions about the system's exclusion of parents. Patrick previously had requested that CSCOPE make corrections to its policy before the hearing and open up the materials to public access.
CSCOPE officials said those changes had been made, but it was apparent what the curriculum officials considered public access was not the same as what the committee was thinking.
CSCOPE officials said such access could be provided at district discretion. When pressed further by Sen. Patrick, Dr. Villareal explained that disclosure was a "journey."
During a secondary questioning of CSCOPE representatives, Patrick attempted to confirm an answer provided earlier, about whether parents were allowed to see lessons "as of today."
CSCOPE's Terry Smith had responded in the affirmative.
However, when Patrick asked Labay if parents currently had "direct access" and he said "No."
Patrick wasn't satisfied.
"It needs to be fixed or go away. We can't have curriculum…that parents can't see in 800 school districts," he said.
When CSCOPE representatives repeated claims of "intellectual property" and insisted that public access would expose tests and answer keys, committee members noted it was a simple matter to keep tests private.
Villareal claimed teachers could log on and show parents lessons, even though the agreement teachers must sign prohibits that, and CSCOPE officials said that was a "mistake."
"Forgive me, but how many mistakes do you get to make before you lose your job?" Patrick said.
"If this was an airline hearing, and these were problems with your plane … we would ground you. But we can't unplug you yet because now you are in 875 school districts.
"What you all are doing could be great. But it's obviously not. It's obviously a mess right now. It's really, really troubling to me," he said.
When the issue of controversial curriculum content was raised, including one scenario wherein children are asked to design a flag for a "new socialist country," senators reacted strongly, and began to demand explanations of attendant CSCOPE representatives.
"Does that sound like we're sympathizing with those types of countries," asked Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who later added that he found the exercise "very egregious as a Texan and an American."
Significantly, CSCOPE representatives admitted to the existence of a number of controversial lesson plans that had been widely reported but denied by CSCOPE proponents in the media.
When confronted with printed documentation, CSCOPE representatives said those incidents were taken "out of context" or were "old."
Patrick pointed out that if the lessons in question, including the much-discussed lesson teaching students that Allah was the same God worshiped by Jews and Christians, were merely accurate lessons "taken out of context," why were they removed?
Patrick also noted that some of the controversial issues were removed only when the public became aware of them.
For example, a lesson that compared the Boston Tea Party to an act of terrorism was left up for six years before being removed.
A teacher with 30 years of classroom experience, Mary Bowen, told panelists that CSCOPE's claims of teacher freedom were false, giving senators a copy of the TESCCC/CSCOPE legal document passed out during a CSCOPE 2012 summer training session that states:
"To support implementation of this detailed curriculum, districts must have processes and people in place to insure that there is sustained monitoring of the curriculum and that individual teachers do not have the option to disregard or replace assigned content."
"When parents put their children on the school bus to come to school, they are not sending them to school for a controlled and compulsory learning environment. They want their children's teachers to be able to be creative and to meet the individual needs of each child," Bowen said. "I want it recorded for the record that I have never voted for a conglomerate to take over the Texas school system, and parents have not either."
Bowen said CSCOPE "roboticizes teachers" and is "used to corral teachers into teaching the very same lesson on the very same day in the very same way."
Bowen, who has a masters in curriculum, further recounted a conversation with CSCOPE reps on reading and writing lessons. Bowen asked if CSCOPE used phonics. The response from CSCOPE was reportedly as follows: "It is formulaic and we do not believe in it." It is unclear what method is used in place of this tested tool.
Stan Hartzler, a retired math instructor of 38 years on the panel with Bowen, burst into tears when talking about having to resign because of CSCOPE. He said he felt he was "aiding and abetting ignorance… giving students the illusion of an education."
Educators also testified they had thought CSCOPE was under the oversight of the Texas Education Agency – when it in fact was not.
In fact, 30-year educator and textbook author Janice Vancleave explained that TEA had its own suggested curriculum content and lesson plans, and that most teachers who are aware of the TEA materials prefer them to CSCOPE, especially from a state standards compliance approach.
The hearing is posted online.
WND previously reported the Obama administration's Department of Education was expressing interest in CSCOPE.
A source in the Texas education system had told WND that Common Core operatives in the U.S. Department of Education are actively pursuing CSCOPE as a way around the Texas legislative process.
Texas is one of the few states still resisting implementation of Common Core, Obama's national standards initiative, which many feel is a transparent attempt to nationalize education and progressively control classroom content with minimal parental oversight.
Implementation of Common Core is known to have been made a condition of school systems' receipt of federal dollars under Obama's "Race to the Top" program.
Colleen Vera, an educator and researcher, alerted committee members at the Jan. 31 hearing that another path to CSCOPE acquisition by Common Core proponents had been identified in TESCCC board minutes obtained by public information request. TESCCC meeting minutes dated Sept. 12, 2011, (page 5 -topic #8a), under the heading "CSCOPE Out of State Business Plan," reveal a change in incorporation documents to say the federal government could gain control of CSCOPE if TESCCC is dissolved (Art VI #6). The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) has been lobbying for federal "Race to the Top" funding, despite the state's rejection of Common Core, and will use state tax dollars to attend a conference in California at which radical activist and documented Bill Ayers-associate Linda Darling-Hammond will be speaking. WND has learned this week that Linda Darling-Hammond is actually writing CSCOPE lessons, and not merely serving as a spokesperson.
Among other issues that have arisen: Sources within the Texas education system recently informed WND that Wicca, thought by many to be akin to witchcraft, was being taught in CSCOPE curriculum alongside Christianity, but was removed before the news media could access it, a fact which represents one of the biggest concerns for followers of CSCOPE.
WND also reported that Islam was being given preferential status as a part of a study on the world's major religions, but then CSCOPE administrators deleted the lesson plan and associated PowerPoint in the presence of two sources, leaving no trace online.
In CSCOPE World History/Social Studies, Lesson 2, Unit 3 under the heading, "Classical Rome," students are told that Christianity is a "cult," and given a link to a BBC article saying the early Christians were "cannibals," i.e. the Eucharist, which students are then led to conclude is the reason for Roman persecution.
This lesson has since been removed, but documentation in WND's possession confirms that the lesson existed. Critics contend that this ability to change content on a whim to evade scrutiny or accountability is a persistent risk with a system like CSCOPE. An organic curriculum – if regulated – might be advantageous, but without transparency, these types of occurrences will likely be more frequent, critics say.
The full audio/video of the hearing can be viewed here.