Conservatives campaigning against what they saw as liberal bias in classroom lessons packed a Senate committee room nine months ago and quickly got the attention of Texas’ leading Republicans.
But on Friday, the critics mustered only five people to speak out against the lessons, formerly known as CSCOPE, as a public vetting of the materials by members of the State Board of Education got underway. A total of 14 people testified at the hearing.
They offered now-familiar criticisms that the lessons favor Islam over Christianity and communism over capitalism, as well as about a lack of parental access.
“CSCOPE is one more example of the left’s ongoing agenda to inject its radical political curriculum into Texas,” said Bill Ames of Dallas, who helped craft the state’s social studies standards in 2009.
Educators, however, told a different story about the curriculum and lessons that have been used in 875 mostly small and midsized school districts.
“CSCOPE has been a valuable resource for us. It isn’t perfect, but it is something that we’ve been able to use and manipulate at a local level,” said Abby Rogers, a U.S. history teacher at Paris High School in Northeast Texas.
Rogers added that the hot-button issues that set off the controversy were often a function of how the CSCOPE lessons were implemented rather than the lessons themselves. The lessons are designed to be suggestions for teachers rather than scripts, she said.
“A lot of the problems with CSCOPE have not been CSCOPE problems,” Rogers said.
Some board members credited the conservative critics for spotting bias and bringing it to the attention of lawmakers.
“I applaud you, too, for taking a stand,” said Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands.
The controversy over CSCOPE bubbled up during the legislative session, and lawmakers passed legislation calling for the State Board of Education to give the lessons the same scrutiny applied to textbooks and other instructional materials.
But it took on greater political potency as two rivals in the lieutenant governor’s race, incumbent David Dewhurst and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, seized on the issue to woo tea party voters and other conservatives.
In August, Dewhurst appeared at a Capitol news conference with Llano residents who sued their school district over its continued use of CSCOPE. Later that week, Patrick showed up as a surprise witness at the court hearing ready to testify, but the judge tossed the case.
In the meantime, the nonprofit entity that created CSCOPE — now called the TEKS Resource System — dissolved and relinquished its copyright on the lesson plans, allowing school districts to use them free of charge.
As a result, the State Board of Education won’t be conducting the thorough examination called for in Senate Bill 1406. Instead, board members have appointed panels of teachers, parents and business leaders to examine 431 CSCOPE social studies lessons for errors and bias. Those findings will be released in November.
Regardless of the findings, school districts can continue to use the CSCOPE lessons or any other materials that help teach state standards. That remains a local decision.