Curriculum is conundrum for Texas schools

Stephanie Nalls

According to the website, CSCOPE is "a comprehensive online curriculum management system developed and owned by the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC), a consortium composed of the 20 Education Service Centers in the state."

TESCCC is funded by taxpayers through fees from districts that use their program. Very little information about this group or its philosophy is available to the public, and that veil of secrecy is one of the biggest complaints of parents.

CSCOPE's Terms of Use agreement does not prohibit parents from seeing the materials, but the District User License Agreement (DULA) does prohibit unauthorized users from having online access to the CSCOPE site or content. Therefore, parents cannot view what their kids are learning or how they are being taught nor can teachers provide parents with copies of the actual lessons. There are no textbooks.

With the freedom to implement the program as they see fit, some administrators impose minimal reliance, only expecting that all lessons be covered by the end of the year. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some require teachers to use not only the lessons provided but also the script.

One problem cited by teachers who use the accompanying lessons and materials is inappropriateness for the designated age group. Those who use CSCOPE as merely a framework struggle with finding practical materials with which to conduct the lessons and being able to teach in a way that is comfortable for them and still effective.

Educators feel confined by the time allotments for each lesson that do not allow extra days for reteaching, assessments or student or teacher absences. No enrichment activities are provided for students who progress more quickly than others.

Some argue that CSCOPE-provided assessments address material not covered by the lessons for which students are being assessed, making student success difficult to achieve.

But it's not all bad. A first-year high school English teacher reported that she "would have been lost without CSCOPE as a guide." The vertically aligned K-12 curriculum does provide built-in accountability for curriculum directors, whose job is to ensure students are being taught the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) at a cost of $7-12 per student.

Widespread use of CSCOPE puts most schools on the same academic schedule, so when a student transfers to another district, they are within a couple of days of where they were in the previous school.

Though not approved by the Texas Education Agency, CSCOPE claims it "provides specificity not granted by the TEKS," yet knowledgeable critics argue that some of those specificities are incorrect, unnecessary, outside the scope of the TEKS and above the expected abilities of students for which they are written. Most lessons actually bullet-point the TEKS verbatim rather than elaborating on them.

Students and schools are held accountable for mastery of the TEKS through TAKS and STAARS tests, which students must pass in order to advance or graduate high school. A couple of university sampling studies have reported increased test scores in schools using CSCOPE, but no comprehensive studies have been conducted by any entity.

Parents and industry professionals alike have voiced their opposition to questionable lessons that require students to wear burqas, refer to the Boston Tea Party participants as terrorists, equate Christ to mythical gods and openly discuss personal sexuality. CSCOPE maintains that teachers have the authority to alter lessons as they see fit but has since removed lessons that received public outcry.

The system leans heavily on the Progressive Education philosophy, focusing on hands-on and peer-to-peer learning, social responsibility and understanding an experience over rote knowledge of facts. Many argue that rather than leading to higher quality education, this approach has resulted in the "dumbing down of America" and a nation that no longer knows or respects its history and feels the need to apologize for our success. Rules of spelling and punctuation, long division on paper and legible handwriting have become a dry and unnecessary thing of the past.

However, the progressive approach is not CSCOPE's own creation. Even conservative universities currently teach that these century-old principles are the most effective form of instruction. The world is much smaller than it was a hundred years ago and understanding our relationship to it as individuals and a nation is an essential part of learning, but those appreciations should come as a product of analyzing the facts - not at the expense of knowing one's multiplication tables or the meaning of the word conundrum.

Stephanie Nalls is a Victoria resident and a staff writer for the monthly newspaper "Northeast Texan." She holds a Bachelors Degree in Education from LeTourneau University, has taught middle school English and has three children in Victoria ISD, which uses the CSCOPE curriculum.