Some teachers at odds with CSCOPE

Stan Hartzler has been a math teacher for a long time. The 40-year teacher has written textbooks, taught college math, and given hundreds of presentations on how to teach his subject.

So when he was hired in August 2012 to launch a robust attack on Luling Independent School District’s failing math scores, he brought a solid understanding of what his students needed.

But Hartzler would soon become a casualty in a growing state controversy when, shortly after his hire, his superintendent adopted a new teaching system called CSCOPE. It organized each day’s classroom topics — minute to minute — and provided scripted talking points and lessons.

He required Hartzler to use it exclusively, despite Hartzler’s protests.

Hartzler tried.

He used every quadratic equation, every calculator exercise, and all the algebra tile work.

But it felt like a concoction of leftovers that would seriously harm students — particularly the disadvantaged ones — because it left out so much.

“The course in algebra is not there,” he said. “I regard this as being fraudulent.”

Hartzler decided to analyze CSCOPE’s Algebra 1 curriculum. He would use the same methodology that he used to earn his doctorate when he screened 141 algebra textbooks and their combined 435,000 math exercises.

When he applied the same analysis to CSCOPE, he discovered that CSCOPE gutted a quarter of a typical book’s content.

It deleted and weakened so much of the rest that he decided he must protest CSCOPE and risk going to jail — or resign.

“I feel like I’m aiding and abetting some fraud here,” he said. “I’d compare this to a surgeon who is forced to use filthy scalpels.”

He resigned Dec. 3.

So what is this teaching system that so stymied Hartzler?

CSCOPE is an online curriculum for teachers designed to help them plan and deliver lessons that will meet state requirements.

The online system works without textbooks.

If teachers follow it, they’re assured by their administrators — who have been told by the regional Education Service Centers who created it — that they will be giving all students what they need to pass state tests.

At a time in education when good test scores trump all, a promise like that is a lottery win to administrators and school boards. Since 2006 they have purchased it in droves.

In six years, 875 of the 1,032 Texas school districts adopted CSCOPE, each one leasing it annually from the ESCs for about $7 per student, sending millions to TESCCC, the nonprofit arm of the state’s regional service centers.

North Texas’ Region 9 school districts signed on like all the rest.

All but one of its 37 districts convinced their school boards to pay for the online system and trained their teachers to use it.

All Wichita Falls Independent School District schools use CSCOPE. So do Bright Ideas Charter School and Wichita Christian School. City View ISD in northern Wichita Falls remains the one holdout who prefers its own curriculum, written by its own teachers.

Statewide, CSCOPE boasts 90,000 users who oversee about 3 million of Texas’ 4.8 million children.

The transition to CSCOPE was an under-the-radar nonevent until recently, when frustrated teachers like Hartzler began growing so dissatisfied by demands to use the scripted lessons that they began speaking out on chat boards and websites and leaking some of its most controversial content.

Until then, teachers had dutifully honored a nine-page nondisclosure document that their superintendents required they sign.

The document prevented them from showing the curriculum and its lessons to anyone.

In November, conservative media personality Glenn Beck highlighted a pirated CSCOPE lesson on his radio talk show.

The world history lesson included an activity that compared the Boston Tea Party to an act of terrorism.

Beck was equally outraged at CSCOPE doctrine in pirated lessons that was pro-Islamic. He objected to other lesson Web links that characterized Christianity as a cult.

When Beck analyzed a pirated first-grade unit on the environment, he found words like “environmental action” and “sustainability,” buzzwords for the United Nations Agenda 21 globalization plan.

“All of this is Agenda 21!” he said. “All of it!”

He wondered aloud that such lessons had been taught in Texas schools previously known for their conservatism. “I’m very concerned about Texas,” Beck told his radio audience. “If we lose Texas, we lose the country.”

Teachers’ opposition to CSCOPE, according to anonymous posts on teacher chat boards and websites, is broad.

Teachers brought many of their concerns to the most recent State Board of Education meeting Nov. 15 in Austin, where they gave the SBOE instruction committee a combined six hours of testimony about CSCOPE, which is available on the Texas Education Agency website at http://www.texasadmin.com/agen da.php?confid=TEA_CI111512&dir=tea.

Teachers faulted factual, grammatical and typographical errors in documents that appear not to have been proofread.

Master teachers reported a dumbed-down approach with a liberal, students-teach-students philosophy.

Teachers singled out controversial content, such as a link in a world history lesson that described Christianity as: “a small, often brutally persecuted cult (that) rose to become the dominant religion of the West.”

Retired teacher Janice VanCleave, who opposes CSCOPE and is searching for a credible reason why so many superintendents would buy it, theorizes that CSCOPE is a possible conspiracy pushed on them by the Texas Association of School Administrators and Texas Association of School Boards.

