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State board removes CSCOPE lessons; controversial curriculum guide still mostly intact

By Glenn Evans
May 20, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Victory cries heard around the state Monday about the end of a controversial public school teaching tool were enthusiastic but not entirely accurate.

CSCOPE, an online curriculum guide in use at 875 school districts, came under withering fire this year from conservative critics offended by some of the lessons teachers could use to drive home skills mandated by the state.

"Senator Patrick announces the end of CSCOPE," the heading for a statewide announcement by Sen. Dan Patrick said. The Houston Republican is chairman of the Texas Senate Education Committee.

The announcement went on to say the board that oversees the curriculum guide agreed to remove 1,600 or so lessons from the CSCOPE website.

It was the lessons that drew criticism of the seven-year-old online curriculum guide, which was designed and leased by the state's 20 education service centers.

Conservative groups caught wind of lessons that, in one case, asked students to discuss the Boston Tea Party from the differing perspectives of the American patriots and King George.

"I'm already getting emails from superintendents and teachers at my districts saying, 'Now, what?' " said Thomas Ratliff, the State Board of Education member for Northeast Texas. "There were 1,600 lessons in that thing. That's not easily replaceable. ... For some districts, they are a small, optional part. For other districts, it was a lifeline. It's a sad day for small school districts and the state, and it's all because of politics."

The overall curriculum guide, and particularly the optional lessons, are described by CSCOPE proponents as being especially useful in smaller districts that do not have a curriculum department and where teachers often are newer to the profession. Most of the lessons were contributed by teachers and did not come with the online package leased by the state's 20 education service centers.

"Taking out those lessons does not change the mission of CSCOPE and what it does for teachers," said Katie Chenoweth, assistant director of school operations at the Kilgore-based Region VII Education Service Center. "I don't know about politically speaking, but those who have negative feelings about CSCOPE mention the lessons frequently. Taking those out does not change what CSCOPE originally was intended to do."

The education service centers were created 47 years ago as resources for public and private schools. Each is different, with the Kilgore service center offering training and assistance on more than 300 programs from technology to vocational education to kindergarten readiness.

One-third of the funding for the Kilgore service center comes from 96 school districts and 10 charter schools purchasing Region VII training or programs; 9 percent is state funding; and almost 60 percent comes in federal grants, according to Region VII.

"(CSCOPE) was designed without the lessons and met the requirements on teachers and districts that said, 'Please, please help us,' " said Sheron Darragh, director of curriculum services at Region VII. "So I know, as a third-grade teacher, here's what the kids coming to me (from second grade) should know. Here's my role and here's where the kids should be when they go on to the next grade level."

On any of the four core curriculum subjects - math, reading, science and social studies - the optional lessons were tied to specific skills on which students will be tested, she said.

"There could be 120 state expectations that a teacher is required by law to teach" in any given subject, she said. "You have to have some way to manage that."

Those management portions of CSCOPE remain available to districts.

Officials at Longview and Spring Hill ISDs, both of which lease the CSCOPE guide, said Monday their teachers do not use the optional lessons.

"The decision to discontinue CSCOPE lessons will have little impact on Spring Hill ISD," Superintendent Wes Jones wrote in an email. "Spring Hill ISD uses the CSCOPE planning documents which are simply the state curriculum standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and Student Expectations) that Texas school districts are required to teach."

A spokesman for Longview schools gave the same reasoning in predicting no effect on the district when the CSCOPE lessons are removed.

In Class AA Union Grove ISD, Superintendent Brian Gray said teachers do use the lessons as a resource. District leaders have followed the CSCOPE debates, he said, and will be looking at their options now that the lessons are coming down.

"We are evaluating how we need to move forward as a school district," Gray said.

But, as for the death of CSCOPE, Ratliff noted its heftier portions remain intact.

Those are the so-called scope and sequence, which is the array of state-required skills from kindergarten through 12th grade, and a calendar showing when each skill should be introduced.

"So, yes. The rumors of their death have been exaggerated," Ratliff said. "It is not CSCOPE that's going away, it's just that one component."

Patrick's announcement Monday morning halted work by a committee appointed by State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill to examine the 1,600 CSCOPE lessons.

"Before the academic part of it even was done, Dan Patrick went out and held a press conference," Ratliff said.

Elizabeth Abernathy, executive director at Region VII, was appointed to that committee, which has met twice.

"And that work will no longer continue," she said.



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