The state curriculum system known as CSCOPE — little known until recently — can now add two hours of lively and at times testy debate to a long list of public appearances that includes State Board of Education meetings, legislative hearings and the Glenn Beck Show.
On Saturday evening, SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the chairman of the Senate’s education committee, sparred over the controversial lesson plans before a vocal audience that filled the University of Texas at Tyler’s student activity center. Grassroots activists have relentlessly pushed to eliminate the lessons, which are used by 70 percent of Texas school districts, because of a perceived liberal, anti-American agenda.
The unusual event — a public debate between two elected officials of the same party who are not primary opponents — came about after Ratliff accepted an offer from Patrick, who said on his Facebook page that he would debate any CSCOPE defender.
Patrick, who has led the charge against the lessons, focused his arguments on the lack of transparency behind the operations of the state education centers that produced them.
“The thing that we are missing here is that there seems to be this fight and sometimes attack against parents who have a right to ask a question,” he said. “I don’t understand this ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ CSCOPE mentality that we don’t care if there is anything wrong with CSCOPE — we just want our CSCOPE.”
Ratliff, whose district is filled with small, rural schools that have depended on CSCOPE’s lesson plans, has championed the right of local school boards to choose how best to teach state curriculum.
“Local districts ought to be able to make that decision for themselves, not have you make it for them,” he told Patrick at one point during the debate.
Yes, well, “local control” is only a good thing when the locals are doing what you want them to be doing, right? The Observer also covered this, and from their account it sounds like Ratliff got the better of the exchange.
Ratliff credited Patrick with helping to force CSCOPE’s lesson plans—which were once proprietary documents only available to subscribers—out into the public domain. Now they’re available online.
But Patrick wasn’t satisfied. “You should be concerned that, for six years, CSCOPE was violating the law,” Patrick said. “We cannot turn a blind eye and say ‘It’s alright. We take public taxpayer money, form a private company, we don’t have an address, we don’t have anything.’ You couldn’t find someone who worked at CSCOPE. It didn’t exist,” he said. “It did not exist.”
Patrick stoked vague fears about what more CSCOPE could be hiding. “What don’t we know?” he repeated.
To many of Patrick’s accusations, though, Ratliff had an answer. When Patrick said that the Texas Tribune conducted a study finding that children in CSCOPE schools performed poorly, Ratliff countered that the “study” was actually conducted by a 9th-grade business class using the Tribune’s online data.
“He’s pointing to a 9th-grade spreadsheet. I’m pointing to an email from a superintendent right here in Tyler; the superintendent in Llano that just defended himself against a frivolous lawsuit; and two doctoral theses: one done by a private Christian university known as Baylor University, the other done at Texas Tech University,” Ratliff responded. “The facts are clear, and if you look at the facts, CSCOPE does not impair, but it enhances student performance.”
Patrick chided Ratliff Saturday night for never having reviewed more than a few of CSCOPE’s lesson plans. But when Ratliff asked Patrick how many he’d read, Patrick said he hadn’t read any. It was a surprising moment, highlighting just how far the politics of CSCOPE are removed from its use in the classroom.
After the debate, Patrick said that Ratliff “made some valid points,” but could not remember any of them specifically. “Overall, he could not answer any of the questions that I put forward,” Patrick said. “I was surprised that the educators were cheering on something that they don’t know a lot about, and that they’re not concerned.”
Ratliff said he was confused by Patrick’s persistence in going after the curriculum. “If the issue was transparency, mission accomplished. But he’s not stopping. And the non-CSCOPE schools are next, because as soon as the Tea Party finds something in their curriculum they don’t like, they’re going after them,” Ratliff said.
He said he was disappointed by the political antics Patrick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have used to prolong the CSCOPE controversy. “What this has become is a tug-of-war between two guys who want to be Lieutenant Governor,” Ratliff said. “And they’re using public schools as the rope.”
Well, it is primary season, and like some other candidates that don’t have anything substantive to say, Dan Patrick needs to remind the seething masses of the GOP electorate that he’s One Of Them. Be that as it may, I like that Ratliff and Patrick did this, and frankly I wish debates like this would happen more often. The nature of a debate like this, between two people who aren’t running against each other for something, makes it more focused and less prone to talking point responses.