Politicians spar on lesson plans

Published on Saturday, 24 August 2013 22:54 - Written by By Betty Waters blw@tylerpaper.com

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Thomas Ratliff, vice chairman of the State Board of Education, agreed on some issues, but strongly clashed on most points in an almost two-hour debate/discussion on the CSCOPE curriculum on Saturday in Tyler.

Ratliff defended CSCOPE lesson plans while Patrick attacked them.

The sharp exchange started with two-minute opening statements by each at The University of Texas at Tyler Ornelas Activity Center. Then the pair fielded questions by panelists Mary Ann Whiteker, superintendent of Hudson ISD; and JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America — We The People.

Although no questions were allowed from the audience, proponents and opponents of CSCOPE in the crowd made their feelings known by alternately clapping and yelling in response to statements by Ratliff and Patrick in answering the panelists’ questions.

At one point, the debate was about the definition of local control, with Ratliff contending the use of CSCOPE lesson plans should be a matter of local control by local school boards and public school administrators rather than state mandates.

“My position is it (whether to use CSCOPE) ought to be a decision made by local school districts, not by Austin politicians,” Ratliff said.

Patrick maintained that local control means the will of students, teachers, parents and administrators, which he claimed he represented.

“The Number One issue, regardless of which side you are on in this debate, is what’s best for the students,” Patrick said.

A number of parents came to him last fall about CSCOPE, Patrick said.

“I looked into it, and I had some concerns. All I promised them was that the first hearing we (the senate education committee) would have would be on CSCOPE. … Every week, every month, we heard more things about CSCOPE,” Patrick said.

He also read a letter from the Texas attorney general to the state auditor expressing concerns about where millions of state dollars went. Millions of public tax dollars were involved without proper bidding and without contracts, Patrick alleged.

“As taxpayers, as educators, as parents, you need to be concerned about the expenditures,” Patrick said. “You should be concerned that we were paying three times as much for online services than needs to be spent.

“You should also be concerned that the Texas code says clearly that a parent is entitled to review all teaching material, instructional material and other teaching aide. That’s a parent’s right,” Patrick said.

However, he charged that CSCOPE was hidden behind a wall that parents needed a password to get through, which he said was against the law.

“This is bigger than a lesson plan. … This is about an entity that was set up illegally in my view, an entity that has spent millions of taxpayer money that is unaccounted for, and that’s why I called for a state audit that will begin next month. And this is about the quality of lesson plans in our classrooms,” Patrick said.

Ratliff agreed that during the last weeks and months, everyone has learned about CSCOPE, but countered, “Unfortunately, most of it is not true. I want to have a factual, thoughtful and detailed discussion about the truth.”

In the interest of transparency, Ratliff said he had launched a drop-off online for the public to look at what he had and check his facts. He pleaded with listeners to look at the facts.

“Many of the things Senator Patrick has told you are just not true,” Ratliff said.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is misinformation. One of the other biggest challenges we’ve got is that many things are being blamed on CSCOPE that are not CSCOPE’s responsibility,” Ratliff said. “CSCOPE covers things in their lessons because the State Board of Education requires them to. … We’ve got to stop shooting the messenger.”

Ratliff charged that the way Patrick talked about an audit implies guilt.

“We have due process in this country. We have an innocent until proven guilty model and just because somebody is being investigated doesn’t imply anything. I support a state auditor review,” Ratliff said. “Let’s find out the truth, find out the facts.”

Noting Patrick called CSCOPE an illegal nonprofit entity, Ratliff cited a letter dated July 14, 2009, from the secretary of state’s office, which he said granted that nonprofit status.

There also is a letter from the Internal Revenue Service granting nonprofit status, and a letter from the attorney general talks about how CSCOPE can keep lessons away from the public information act, Ratliff said. This year he clarified it and said parents can see everything, Ratliff said.

“I support that 100 percent,” he said. But if you are not a parent, you are not entitled to the same information, Ratliff added. “I believe in transparency.”

Ratliff said opponents’ claims are based on taking CSCOPE lessons out of context or blowing it out of proportion or reading something that’s just not there.

Patrick, a critic of CSCOPE, alleged that the curriculum resources are anti-American, promote Islam and socialism.

Ratliff countered that there is no anti-American, pro-Islamic, pro-Marxist, pro-Communistic bias in the curriculum.

The CSCOPE system, which is used by approximately 875 public school districts, charter schools and private schools, was created by a coalition of Texas Education Service Centers with assistance from content experts.

The coalition has decided to stop releasing the lesson plans on Aug. 31, but many school districts already have the curriculum or can download it before the start of the new school year. A lawyer for the Texas Education Agency reportedly said the lesson plans are in the public domain and available to any school district that wants to use them.

It consists of a Year-at-a-Glance calendar, instructional focus document, unit assessments and example lessons.

Patrick said the big issue related to CSCOPE is about the future of education in Texas. He said he was sorry the issue has turned into a political football and his interest is in seeing that teachers can teach.

Patrick asked that everyone step back and try to get to the bottom of the issue. If there’s not value in the lesson plans, no one should want CSCOPE, he said. It’s about what’s best for the child, Patrick added.

Ratliff agreed the issue is about what is best for the public schools in Texas. Local schools are parents, teachers and school board members, he said.

“It is not the state’s job to micromanage every day, every hour, every sentence, every period in the classroom. We fundamentally disagree on that,’ Ratliff said.

Before the debate, the Association of Texas Professional Educators President Ginger Franks issued the following statement on the CSCOPE issue:

“This is not really about the merits of CSCOPE. It’s about the fact that a politician is trying to take away educators’ right to decide which lesson plans to use for purely political reasons. Tools like CSCOPE help teachers manage lesson plans and many districts, especially smaller school districts, rely heavily on this tool. It would be a shame to deny access to a tool that many teachers find helpful, especially when there isn’t a readily available replacement for it. This is a violation of educators’ right to teach the students in the way they feel is the most efficient and effective method, whether it is CSCOPE or not.”

Staff Writer Emily Guevara contributed to this report.