Teaching CSCOPE Math is like hammering a square peg into a round hole. The results are equally unsatisfactory.
“Veteran Math Teacher Tells All: CSCOPE”
by Stan Harzler
[Stan Harzler, Ph.D., is a veteran math teacher in Luling ISD, Luling, Texas. Hartzler is being required to use CSCOPE, and he is rightfully opposed to it. He is an internationally known math expert who has conducted over 500 math presentations, is a published author, and a math curriculum specialist.
Below Hartzler’s comments, I have posted my own article about the CSCOPE statewide conference held in El Paso in Oct. 2012 in which CSCOPE’s wrong-headed approach to education is documented. – Donna Garner]
*I have Stan Hartzler’s permission to publish his comments.
SENT TO DONNA GARNER FROM STAN HARTZLER, 11.4.12:
To Texas Classroom Teachers Association, Texas Education Agency, Texas State School Board:
I write to ask for assistance with our CSCOPE situation in Luling ISD.
Having confirmed that CSCOPE is not a product of TEA, but of service centers, and having continued to see serious problems with the Lesson-Level requirement imposed by our superintendent and school board, I write to ask what my wife and I can do to bring official attention and accountability to our situation.
I am more familiar than most teachers with the oversight given to legitimate curricular materials approved for use in Texas. We have been told that no such oversight was rendered to CSCOPE.
CSCOPE materials have sentence fragments, incorrect word choice, and misleading definition/terminology, indicating that the lessons haven’t even been proofread, to say nothing of critiquing or scrutiny. I have helped publishers with such tasks, and every thing that I was ever given to evaluate was in far better condition than CSCOPE.
Many years of teaching algebra and extensive study of high school algebra for my dissertation have given me familiarity with many acceptable sequences of topics in algebra. Each topic enhances the previous and blends to the next, like the courses of an exquisite meal.
CSCOPE is, by contrast, a concoction of leftovers. We are told by sources outside our district that CSCOPE was never intended to be a curriculum, but was intended to be exemplary suggestions for varied topics. Use of the materials supports the accuracy of that description.
But Luling ISD teachers have been directed to teach only CSCOPE lessons, and to teach these as scripted, in the order listed, and on a timetable determined by CSCOPE. This one-size-fits-all package is replacing coherent, scrutinized, accepted Texas curriculum, and nullifying the improvising skills of teachers well-practiced in providing alternative approaches to meet the needs of individual students.
The worst part of CSCOPE is the testing program.
o Test items are often unrelated to the material in the unit associated with the exam. This has been described by our leadership as having diagnostic value. Were it not for the discouraging effect of the lesson-exam gulf on our disadvantaged students, this lame rationalization would be funny.
o One test item for Algebra 1 Unit 2 exam is exactly the same as a question on the Unit 3 exam. As this involves solving a complicated and easily revised equation, no excuse can be imagined for this. The situation involves instruction on such solving between the two exams, which suggests the possibility that a repeat answer will show artificial gains favoring the assumed merits of CSCOPE.
o Merits of the first two Algebra One exams include questions concerning a wide variety of topics. The questions on the third exam are remarkably alike, and resemble the homework from a single section of a remedial-level, general education mathematics class. One suspects that the writer was about to miss a deadline and had to improvise quickly.
o Luling ISD has attempted to compensate for this mess by telling the teachers not to count the test scores. Students are left to wonder what they are working for.
I could go on and on.
I am as a surgeon forced to use filthy scalpels. So long as I cooperate, I am guilty of malpractice. I am looking for a teaching position elsewhere, and will take one as soon as I find one and my school can find a replacement for me.
But I should not have to look for employment elsewhere. My school district expects much of me, and I deliver. The district must deliver also.
Specifically, I should have access to tools that work. My school district is not providing me with any such tools. My district is requiring me to use tools that occasionally work superficially, and supervising us closely to insure that we don’t make any changes.
I should be able to ask or require TEA, the State School Board, or a legislative committee to step up and require that my district provide me with officially accepted materials and the freedom to make those tools work for all of my students. I have no trouble finishing a course on time or writing good exams, or meeting the expectations of such as the STAAR exam.
Is there a mechanism for me to attract the attention of the TEA, the State School Board, or the legislature to our situation?
