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Senators slam frequently used CSCOPE system

Jan. 31, 2013 at 11 p.m.


AUSTIN (AP) - Top education leaders in the state Senate on Thursday grilled the creators of a curriculum system used across Texas that critics claim promotes anti-American values and stifles classroom flexibility.

CSCOPE is an electronic curriculum management system that offers Web-based lesson plans and exams designed to help teachers adhere to state educational requirements. It is now used in 875 school districts - more than 70 percent of districts statewide - and is supposed to be flexible enough for teachers to alter content to meet their individual needs.

But some teachers have complained CSCOPE it too rigid, and conservative activists say it promotes biased, progressive ideology.

A string of witnesses before the Senate Education Committee raised those concerns, criticizing the program for lacking transparency and promoting liberal values they said were anti-Christian at best and openly socialist at worst.

One witness compared the system to "mind control," while an algebra teacher wept as he described quitting because he felt he was "aiding and abetting a crime" by using CSCOPE in his classroom.

"Discontent is rampant across the state," said Peggy Venable, a frequent critic of public schools who is the Texas director of Americans for Prosperity.

By teachers, for teachers

Defending the system was Wade Lebay, director of state CSCOPE at the Region 13 Education Service Center in Austin. He said CSCOPE offers about 1,600 model lessons districts can access for a fee of $7 per student, though additional training for teachers on how to use the system can increase the per-pupil price.

"It's built by teachers, designed by teachers and that's what's powerful about CSCOPE," Lebay said. His is one of 20 service centers statewide that serve as liaisons between school districts and the Texas Education Agency, which oversees public schools.

Senators asked Lebay about complaints some lesson plans promoted pro-Islam ideals, or described participants of the Boston Tea Party as terrorists.

Controversy

Lebay was even asked to read part of a sixth grade lesson plan that showed different countries' flags and instructed students to "notice that socialist and communist countries use symbolism on their flags." It went on to ask students what symbols they would use if they were to create a flag for a new socialist country.

First-term Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, asked, "Does that sound like we're sympathizing with those types of countries?" He later said he found the lesson plan "very egregious as a Texan and an American."

Linda Villarreal, director of the Region 2 Education Service Center in Corpus Christi, responded, "We have 1,600 lessons, so to take just this one is ...." Taylor cut her off asking, "Who is reviewing these 1,600 plans?"

Another first-year senator, Donna Campbell, a San Marcos Republican, complained about the uniformity CSCOPE imposes - though Lebay and Villareal argued it was necessary to ensure teachers best-adhere to complicated state curriculum requirements.

"Our teachers don't need to be scripted," Campbell said.

Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick said he'd never met a teacher who wasn't critical of CSCOPE.

The Houston Republican also objected to what he called the program's lack of transparency, complaining parents can't access lesson plans.

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