Demise of CScope curriculum leaves some districts without resources for lesson plans

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The CScope battle among educators, legislators and parents may just be beginning, even though critics of the curriculum management system have succeeded in pulling the lesson plans out of Texas schools.

The Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based watchdog group, has accused state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, of “harassing local school districts and teachers over lessons they choose for their own classrooms.”

Patrick, an outspoken critic of CScope, posted a request on Facebook on Sunday for people to tell him if teachers are found using the lesson plans after they’re removed at the end of August.

“Sen. Patrick seems to think someone has appointed him Texas classroom czar, with the power to dictate to local teachers what they can and can’t do in their own classrooms,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network.

“But school districts and their teachers, who work with parents in their own communities, know far better than attention-craving politicians in Austin how to teach their students.”

The demise of CScope lessons, which critics say characterized the Boston Tea Party participants as terrorists and directed students to design flags for fictitious socialist countries, was sudden.

Clyde Steelman, executive director of the Region 11 Education Service Center in Fort Worth, said he was “caught off-guard a little bit” on May 20 when Patrick declared in a news release that the “CScope era is over.”

Patrick announced then that the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative, which administers CScope, had agreed to eliminate lesson plan development and all existing plans by the end of August.

“The state will have to create a plan to monitor all online material in the future so that our schools and classrooms remain completely transparent to parents, and the legislature knows what is being taught in our classrooms,” Patrick’s announcement read.

Steelman said he heard from frustrated superintendents last week who see the state’s ending of the curriculum as another example of districts losing local control.

The Region 11 Education Service Center is one of 20 operated by the state to help districts. The CScope curriculum was written and distributed by the service center network.

Attempts were already being made to rid CScope of objectionable material.

An ad hoc committee appointed this spring by State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill to review CScope met twice before the sudden shutdown halted its work.

Subcommittees of educators, parents and other community members had been recruited to review the 1,600 lesson plans.

“We were ready to get down to brass tacks when we got word the plug had been pulled,” said Patricia Hardy, a Board of Education member and Weatherford educator who was also a member of the ad hoc committee.

“I would’ve loved to have seen the review go forward.”

The search is on

Meanwhile, teachers and administrators in the more than 875 CScope school districts are wondering what they will do to replace its supplementary lessons.

The Crowley, Castleberry, Lake Worth and White Settlement districts in Tarrant County used CScope lesson plans, as did Weatherford, Grand Prairie and two charter schools.

North Texas districts will fill in small gaps instead of overhauling programs, Steelman said.

“At this point, I have not been contacted by any district saying they just don’t know what to do,” Steelman said.

“We have a lot of small districts that use the lesson plans, but they use them in bits and pieces. I’m not aware of any district that totally relies on the lessons that were furnished by CScope.”

CScope’s unique state-standard-aligned planning system will remain in use. The system was a popular tool for teachers before the Education Service Centers began creating and offering supplemental lesson plans during the 2006-07 school year.

Dan Powell, superintendent of the 15,200-student Crowley district, said Crowley has started discussing how to replace CScope lessons because curriculum must be written by the time school opens in August.

The lesson plans were optional for teachers in Crowley, Grand Prairie and Weatherford, but educators in smaller districts depended on them.

The Hudson school district in Lufkin is one of several smaller districts that are considering filing waiver requests with the Texas Education Agency to delay the removal.

But word from the TEA doesn’t sound encouraging.

A statement from the TEA to the Star-Telegram said, “The commissioner is unable to approve any waivers of state assessments, district or campus accountability requirements, or state graduation requirements for students.”

What are the advantages?

CScope expanded from smaller to larger districts during the past few years because state funding cuts reduced curriculum and staff, Powell said.

“CScope was an attractive alternative,” Powell said, with its close connections to the TEA, the service centers and the developers of the state’s curriculum standards.

Hardy said: “Your other choice would be to purchase [lessons] from a school district such as Plano, but they align their curriculum to their own resources. CScope was its own curriculum, not aligned to resources but only to the state standards and STAAR.”

Powell said it was also cheaper than other curriculum systems and available online.

Crowley’s CScope bill for 2012-13 was $108,000, but costs will decrease next year when the lesson plans are no longer included. The Hudson district paid $20,000.

Even without lesson plans, educators say the CScope planning and scheduling components are worth the cost.

“It literally saves our school district thousands of dollars because we can work with less staff,” Hardy said.

“The platform is very easy to use and as a result is very easy to monitor for administration.”

As for a replacement source, Powell said, teachers can access potential lessons online, but many are subjectively designed by commercial vendors, don’t align with state standards and are of questionable credibility.

Though Powell said he has not heard from any Crowley parents, he acknowledged the torrent of statewide sentiment over the issue.

“I think the sad thing is, if there were CScope lessons that offended people, I would have hoped that those pieces could have simply been identified and taken out,” Powell said.

He said he expects the criticism and distrust to be magnified as individual teachers in more than 875 districts prepare their own lesson plans.

“It’s hard to find material and create an exciting curriculum that offends no one,” Powell said.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657 Twitter: @shirljinkins

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