Saturday, March 5, 2011

CSCOPE: What's the Deal with That?

        CSCOPE is definitely a "hot" topic for teachers.  Most of you reading this have either heard of it, or you are living it in your classroom every single day.  Here is what the CSCOPE website defines it as:

"The Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC) includes a team of Education Service Centers that represents all areas of the state.The collaborative's goal is to provide a quality curriculum support system to Texas K-12 schools. TESCCC has developed CSCOPE, a comprehensive, customized, user-friendly curriculum support system. In addition to the curriculum, CSCOPE encompasses resources for the implementation, monitors the curriculum and establishes an accountability process to ensure a quality implementation. The curriculum component of CSCOPE is based on best practice models from top researchers. Lessons are all aligned with the TEKS/TAKS and each lesson meets the highest standards of rigor and relevance."

         As those who are being forced to adhere to this program, I hope you are asking questions - and the right ones.  These questions are based on information provided by teachers from all over the state who have personal knowledge of the program as it is used in their specific districts.

  1. Does this curriculum provide teachers with enough leeway and freedom to teach beyond a minimum skills test?  (Does it promote creativity in teacher and student alike?)
  2. Does it allow teachers to re-arrange the lessons to accommodate the uniqueness of their students?
  3. Whose "best practices" does it employ?  If they are coming from inner-city, low-income schools, is it appropriate for all schools? 
  4. Are teachers who are currently working in Texas schools instrumental in developing, designing, and amending this program?
  5. Are teachers allowed to use the state adopted textbooks with CSCOPE?
  6. Does it mesh with other programs, such as Balanced Literacy?
  7. Is it cost effective? Have we seen a breakdown of cost per student for all parts of the program, including paper use, ancillary materials (i.e. math kits, social studies kits), and cost for substitutes needed when teachers are attending "roll-out" days at the ESC?
  8. Does it have diversity of lessons for various grade levels? 
  9. Who is turning a profit from this program?
  10. Since its inception, is there any evidence that SAT and ACT (and TAKS) scores have improved so much that it justifies the expense?
  11. Since teachers are just "facilitators" with this program, are the kids getting too much discovery learning and not enough teacher instruction?
  12. Do parents really understand the curriculum and how it works? 
  13. Are seniors graduating college- or career-ready with this curriculum?
  14. Does this curriculum address the needs of gifted and talented students?
  15. Is the state really going to mandate CSCOPE for use in all schools across the state?

          If you are not asking these questions, you should.  If we are going to use this program, then everyone involved should know how it works - or if it works.  The idea that one administrator announced to a group of teachers that anyone off the street could come in and teach this curriculum, tells me all I need to know about the quality of the product and the reason it exists.  Are we willing to sacrifice a solid education for a minimal skills test score while watching master teachers pushed into closets so that they don't taint the waters with their "antiquated" ideas about teaching (which, by the way, still work)? 
          I have had many opportunities to speak with college professors about what they are seeing in the freshmen classes, and the picture is not only dreary; it is embarrassing.  I have also had many opportunities to speak with local business owners who are appalled at the lack of basic reading and math skills of young, part-time workers who are currently enrolled in our public high schools.  And don't get me started about their inability to count back change, read and fill out a basic form for employment, or write an intelligible sentence, much less a paragraph.  We are settling for mediocrity for all so that we can continue to receive state and federal funding. 
          No doubt, some schools are better than others, especially the ones that encourage creativity in teachers and kids and allow them to push for the top.  That means using more classtime for teaching and learning and less for benchmarking and assessment.  We must stop this insane march into mediocrity, and it starts with asking a few pertinent questions about the programs our schools are purchasing at whopping taxpayer expense.


  1. Shirley,

    I think you did an excellent job of highlighting some critical issues with C-Scope. As a math teacher currently being required to use this curriculum, I will add a few more:

    1) This curriculum does not allow nearly enough practice for the average student, let alone the struggling learner. Material is being covered, not mastered. Mathematics is such a building block process that this means students never feel confident. Frustrated students often act out.

    2) It doesn't incorporate review of material taught in past years. There also isn't an opportunity to take any time to review periodically topics taught during the year.

    3) In math, it is wise when teaching a new concept to begin with simple numbers so that you can focus on the concept. C-Scope, in the name of rigor and complexity, often gives the students very difficult numbers to work with. This causes a great deal of frustration with the students, and the teacher has a hard time assessing whether the student is struggling with the concept or the computation.

    4) The math curriculum is so scripted that it doesn't allow for "teachable moments." It also doesn't address different learning styles and teacher individuality.

