The CSCOPE curriculum management system turned out to be a hot-button issue at the Johnson County Republican Party meeting on Tuesday.
CSCOPE is a subscription-based electronic curriculum management system that districts and teachers use to develop lesson plans that align with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills — or TEKS — students are required to learn. About 70 percent of Texas schools use the system, developed by educational service centers, which are independent of the Texas Education Agency.
In a meeting that went nearly three hours, Cleburne ISD representatives and meeting attendees discussed CSCOPE, recently called anti-Christian and socialist by opponents. The problem with CSCOPE, some say, is that it's too "secretive," because parents don't have direct access to it, and therefore aren't sure what their children are learning.
Critics also say TEKS require students to learn about world religions and various forms of government. CSCOPE has lesson plan ideas based on those areas. Opponents of the system worry students are being persuaded to believe other religions and forms of government, among other things, are better than American customs.
Another change includes CSCOPE notifying all participating school districts that lessons included in CSCOPE are not necessarily intended to be taught as-is.
"The Governing Board generally recommends that local districts utilize CSCOPE lessons solely as a resource," read a press release from Sen. Patrick's office.
Despite those promised changes, a recent world geography lesson in Lumberton ISD, in southeast Texas, riled critics because students wore burqas to school as part of a lesson on Islam. The TEA responded on its website, assuring parents that the lesson was not derived from CSCOPE, but created in the classroom.
Those in favor of CSCOPE say it is simple to follow and is much less expensive than hiring a team of curriculum coordinators to write and track teachers' lesson plans.
"The other option is, you let the teachers teach what they want to, when they want to, close the door and don't bother them," Alvarado ISD Superintendent Chester Juroska said on Wednesday. "Then there will be huge gaps in curriculum. People can cherry-pick things and make [CSCOPE] seem like it's demonic. They have nothing better to do than wrap themselves in an American flag," and find things they think are wrong.
CISD Director of Secondary Education Chris Jackson, former Santa Fe Elementary School principal, gave the Tuesday CSCOPE presentation before a room full of parents, students, grandparents and taxpayers.
"This is our fifth year of using CSCOPE," Jackson said. "I am not aware of any major issues locally ... We haven't had any parents say, 'Oh, you're teaching communism or you're teaching Islam.' And, you know, a lot of the concern is coming from, I believe, because there is no open access directly from the CSCOPE website to parents, some parents say, 'I can't see behind the curtain.'"
Jackson said CISD has nothing to hide, and neither do the other districts using CSCOPE.
"We use it as an alignment tool," he said. "A lot of people ask, 'Why do you need a curriculum alignment tool when you already have the TEKS?' TEKS are standards. CSCOPE curriculum takes state-adopted TEKS and arranges them to make sense."
Many schools, like CISD, use CSCOPE to ensure all students at every grade level are learning the same material, no matter what school they are at in the district.
Jackson told attendees that CISD "does not require our teachers to use the lessons in CSCOPE," and that "the lessons are there as a resource."
But some said that was not the answer they sought.
"We have a world with communistic-leaning, socialistic-leaning young women," attendee Deborah Gaurkee said. "They are teachers that do not have a conservative view ... We have a wide hurdle to go across here."
CISD Superintendent Tim Miller said he felt CSCOPE, and its lesson plans, had been taken out of context.
"I don't want those lessons to be taken out of context," he said. "We don't require teachers to use the lessons. We ask them to use their professional judgement."
Miller also said the district never has and never will promote one religion or form of government over the other. TEKS requires that students understand fact-based information about religions and governments, he said.
However, teachers can explain why the American way of government bests communism and capitalism.
"We have 'In God We Trust,' banners in our schools," he said, adding, they won't be taken down.
Another attendee said that teaching about Islam promoted "pedophilia and virtual slavery of women," which he preferred to be left out of school.
Miller and other CISD representatives discussed holding a town hall meeting and invited anyone who wanted to look at CSCOPE lesson plans to visit CISD administration offices. All of the lesson plans can be seen there, Miller said, and he would be happy to allow anyone with questions or concerns full access to the CSCOPE material.
"I want to share something about Cleburne that I found out," Johnson County Republican Party Chairman Henry Teich said. "When I used to substitute teach, one of the things that I saw in Cleburne was the openness with Christian faith in CISD. Once, teachers let the students write a letter to Jesus.
"What [CISD representatives] have done for us tonight is open the door to the district. We have a golden opportunity to help them build a better school district."