Month: <span>July 2013</span>

State Board of Education will review CSCOPE


Thomas Ratliff, a moderate Republican on the State Board of Education, announced today that the board will discuss the CSCOPE curriculum program at its meeting in September. And, he sharply criticized Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick for helping to create a wasteful “artificial controversy” over the program.

As I wrote in yesterday’s blog post, the Texas Education Agency has advised the state board that, despite Patrick’s efforts to kill CSCOPE, school districts are still free to use CSCOPE lesson plans because the Legislature didn’t enact a law abolishing the program. Instead, Patrick simply bullied the CSCOPE governing board into agreeing to remove the lesson plans and then prematurely declared the program dead. But now the same plans are in the public domain and can be picked up by any district wishing to use them.

CSCOPE, developed by regional education service centers, was designed to help school districts prepare lesson plans for teaching state educational requirements. Typically, using CSCOPE plans has not been mandatory, and many larger districts haven’t used them because they can afford to hire their own curriculum developers. But it has been an important tool in the educational tool box for some teachers, particularly in hundreds of small districts that can’t afford to hire extra curriculum help.

Patrick made a political issue of the program by pandering to a vocal minority of conspiracy theorists who didn’t like a couple of lesson plans and started branding the program as an anti-American plot. Meanwhile, small school districts have been scrambling for curriculum help in time for the new school year.

“It’s unfortunate that so much time, energy and taxpayer dollars have been wasted because Senator Patrick was too quick to run to the Senate Press Room before he fully vetted the policy and practical implications of his actions,” said Ratliff, who represents many school districts dependent on CSCOPE.

Ratliff said he was confident the State Board of Education “will do the right thing by providing transparency and accountability regarding these lessons and helping our local school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers stay focused on their important task at hand, rather than defending themselves against baseless political attacks.”

Let us hope so. Unfortunately, we are likely to hear more political rhetoric from Patrick, as he tries to gin up his right-wing base in his newly announced race for lieutenant governor. And, Attorney General Greg Abbott, another foe of CSCOPE and newly minted candidate for governor, also may chime in.


CSCOPE may get new life


A Senate education chairman – even a self-styled educational “evangelist” – can’t singlehandedly repeal a state program, not with all the bullying and bluster he can command.

I am talking, of course, about Sen. Dan Patrick, who a few months ago unilaterally declared the CSCOPE curriculum system dead, following complaints from a vocal minority of conspiracy-theorists who viewed the program as an anti-American, socialist plot to brainwash Texas students. Patrick thought he had successfully killed the program after he had bullied the system’s governing board to agree to remove all lesson plans by Aug. 31.

Now, it turns out, Patrick was wrong – again – because the lesson plans are now in the public domain and free to be picked up by any school district that wishes to use them. That was the assessment of the Texas Education Agency’s top lawyer, David Anderson, who told the State Board of Education that there is “no statute” that would prohibit districts from continuing to use CSCOPE lesson plans.

In other words, Chairman Patrick neglected to get a new law passed by a majority of the House and the Senate – basic legislative details.

CSCOPE, developed by regional educational service centers, is not an evil conspiracy. It was designed to help school districts prepare lesson plans for teaching state educational requirements. Many large school districts have their own curriculum directors and don’t need it. Typically, using CSCOPE lessons is not mandatory, but it has been an important tool in the educational tool box for some teachers, especially in hundreds of small districts that can’t afford to hire personnel to develop their own plans.

Many of those small districts have been scrambling for help since Patrick declared the program dead. Now, they may get a break in preparing for the new school year.

The final word, however, on the controversy may not have been issued. Attorney General Greg Abbott also has been a strong critic of CSCOPE. And, now that he is actively courting right-wing votes in his newly launched race for governor, don’t be surprised if he tries to find a way to re-bury the program.


No school marshals in Dallas ISD


Freshman state Rep. Jason Villalba of Dallas has spent a lot of time bragging on himself for sponsoring the new, so-called “school marshal” law, a legislative response to the tragic Connecticut school shootings. So have many of his colleagues who voted for the bill, but the Dallas ISD police chief, for one, knows the law is mostly a political product – and a potentially dangerous one at that.

The law allows school districts to designate certain teachers or other school employees who have concealed handgun licenses to bring guns to school, allegedly to beef up campus security.

As reported in the Dallas Morning News, DISD Police Chief Craig Miller testified against the bill before a legislative committee and repeated his opposition today in remarks at a regional crime commission meeting.

“I question giving a teacher a couple weeks training with a gun and saying go out there and do the job,” he said, obviously aware that trying to defend a school campus against a heavily armed, maniacal intruder is difficult, even for professional police officers.

Realistically, for many teachers, it would be almost impossible.

The “school marshal” program is optional, and Miller said DISD will not participate in it. The district, instead, has invested several million dollars in cameras, buzzers, electronic card readers and other security measures for campuses.

Many small districts don’t have campus police or enough money for effective security measures. Their only option may be the school marshal law.

But adding guns to campuses by arming teachers is much less a realistic answer to protecting children and school employees than it was a political effort by some legislators to “address” a horrendous shooting tragedy without offending the National Rifle Association.

Rick Perry’s report card


Now that Rick Perry has ended the governor-for-life speculation, this is a good time to start filling in the “Fs” on his education report card. He will be in office for another 18 months, but let us hope – fingers crossed – that most of the damage to public schools already has been done.

This account is far from complete, but here are some low points of Perry’s education record:

# A school finance overhaul in 2006 that provided fleeting property tax “relief” while permanently digging a multibillion-dollar hole in the public education budget.

# An erosion of financial support for public schools and teachers. In 2003-04, according to the earliest data I could readily obtain from the National Education Association, per-pupil spending in Texas was $1,094 less than the national average, and average teacher pay in Texas lagged $6,259 behind the national average. That was about halfway through Perry’s first elective term in the governor’s office. By the just completed 2012-13 school year, Texas’ per-pupil spending had fallen to $3,055 behind the national average, and its average teacher pay lagged $8,273 behind.

# A big chunk of the Texas erosion occurred in 2011, when Perry insisted upon and signed a budget that slashed $5.4 billion from public education. The Legislature restored about $4 billion of that this year, but spending is still lower than what it was three years ago. And, at Perry’s insistence, legislators left several billion dollars sitting untouched in the Rainy Day Fund.

# The 2011 budget cuts cost the jobs of 25,000 school employees, including 11,000 teachers, and crammed thousands of students into overcrowded classrooms.

# High-stakes standardized testing became more dominant and time-consuming under Perry, until parental outrage prompted the Legislature to start cutting back this year.

# Funding for higher education also has suffered under this governor. And, because of a tuition deregulation law that he signed, tuition has soared, while student financial aid has been cut back.

Perry doubtlessly will continue to try to claim job creation as a key part of his legacy. But it takes more than low taxes, lax regulations and government handouts to friendly corporations to create permanent, well-paying jobs and maintain a strong economy.

Tomorrow’s jobs require a strong public education system today, and Texas public schools can’t afford any more of Perry.