    5) There is absolutely no consistancy from grade level to grade level. I teach two different grade levels currently, and it astounds me how much this is the case.

    6) The assessments do not match the lessons. The assessments are matched more closely with the TEKS, while the lessons themselves often read things into the TEKS that are not there. What C-Scope calls rigor, the students find confusing.

    7) It brings students to the application level immediately before they have actually acquired the skill being taught. It also often combines a great deal of new learning at once.

    8) The assumption is that all whole group learning is bad and all cooperative group learning is good. There leaves no room for teacher judgement.

    One concern I have is the relationship between the creators of C-Scope and those persons responsible for creating the STAAR test. We have received and piloted STAAR screener tests. These tests really test whether or not teachers have taught specific models advocated by C-Scope. They aren't testing whether a student is able to solve a problem but whether they are able to do using a specific method. There are a lot of assumptions about how students make meaning in mathematics, and there is not a lot of room for differentiation.

    Another concern is that students are masters at picking up on whether their teachers are confident and believe in what they are doing. By being forced to use a curriculum exclusively which is highly scripted, the teachers are miserable. Even the best teachers become stressed and less than enthusiastic when put in this position. Teachers at our school have been frequently threatened with the loss of their job if they don't follow this to the letter. Any complaints are seen as resistance to change.

    Our Professional Learning Communities are a joke since we actually have not been given any space to make professional decisions. At no point have we been asked to give constructive feedback. The sad thing is that it is obvious that our administrators don't feel like they have any power to make leadership decisions either since they are being micromanaged by the Superintendent. It is a very sick environment, where many teachers are operating from a place of fear and anxiety.

    I am very grateful for your willingness to speak up.

  2. The 8th grade Social Studies CScope does NOT align with the new TEKS. Should be interesting for next year's test. Karen

  3. Many of the questions about CSCOPE you raise in the article are ones I have entertained. Here is the problem about free, open and transparent discussion about the validity of CSCOPE: Many teachers understand and realize that this curriculum is not the best. However, administrators turn a deaf ear to teachers who want to discuss the merits (or demerits of the curriculum). Moreover, teachers are told to stop "being negative or your contract won't get renewed nest year." I wonder if the administrators have ever heard of Joe McCarthy and the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee? Can you spell blackballed? Teachers cannot afford to raise issues about CSCOPE for fear their certificate will be revoked. Yes, there are witch hunts galore in the land. Teachers who oppose the implementation of CSCOPE are losing their jobs. No one advocates for them. In closing, we are doing our students an injustice by using this hastily cobbled together excuse for a curriculum under the buzz words "best practices." Regions' websites post the following:
    (My comments are in parentheses)
    The curriculum component of CSCOPE is based on best practice models (What practice models?) from top researchers (What researchers?). Lessons are all aligned with the TEKS/TAKS and each lesson meets the highest standards of rigor and relevance.At the heart of the CSCOPE process is a guaranteed & viable curriculum (Who is making this statement? Teachers, administrators, someone with a vested interest in the curriculum?).
    If the curriculum is that wonderful then proponents of CSCOPE should not try to thwart earnest and open discussions. So far, however, there are gag orders being issued with the not so subtle threat, "Open your mouth in a negative way about this curriculum and you are history!"

  4. Karen, I had a similar problem with CSCOPE's alignment in the 10th Grade English curriculum. In the weeks preceding my students' first-ever TAKS essay, CSCOPE had students designing a "How To" procedural manual. I couldn't believe it! That's when I went rogue on CSCOPE...and as a result, 95% of my students passed the TAKS test, with 96% of them passing the essay. But the real issue with CSCOPE-and any other canned curriculum-is this: these programs do not work. They are no panacea for raising TAKS scores. What's more, they might help a bad teacher, but they definitely hinder a good teacher. Teaching is about people, not programs. Teaching is about connecting with students, not delivering some scripted lesson that's so ill-designed even teachers are confused by them. If administrators wish to improve the quality of education, they need to hire good teachers--and lose the bad ones. What makes a good teacher? Someone who (1) is knowledgeable about the field they teach (2) cares about students' success (3) connects with students (4) is a trusted and admired role model. ~Jane

  5. I want to volunteer to be an advocate for teachers forced to use CSCOPE.
    I am a retired science author, have been in contact with the CSCOPE directors and so far they have discredited me by telling the state attorney general that they must keep me from viewing the CSCOPE material because I could use their ideas to write a competitive curriculum. From all the negative comments about CSCOPE, it sounds like anyone could write a competetive curriculum.

