The Superintendent’s Corner… C-Scope

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A LYS Superintendent addresses some concerns about C-Scope (note: C-Scope is an vertically aligned scope and sequence used by hundreds of school districts).

I was recently asked a question concerning C-SCOPE and admittedly, gave a poor response.  Luckily, because of the blog, I get a re-do, so here goes…

Most professions have sub-specialties within the field.  For example, in medicine you don’t go to a neurologist for a heart problem.  In law, attorneys that handle personal injury law are generally not experts in criminal law defense.  The profession of education is no different.

In broad categories education has at least three sub-specialties:

1. Operations/Finance/Policy
2. Instruction
3. Curriculum & Assessment

Each of these sub-specialties can further be subdivided.  For example, Instruction can be general, special education, deaf education, and others.  The problem is many educators consider themselves experts in many if not all of these areas.  In reality, an exceptional educator will be proficient or better in one expertise and familiar with the others.  Of course many politicians and wonks outside the field of education are without a doubt experts in all areas of education, which is fortunate for those of us who have devoted our lives and careers to the field.

In Texas, the area of curriculum and assessment is being dominated by C-Scope, which has been controversial since the day it was created.  The reasons for the controversy are many, but here are some factors:

1. Instructional leaders (principals, superintendents) have poor understanding of curriculum and have mismanaged the implementation of C-SCOPE.  This usually involves unrealistic mandates concerning the use of C-SCOPE by teachers.

2. Some teachers simply don’t like being told what to teach and when to teach it.  The concept of horizontal and vertical alignment is lost to these teachers, or worse, they just don’t care.

3. Too many people expect perfection out of a curriculum.  Every error or inconsistency in C-SCOPE was deemed as “proof” that CSCOPE was worthless.  Newsflash: There is no perfect curriculum. 

The problem of C-SCOPE efficacy is beginning to boil over.  Some districts have taken the approach of having teachers writing curriculum for the district.  The problem with this approach is that virtually 100% of teachers (and administrators) have 0% expertise in curriculum development.  Teachers should have expertise in instructional design and delivery.  Most teachers need only be familiar with curriculum, generally to the implementation level, but certainly not to the curriculum design and evaluation level.  To be clearer: administrators and teachers, we must have a curriculum, and it is very, very unlikely that very many administrators and teachers know very much about curriculum design at all; it is a separate specialty in education. 

The C-SCOPE boil over prompted SBOE member Thomas Ratliff to release the following:

http://www.texasisd.com/article_132994.shtml

I think Thomas Ratliff nailed it, yet problems persist.  For example, there has been a rumor floating around since October that Pearson has acquired C-SCOPE. This is not true, but there are those convinced none the less.  This falls into the “conspiracy theory” section that Ratliff  refers to.  The problem is, there is too much truth to the Pearson “conspiracy” overall, so every time educators hear anything about Pearson, it is assumed true. I don’t think Pearson has some evil conspiracy in mind at all.  Nor do I think Pearson has the best interest of children in mind.  I simply think Pearson is trying to make money.  In many ways Pearson and its supportive legislatures are the “heart of the vampire” Robert Scott was referring to just a year ago.

Still, the winds of politics are ever changing.  The ultra-conservative politicians that Texans now seem to favor would love to get the TESCCC out of the curriculum business and turn it over to a private entity, such as Pearson, for example.  No conspiracy here either, we keep electing those that are clear with their agenda.  We just seem to be surprised that they really are acting on that agenda.

And with this legislative session, those who have axes to grind against C-SCOPE see an opportunity to piggy-back on the less government, more charter school, less public school funding, voucher coat tails.  That is a shame, because in districts that have fully and effectively implement C-SCOPE, I have never seen anything but good results for kids.

Some suggestions for TESCCC:

1.  Your user agreement was obviously written by lawyers to protect a product.  I get that, but many people will read the user agreement and see hidden agendas, secrecy, skullduggery, and conspiracy.  I would recommend going to a Linux model of curriculum delivery: open source.  Put everything out there and get rid of the pay wall. 

You don’t need to worry nearly as much about user agreements when you are open source.  Very few private companies can compete against what is given as free.  This is the model both Android and Linux use, and it is very, very effective.  If you don’t believe it install Linux Mint 13 Mate on your PC. You will never use another Microsoft product after you do.

2.  The exemplar lessons are a huge source of contention.  I would remove exemplar lessons from C-SCOPE as an official part of the product.  I would use some other forum for teachers to create and share specific lessons that are organized to the C-SCOPE framework.  Perhaps that platform already exists under Project Share?  Well-intended but controversial lessons will be picked up from the battlefield and promptly fired back at TESCCC, with effect.

3.  Simplify, simplify, simplify.  Go to a scope and sequence aligned to the tested TEKS.  That’s it.  Do it at no cost to districts.  Besides, administrators forcing teachers to teach at the C-SCOPE lesson level are part of the problem.  Those administrators are using their positions and power to force a well intended but misguided approach to C-SCOPE implementation.  That too is battlefield pick-up being fired at TESCCC with effect. 

I am a big fan of CSCOPE, and I would rather see it simplified, free, and open sourced rather than lose it for any reason.

SC Response First, everyone should click on the link and read SBOE Member Ratliff’s short history lesson on C-Scope. His two-page summary eviscerates the anti C-Scope conspiracy theory.

Second, I agree with over 90% of what you have written. In Texas, the use of C-Scope is really a no-brainer.  The Foundation Trinity is built on the implementation of a decent, vertically aligned, and accountability test correlated scope and sequence.  Not only does C-Scope fit the bill, it is a much better tool than any individual teacher can now create.  Those that argue otherwise only prove their ignorance of the purpose, role and quality of the tool.

As for the Pearson/C-Scope rumors, I think that began last session when our elected leaders who are friendly with Pearson openly questioned whether the ESC’s should be building C-Scope for districts.  Our Republican legislators have taken the position that Pearson is “better qualified” to develop the curriculum that our teachers use. Because as we all know, outsourcing every component of public education to multi-national corporations is what is best for children. Or, is that what is best for contributions to re-election campaigns? As a professional educator, I easily get confused.

I agree with the open source model in theory, if the state would fund C-Scope development, maintenance, improvement and delivery.  But that is not going to happen. Our current political leadership simply refuses to fund education at an adequate level.  So in the absence of enlightened leadership, a co-op, pay-for-use model is the most practical solution.

I agree that the exemplar lessons have been a significant source of contention and an on-going work in progress.  And if the state hadn’t switched from TAKS to STAAR, I too would recommend ignoring them (which I did).  However, I am also aware that the practice of collaborative instructional planning is almost as rare as unicorn sightings.  With STAAR, the exemplar lesson is no longer a luxury.  Though not perfect (far form it), they do give teachers a starting point for creating and providing aligned and paced instruction.  Teachers and administrators must come to the realization that we have to play the game we are in, not the game we wish we were in.  As you mention above, it’s what we have been consistently voting for over the last 15 years.

Finally, I completely agree that C-Scope biggest failing is poor leadership and poor implementation by those in the field. Honestly, how simple can you make a curriculum tool designed for ever-changing high stakes accountability and have it still be effective? Maybe C-Scope should come with the following warning label: Warning –Poor leadership and lazy practice will result in significant pain and pushback.     

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