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Controversial Texas Lesson Plans Debated This Weekend

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

You may not know it, but tomorrow, the lucky people of Tyler, Texas will have the chance to witness one of the most anticipated confrontations since Rocky III, when Rocky Balboa took on ClubberLang.

Ok, maybe State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) debating State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff (R-Mt. Pleasant) over something called CSCOPE isn’t all that scintillating. But those lesson plans created by Texas teachers were one heck of a political football during the 2013 legislative session. 

Patrick and other conservative leaders railed against CSCOPE for, as they said, teaching un-American ideals. His efforts lead to an agreement in May that CSCOPE would stop providing lesson plans by the beginning of August. That agreement was applauded by grassroots activist Alice Linahan.

“CSCOPE is a curriculum management system that has a philosophy of education that is harming to Texas children," Linahan said.

That philosophy, according to opponents, comes out in lessons that ask whether the perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party were terrorists (you can see the offending question at the top of pg. 3).

Others teach about Islam. Even though teaching world religions is actually required in religion, world history and 6th grade social studies classes.

But beyond that, Linahan has issues with the CSCOPE’s overall philosophy, which includes a reliance on group projects.

“It’s the way that they teach. It does not come from a traditional foundational method of teaching. It’s a more collectivists, project based learning that has been proven unsuccessful," Linahan said.

Not everyone agrees.

“I believe it to be a good product,”Abilene ISD's Director of Accountability Jeannie Forehand said.

“Are there some lessons that are less exemplary than others, absolutely. But that’s going to be true in any sort of textbook, in any sort of curriculum resource that a teacher uses. And that’s why we trust the teachers to determine what’s effective and what’s not.”

That last part is the core of the argument supporting CSCOPE. An argument we’re bound to hear from state board of education member Thomas Ratliff at tomorrow’s debate. He and Abilene’s Forehand admit not all of the CSCOPE plans were great.

“But we trust that our teachers have the background and have the knowledge to determine what’s an effective lesson and what’s not an effective lesson," Forehand said.

So who was using the CSCOPE system, which includes several other teaching tools along with the lesson plan?

“Smaller and mid-sized school districts. Districts with on average around 2000 kids. One high school, who had not had the resources to have their own internal curriculum department like they would have in a larger district," CSCOPE spokesman Mason Moses said.

That adds up to about 70 percent of the state’s school districts. So what do those schools do now? Well, they could create their own lesson plans. That’s an easier task if you’re in a big school district with an internal curriculum department. Which is why CSCOPE wants districts should collaborate.

“We encourage them to talk with other school districts. To work with each other to find the best ways and things that fit their local community," Moses said.

Like what Forehand and the school districts in and around Abilene are doing.

“What we are doing is spearheading a regional cooperative of teacher created lessons and kind of forming I guess a database of those lessons and they’ll be available for the districts who are choosing to participate with us," Forehand said.

Post CSCOPE plan number 2, is to just continue using the CSCOPE lesson plans. That’s because the plans are in the public domain. So some schools have been downloading them and preparing to use them as needed during a school year.

That doesn't sit well with conservatives like Linahan, who thought May’s agreement to end the use of lesson plans…would actually end their use. That’s why she supports a recent lawsuit attempting to block use of the plans in LlanoISD.

“I’ve, myself has heard from other grassroots moms and dads from across the state who are willing to step up and also file temporary restraining orders. So I believe this is just the beginning," Linahan said.

Whether we’re at the beginning, middle or end of the CSCOPE drama, the passion on both sides is bound to get a jolt after tomorrow’s debate. Which could lead to a litigious school year ahead.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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