The CSCOPE Scandal

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A Bottle of mouthwash with a CSCOPE label. CSCOPE: A Classic Lesson in Secrecy

By Peggy Venable – Special to the American-Statesman
Venable is Texas director of Americans for
Posted: 12:00 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013
CSCOPE : It’s not a mouthwash or a medical procedure.
CSCOPE: It’s a controversial series of lesson plans in many Texas schools.
As is the case with any good scandal, its (the CSCOPE) story is one of:
  • secrecy,
  • betrayal,
  • backroom deals and
  • — of course — money.
CSCOPE was sold by the Texas Regional Education Service Centers (TESCs or ESCs) to more than 850 Texas public, private and charter schools.
The controversy surrounding it  (CSCOPE) started with the content itself, including a lesson plan asking students if participants in the historic Boston Tea Party were participating in a terrorist activity.

Questions arose (about CSCOPE) regarding transparency, financial accountability and the quality of the material.

Steffen Palko, who teaches curriculum theory at Texas Christian University, was recently quoted as saying the quality of CSCOPE is “a little bit better than adequate.” There are allegations of plagiarism, and a powerful group of teachers have called the material inferior.
To add fuel to the fire, some curriculum specialists claim CSCOPE utilizes Common Core State Standards; something the Obama administration has been pushing and which Texas has soundly rejected.
Until recently, access to the material had been denied, even for elected officials.
Last year, it took State Board of Education Chairman Barbara Cargill six months before she was finally granted access to the lesson plans. Parents were denied access to CSCOPE material in violation of state law, which requires lesson plans be available to them.
 “The ESC/directors were willing to allow Barbara Cargill to view the CSCOPE material if she would sign a non-disclosure contract. In other words, Barbara could see the CSCOPE lessons but could not tell anyone about them. Barbara finally had free access to the CSCOPE material, but it took the governor of Texas to demand that Barbara be given a password to the CSCOPE website.”  Janice VanCleave
How the cloak of secrecy was created is dubious, if not downright unethical, and some claim illegal.
The Education Service Centers created a 501(c)(3) nonprofit shell organization called the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative, which had no address, no phone number, no website, no staff and no money. The service center directors worked using the nonprofit as a shield to deny citizens access to public records and open meetings.
School districts purchasing CSCOPE were granted access via an online portal and paid per year, per student. Teachers signing into the program were required to sign a confidentiality agreement that they would not share the information or criticize it publicly. Tens of millions of dollars were collected, but none of it went to the nonprofit. All the money was funneled through the Education Service Centers yet no line items appeared in the service center budgets coded as CSCOPE.
Note: The money collected from CSCOPE sales is a drop in the bucket compared the hundreds of millions of dollars the ESCs receive from education grants, both from Texas as well as the Federal Government.  These groups are not accountable to anyone for how this money is being spent. The ESCs have not improved the quality of education in Texas.  We need a new plan. Janice VanCleave
Education is big business in Texas. The Lone Star State has 10 percent of the nation’s students and spends more than $55 billion a year on K-12 education.
While Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has requested a state audit of the finances surrounding CSCOPE, the Education Service Centers were subject to sunset review next year, but legislators pushed it back to 2019. Service center administrators are likely breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have a legislative review next year. (However, Attorney General Greg Abbott has expressed interest, and service centers may have some legal issues to resolve.)
CSCOPE is controversial by virtue of its veil of secrecy, its financial trail (or lack thereof) and its contentious lesson plans. But ultimately, the Regional Education Service Center directors are guilty of betraying the public trust.
At the height of the controversy, the service center directors met with Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and agreed to abandon CSCOPE.
This was after the Senate passed legislation authored by Patrick and state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Bruanfels, requiring the State Board of Education review the CSCOPE lesson plans. State Rep. Steve Toth, R-the Woodlands, anticipated the battle might not be over and passed the same legislation in the House.

Computer Confused


“The proposal of deleting the CSCOPE lessons plans was written by the ESC/CSCOPE directors. The wording was such that unless one understood the Educaneze language created by the CSCOPE directors, they would not understand what they were agreeing to. The CSCOPE lessons were not to be removed from schools who were downloading the controversial lessons as the deal for their removal was being discussed. Yes, even when dealing with senator Dan Patrick, the ESC directors had no fear of reprisal for being deceitful. Why should they? After all, these 20 Texas Agencies have been allowed to govern themselves for more than a decade. When I first started investigating the content of CSCOPE lessons, I was told by CSCOPE directors that more than 75% of the income to the ESCs comes from the Federal Government. The 501(c)(3) for the illegal TESCCC company listed the Federal Government as the recipient if the company was ever dissolved. This shows the allegiance of the CSCOPE directors is not to Texas.”   Comment by Janice VanCleave
Now some school districts are planning to put this material back into their classrooms, though the State Board of Education has yet to launch their review. The material is in the public domain.
While some administrators claim their teachers need pre-packaged lesson plans, many prefer to write their own rather than use mediocre lesson plans.
Some veteran teachers are even coordinating to put their lesson plans online so smaller districts and less experienced teachers would not see a need to rely on CSCOPE.
Many Texas parents are eager for the opportunity to interject competition into the monopoly public school system, and CSCOPE could provide the impetus to make that happen.
The Legislature became embroiled in CSCOPE because parents, teachers and concerned citizens raised a ruckus. While the final chapter has yet to be written, citizens remain committed to keeping CSCOPE out of public schools.
Texas children deserve better than CSCOPE, and Texas taxpayers deserve to know the whole story behind this controversy.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is a simple one. Education matters. And so does transparency, especially when it relates to our children.
Peggy Venable, Texas Director
Americans for Prosperity
807 Brazos St, #210
Austin, TX  78701
Phone: 512-476-5905; Cell – 512-423-2947; Fax – 512-476-5906
Facebook: Americans for Prosperity-Texas; Peggy Venable
Twitter: @AFPTexas; @pvenable
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