A state-approved curriculum under fire from teachers as too rigid and conservative groups as "anti-American" will undergo a review by a committee pulled together by the State Board of Education that will consist of board members and state education officials.
SBOE Chairwoman Barbara Cargill last week announced she has appointed an ad hoc committee to examine the curriculum used in about 70 percent of Texas' school districts, known as CSCOPE, beginning with its social studies content.
The controversy mainly revolves around state officials receiving complaints that CSCOPE's social studies curriculum promotes Islam over Christianity by its level of inclusion of the religion and outrage over an optional critical thinking discussion about the Boston Tea Party that invites students to include the British perspective, which might have considered it an "act of terrorism."
At a hearing in January before the Senate Education Committee in Austin, state senators grilled education officials on CSCOPE's content and heard hours of testimony for and against it from teachers, superintendents and activists.
The curriculum's actual lesson plans, like all lesson plans, are not under the authority of the SBOE, Cargill wrote in a letter released by state education officials last week. But, she added, in response to growing public concern, legislative leaders have asked the SBOE to review CSCOPE content.
"I believe this process will be of great benefit to everyone involved, especially the students, parents, teachers and citizens of Texas," Cargill wrote. "I thank concerned citizens for bringing this issue to light."
A branch of the state education agency, known as education service centers, developed CSCOPE, which is essentially an online program used in several school districts in Bexar County, including Alamo Heights, Edgewood, Lackland and Somerset. The area's larger ones — Northside, North East, San Antonio and Harlandale — have the staff to design their own curriculum without gleaning from CSCOPE.
Lackland officials have heard of only one complaint from a parent, regarding the lesson plan on Islam. Somerset Superintendent Saul Hinojosa said he hadn't heard of any and lauds CSCOPE. He sent a few Somerset teachers to visit Austin in support of CSCOPE in preliminary testimony collected this year.
"If there was something controversial or something we think might not fit our kids, the teachers have the ability to modify their lesson," Hinojosa has said.
School districts can pick what they want to teach from CSCOPE's 1,600 lesson plans, and some superintendents who testified in January praised its overall quality and cost savings for not having to design their own curriculum. Some school officials have expressed surprise at the backlash, such as Lake Travis Independent School District Superintendent Brad Lancaster, who took to Twitter to question the Senate committee's attention to the complaints.
"To say the entire CSCOPE curriculum needs to be scrutinized due to one question among thousands about the Boston Tea Party is an extreme example in my mind of how that's ludicrous," Lancaster said later in an interview. "It has been up to local control to pull from the lesson plans like we would from a textbook in deciding what to teach, so I think state officials are overreacting."
CSCOPE has become enough of a hot potato that Texas Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams issued a statement this month clarifying that an incident in East Texas' Lumberton ISD, in which students posing for a picture wearing traditional Muslim attire went viral online, was not part of the online curriculum.
"I have been assured the decisions regarding development of this particular lesson were made at the local classroom level and not part of the CSCOPE curriculum management system," Williams said, adding that he plans to do an audit of all CSCOPE lessons anyway.
CSCOPE offers lesson plans and exams to help teachers follow state requirements on what should be taught — standards set by the State Board of Education that have been blasted by liberal critics as promoting a triumphalist version of American history that minimizes the nation's flaws and marginalizes minority contributions. Cargill has pushed back on that perception.
Cargill's committee includes SBOE members Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo; Mavis Knight, D-Dallas; Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth; and Tom Maynard, R-Florence; and three members from education service centers in Amarillo, Fort Worth and Kilgore. Rowley will lead the committee.
But it doesn't seem like a fast solution will come overnight.
The ad hoc committee will appoint panels composed of parents, educators, curriculum specialists and business professionals to examine CSCOPE instructional content and then turn over the findings to the board that governs CSCOPE. It's then up to that independent panel to adopt what it wants.