Contemplating Resignation from LISD
I agreed to teach in Luling with the expectation that I would use my experience in sequencing topics, diagnosing, explaining, creating, adjusting, and providing for recall, synthesis, and problem-solving adventures.
Since being hired, the LISD School Board and Superintendent have elected to require use of CSCOPE Lesson-Level. Given the CSCOPE calendar, topics, sequence, lesson scripts, and exams, most of my teaching experience is denied to my students. Our schedules are full of extra responsibilities and more training than most anyone can absorb.
Of more importance, my experience in education tells me these things:
o The CSCOPE sequence is absurd at times, like an effort to build the second story of a house before the first floor is begun.
o The conspicuous lack of coordination between lessons and exams is bewildering and discouraging to students.
o The mathematics lessons contain misleading and erroneous directions and definitions, at times expressed with sentence fragments and grammatical errors. Such suggests that the material was not proofread, to say nothing of critique.
o Little evidence is found that the material was tested in classrooms. Page layouts do not provide room for students to show work in logical order, nor provision for efficient cut-and-paste action.
Mathematics content and learning provides abundant opportunities for teacher creativity in improving learning opportunities. My free-of-charge web site, www.classappcogpsych.com, has one-third of a gigabyte of ideas, shared with appreciative and disentrenched teachers in over 500 out-of-district presentations since 1982. The requirement that I follow time-worn “innovations” shabbily included in CSCOPE stifles opportunity to flexibly address the varying needs of my students, with these ideas and others yet undreamed of.
Also in that web site are successful programs for use, or for examples, to provide for student recall and synthesis. Where teachers once were self-satisfied with good content knowledge (what is taught) and teaching strategies (how we teach), we now realize that teachers must also provide students with practice in recall, and support for generalization and discrimination.
Furthermore, teachers should also provide for pinnacle experiences in the core subjects: problem-solving in mathematics, discovery projects in science, creativity in language arts, and cultural appreciation in social science. Such experiences require more time and inspiration than what CSCOPE provides.
I am troubled by considerations of resigning. I have accepted difficult challenges in education, often to the dismay of my family and friends, but usually on behalf of disadvantaged students, from a basis of hungry-and-you-fed Christian mission, usually with far more success than anyone expected. When I see the pleasant, intelligent, and lively students in my Luling classes have their difficult situation made more hopeless with the disorganized concoction that is CSCOPE, I am prone to head-scratching and sleeplessness.
In several ways, I have attempted to provide where our CSCOPE materials and requirements fail.
o First, of course, I pointed out that the calendar and sequence are less an issue than the requirement to follow the worksheets and scripts, and asked for some release from that latter demand. If the cosmetic “engagement” of CSCOPE activities could be replaced by work that engages involuntary attention (the bedrock notion of cognitive psychology), learning would occur. When I have done such replacements under administrative radar, students have been thoroughly engaged, and routine behavior impulses were non-existence. My request was denied.
o I have attempted to close the gulf between the lesson content and the exam content with take-home lessons, including directions, examples, and answer keys provided, and an invitation for students to come in on Saturday, when I could teach effectively.
Colleagues have suggested that I share my concerns with the LISD Superintendent. I hesitate. He has offered that what we teach, and how we teach it, are the only two things under teacher control that affect student outcomes. Our success with daily-review routines in Oklahoma City, and the thoroughly-demonstrated superiority of distributed practice over drill, including CSCOPE drill, make such an assertion absurd.
With due respect and admiration for anyone who takes on school administration, it therefore appears that CSCOPE is all that my Superintendent knows. When asked hard questions by teachers, his responses include “I’ve been asked that question a thousand times” before the question is dodged, or “I have no answer to that question.” Responses also include implications against the professionalism of doubting teachers, such as the notion that those questioning individuals resist innovation, being stuck in their ways.
Ultimately, my doubts about resigning are quieted by the belief that I know of no other way to express my grave concerns about this unscrutinized hodgepodge that is being passed off as curriculum. Other disadvantaged students are being subjected to this nonsense, and almost certainly by way of teachers with less experience with successful innovations.
I cannot be guilty of CSCOPE malpractice.
I am as fireman required to use garden hoses. At times, I feel like my job is to show exemplary results for the benefit of the garden hose manufacturer, not for the public good.
No public servant should put up with such.
Neither will I.