SPECIAL REPORT: CSCOPE, a classroom controversy

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POSTED: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 6:58pm

UPDATED: Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 1:05pm

It wasn't difficult to find people with an opinion on CSCOPE.

After posting on our Facebook page requesting interviewees on the topic, we received plenty of fiery replies.

The websites, blog articles and TV discussions dedicated to reviewing it are everywhere.

So what exactly is CSCOPE, and why are there so many up in arms over it?

CSCOPE started in 2005 in East Texas.

"There were a number of districts who were reaching out to the education service centers saying that the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) was becoming very difficult for them to make sure they were being covered through the academic year," said Mason Moses, CSCOPE spokesperson.

It's defined as a curriculum management system, designed by Texas teachers, for Texas teachers to implement the Texas education standards.

It is now used in 80 percent of Texas schools, and all of it is online.

"They have to show their work," said East Texas mother of two Wendy Velin. "If they don't know how to do that from the get go, how are they going to be able to do that when they get to college?"

Velin's children attend Cumberland Academy in Tyler, which does not currently use CSCOPE.

Velin, a former teacher, says she has done lots of research on the curriculum.

"I think the concept of the government deciding what our teachers and our classrooms are allowed to teach and how they teach, I think is wrong," Velin said.

The same argument has been made for Common Core, which is often compared to CSCOPE.

"Many states didn't really have any academic standards," said State Rep. Bryan Hughes of District 5. "The idea behind Common Core is to have good standards around country."

Texas is one of only five states that doesn't use Common Core.

Rep. Hughes says there's good reason for that.

"The reason Texas said no to Common Core was because we already had more rigorous standards," said Rep. Hughes. "If we would have adopted Common Core, it would have watered down, dumbed down what we were doing before."

Some argue CSCOPE though, is Common Core wrapped up with a different bow.

Lindale ISD Teacher of the Year Melissa McWhorter, agrees.

"I think they are a lot alike," McWhorter said. "Mandating what to teach and how to teach it."

Lindale is one East Texas school district that does not use CSCOPE. 

"I think there's a lot of great lessons in CSCOPE, and very beneficial to a lot of teachers throughout state," said Lindale ISD Superintendent Stan Surratt. "I don't think its the big evil everybody is making it out to be."

Other East Texas districts that don't use the curriculum include Jacksonville, Bullard, Kilgore, Whitehouse, Rusk and Kilgore.

McWhorter says if she had to teach with CSCOPE, she would quit.

"It takes away the needs of the student," McWhorter said. "That's what it's all about. It's not about test scores. CSCOPE was made by somebody who doesn't personally know our children."

The curriculum has also come under fire for its lack of transparency.

"They require all school personnel sign non-disclosure agreements to make sure no one else including parents is also to view CSCOPE materials," Velin said.

"That was something that was a misinterpretation on our part," Moses said. "so what we've done is gone into that user agreement and cleaned up language."

Then there's the uproar over some of the content, including that on world religion.

"There's instruction in there about Islam," said Mackie Adams of Grassroots America. "They even have kids putting on birkas."
CSCOPE says there are actually twice as many lessons on Christianity compared to any other religion.

That birka photo that went viral from a school near Beaumont, Texas was not part of the CSCOPE lesson.

"The lessons provided are examples meant to be if a teacher finds valuable they can use, build upon build their own content or not use at all," Moses said.

There are plenty of East Texas districts that do use CSCOPE,  including Longview, Van, Chapel Hill, Henderson and Tyler.

Nancy Swanson, the executive director of curriculum for Tyler ISD, says without CSCOPE, the work of the teachers would be much more difficult.

"They have become much more knowledgeable on what their standards are and that does make them create better lessons and assessments that really meet the rigor of our standards," Swanson said.

There's one last problem: For all those years, the State Board of Education never had any oversight over CSCOPE.

All the surrounding controversy caused Texas legislators to conduct a full review of CSCOPE materials. 

Now, lawmakers are getting involved.

In April, a glimmer of what many would call "a step in the right direction."

CSCOPE began providing access to all of its lessons online.

A couple of bills were filed to bring transparency and oversight to CSCOPE.

"The neat thing about this is, people all over Texas were concerned about CSCOPE," said Rep. Hughes. "They contacted us, the Legislature, elected officials, the media and the good thing is it worked.

Senate Bill 1406 regarding State Board of Education oversight over CSCOPE has since passed out of the Senate.

It is now awaiting approval from the House.
 

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