    The ESCs own CSCOPE so they are not receptive to hearing about errors. If teachers will provide me with facts about the lessons that have errors, I'll scream and holler until someone listens. I am checking with the state school board about what needs to be done to have CSCOPE investigated. This curriculum HAS NOT BEEN EVALUATED--THERE IS NO ONE OVER SEEING THE VERTICAL ALIGNMENT FOR ANY ONE SUBJECT. WHO DECIDED ON HOW THE TEKS ARE TO BE BUNDLED- Maybe it was the same expert that evaluated the elementary science lessons? Or the person that listed a cup of sand as a type of soil. --I can identify the science errors, but need verification for other subjects. You can send information to me anonymously--Use the ASK Janice Form on my website
    If you would like for me to correspond with you personally, say so. But, I will never reveal any information about you.
    Isn't it sad that Texas teachers are afraid to report curriculum. This tells you that not only do we need to get rid of CSCOPE but every administrator who is not supporting their teachers. Why would administrators be such advocates of CSCOPE---let's work on following the money trail. Are superintendents and school board members being rewarded in some way? Maybe they are invited to CSCOPE conferences and are paid as being consultants. Just a thought.
    Teachers---do you have CSCOPE monitors in your school who walk through your class disrupting it?

    1. I wonder how your investigation is going? I have those very same questions. All implementations of this are so militant there has to be something in it for more than just the people selling it.

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    1. (Re-posted with some editing to retain anonymity)

      AnonymousSeptember 14, 2012 10:27 AM
      Stumbled across this Blog while looking for research that has been done on CSCOPE. Before getting on my soap box, a couple of disclaimers from me. I am not a core teacher. I teach non-core classes. I have done so for over 10 years. I am married to a lower grades teacher who has been teaching for several years.

      (Climbing onto soap box)

      First, I will talk about CSCOPE. Since I am not a core teacher, I do not have to deal with it. For that, I thank God every day. Here are my observations. Core teachers hate CSCOPE. However, the reasons they hate usually do not revolve around the fact that they have been given a curriculum to use. It revolves around two major factors: the fact that they are being told that they must adhere to CSCOPE verbatim and cannot deviate from it in any way and the fact that "the powers that be" (the administrators) are popping into classes and "reading teachers the riot act" if CSCOPE methods and procedures are not front and center.

      Teachers in many districts are already on pins and needles every time an administrator shows up. In my district, many teachers fear for their jobs on a daily basis. I am not saying that administrators should not make unannounced classroom observations. That is the best way to determine which teachers are effective. However, when the visiting administrator demands explanations (sometimes on the spot) about why something was done and/or how it was done, teachers will get defensive. This defensiveness can be enhanced if the "curriculum director" does not have as much teaching experience as the teacher they are observing (it happens). Furthermore, if the feedback has nothing to do with the content that was taught but how close to the CSCOPE lesson of the day the content was, the teacher starts questioning what they, the teacher, should really be trying to accomplish (teaching the kids or following the cookie cutter pattern that is CSCOPE). This is why, in my opinion, why so many teachers (especially experienced ones) are getting frustrated and some are looking for opportunities outside of their schools (or even outside of education). Teachers WANT to teach the kids. CSCOPE might be great for brand new teachers, but to force an experienced teacher to use a cookie cutter approach is to imply that their experience, expertise, and most importantly, knowledge of their students, is irrelevant. That is what frustrates and angers teachers.

      (Climbing off one soap box an onto another)
      Standardized testing, while good in intention, is, again in my opinion, the primary reason our educational system is ranked so low globally. Standardized test such as TAKS, STAAR, and whatever will come next, change so often that you cannot get a valid baseline performance scale to look at. Also, since each state usually comes up with their own standardized test, there is no alignment of what is tested. For example, the Stanford Achievement Test has been around forever and is given nationally every year, they have years of data from students across the country that they can compare to see gaps in knowledge. I am not a salesman for the SAT but that is the only national standardized test I am familiar with. Regardless of your political views, we can all agree that our educational system is broken. Each state creating its own "test" every few years and basically telling teachers that if your kids don't pass it (even better get better every year), your district will lose money and you may very likely lose your job is not the way to fix it. Threats like this(even presumed threats) create animosity among teachers and administrators and ensures that rather than looking into the eyes of their students to ensure that they "get it", teachers are looking over their shoulders to see if they will be the next one whose contract is not renewed. Teaching scared, does not allow for teaching well.

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  8. Extremely frustrated. Nothing has changed.


I have adjusted the settings on the comments to allow you to comment without having a Google account. If this still does not work, I will call one of my former students who can help me out.