TYLER — A tea party-backed state senator and more-moderate board of education member traded increasingly heated barbs Saturday night, debating a school lesson plan system that has become so politically charged it could shape next year’s Texas Republican primary.
Addressing a raucous East Texas crowd of about 600 people who seemed largely evenly divided on the issue, Houston Sen. Dan Patrick argued the online system known as CSCOPE was created illegally and contains anti-American and anti-Christian lessons.
Thomas Ratliff, the education board’s Republican vice chairman, countered that the lessons weren’t biased and that small districts across the state need CSCOPE to ensure they adhere to all curriculum requirements.
CSCOPE was created by the state’s 20 state-run educational service centers, which are designed to support school districts. It offers about 1,600 model lessons that school districts could access for a per-student fee.
It was supposed to be a cost-effective way to ensure teachers covered all state-mandated topics and was used in 877 school districts, most of which were too small to afford to build their own curriculums. CSCOPE users educate about 35 percent of the state’s more than 5 million students.
Because of intellectual property concerns, many lessons weren’t available to the public.
That angered some conservatives, who worried about schools spending lavishly without public oversight and liberal state bureaucrats secretly corrupting classrooms by swaying students to the left.
Criticism intensified when parents discovered a lesson plan used in previous incarnations of CSCOPE that asked students to consider whether participants in the Boston Tea Party could be considered terrorists in some contexts.
Another sample lesson asked students to design a flag for a new socialist country. Some critics suggested that lessons on the world’s major religions contained too much material on Islam.
Patrick opened Saturday’s debate arguing that studies showed students in school districts that use CSCOPE performed worse on state standardized tests that those who didn’t.
However, he acknowledged that his source was a survey conducted by a ninth-grade business class.
When the debate shifted to the question of bias, Ratliff referred to the Boston Tea Party lesson, saying: “The lesson does not say the Boston Tea party members were terrorists. It does not say it.”
Patrick shot back: “Do you think it’s a good idea to plant the seed (of terrorism) in the mind of high school students?”
When Ratliff tried to answer about international perspectives, hecklers shouted: “This is America! You’re American!”
“Read it for yourself and see if you become a terrorist overnight,” Ratliff responded.