She believes they pushed the new curriculum to superintendents to promote weaker education for an eventual adoption of a better, national agenda of government-controlled education.

After all, she claims, CSCOPE was released in 2006, the same year TASA launched its educational mission of “vision learning,” a constructivist philosophy that is “so opposite of the Texas Education Agency vision,” she said.

VanCleave remains one of CSCOPE’s most ardent critics.

She stumbled upon CSCOPE innocently enough. After teaching science for 27 years, VanCleave retired and began a new career writing children’s science and math activity books. She traveled as far as the geographic South Pole to research and write 52 books, all published by industry giant Prentice Hall.

Her books have been translated into 15 languages for 3 million children.

Then one day she volunteered at her local school to tutor failing science students. When she asked to see the classroom lessons, she was denied.

Teachers told her they now used a program called CSCOPE and were bound by a nondisclosure agreement that forbade them from sharing its content with her — or anyone. She learned the new curriculum promoted online searches, not textbooks, and used a methodology of teaching science that flip-flopped traditional instruction.

“First you introduce the facts,” she said of the traditional approach. “CSCOPE wants them to come in and talk about, ‘What do you think this means?’ They’re spending time on kids talking about something they don’t know anything about.”

Her research uncovered one lesson that began by asking students to design an experiment that illustrated osmosis. “You can define osmosis all day long, but as far as setting up an experiment, they can’t. Let’s not waste their time. Let’s first tell them how to do it,” VanCleave said.

Some of the most engaging activities were never explained, she said. “It’s like a magic show. Wow! We got their attention. … Then they go on to something else.”

Seven weeks ago VanCleave launched a website at www.txcscopereview.com to present her research and solicit teacher comments, which have come in droves.

n “It is insane to expect math students to teach each other complex math concepts where they have no prior knowledge.”

n “There is no reteach time. So your kids better get it the first time.”

n “Some lessons are way over their heads, and some are low-low.”

n “Can you imagine your students’ learning being dependent on the teaching of other students for almost every lesson? Ridiculous!”

VanCleave has her own question: How do children learn to study without textbooks?

Now VanCleave says she suspects a conspiracy to rid school districts of their veteran teachers — maybe all teachers.

She cites CSCOPE training materials that identify veteran teachers as troublemakers and the scripted delivery plan that’s designed to be used by anybody.

“Anyone think that these teachers know CSCOPE is not good and are trying to alert the public?” she said.

Regardless of how effective it is or isn’t in the classroom, CSCOPE has reached notable milestones since it was introduced six years ago.

For example, 80 percent of Texas school districts obtained approval from their school boards to purchase the curriculum.

WFISD School Board President Kevin Goldstein said recently that he has never viewed CSCOPE but only seen papers his child has brought home.

“I’ve yet to find a school board member that signed this (nondisclosure) contract and reviewed CSCOPE before purchasing it,” VanCleave said.

One longtime teacher — who testified before the SBOE but requested anonymity with the media — called CSCOPE a real-life example of the old fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Just as all the kingdom told the emperor that he was dressed in his finest — and not buck naked — so nearly all the school districts in Texas have paid millions annually to lease CSCOPE even though no one knows if it truly works.

“It would take hours to click on all the different links (in the lessons). That’s the problem,” she said. “No one has actually read it. No one! Everybody assumes someone else has read it.”

Ed Vara, Texas Education Service Center academic director, confirmed in a question-and-answer session at a meeting with Tea Party proponents that CSCOPE had no outside oversight.

“No, we don’t currently contract with others to do that,” said the Region 13 official.

That troubled Gail Lowe, SBOE member for District 14, which includes Wichita County. “Materials of competing publishers are required to undergo public scrutiny and review, and are subject to penalty for factual errors,” she said.

Lowe cited a double standard that existed for CSCOPE when the Texas attorney general refused a request by VanCleave to view the curriculum under the Freedom of Information Act.

The attorney general ruled that CSCOPE was allowed to keep its materials proprietary, citing copyrights.

Textbooks are copyrighted but open to all, Lowe said.

“CSCOPE materials, unlike traditional instructional materials, are inaccessible to parents and taxpayers in general, which seems to run counter to guarantees in the Texas Education Code for the opportunity to review classroom teaching materials,” Lowe wrote in an email.

Chapter 26, Section 26.007 guarantees parents access to teaching materials and tests.

Lowe said she is concerned that many administrators perceive that CSCOPE has an inherent “stamp of approval” simply because it is available through the statewide network of Educational Service Centers. “When actually, it is not subject to the same scrutiny as other instructional materials,” she said.

Apparently, that’s the dirty secret known only to teachers — until now.

Education is supposed to give an increasing sophistication that spirals back to reteach — not the haphazard approach of CSCOPE.

“It’s like a hospital that’s taken apart all of their procedures and practice,” she said. “You doggone know you’re going to lose some of their patients.”

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