In Tucson, Arizona, as well as across the nation, minority students, especially Latinos, struggle to succeed in public education classes. One way found to improve achievement for the 32,000 Latinos enrolled in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) was the creation of a Mexican American Studies program (MAS).
The Mexican American Studies began in 2005 and reduced dropout rates, increased graduation rates and students who took at least one MAS class showed improvement on standardized test scores. Using unconventional teaching methods, such as hip-hop lyrics and incorporating controversial Hispanic writings and literature, students were highly engaged and taking ownership of their education.
Sadly, MAS is no mas. TUSD’s Governing Board voted to shut down the program on January 10, 2011. Why, you ask?
In Arizona, there is a law that warns school districts not to teach ethnic studies classes that violate the new state standards on such classes. Failure to comply meant losing 10 percent of the school district’s state education funding, some $15 million. The new law, passed in May 2010, specifically targeted the TUSD Mexican American Studies classes. Written by Tom Horne when he was Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction (currently State Attorney General), the state law HB 2281 was passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Jan Brewer.
You may recall that the same state legislators and governor recently passed into law SB 1070, a controversial anti-immigration bill that included racial profiling. But, that’s a topic for another discussion.
“It’s propagandizing and brainwashing that’s going on there,” said Horne about the ethnic studies. As State Attorney General, he found the Mexican American Studies program in violation of the new state law. He found that the classes “fostered racial resentment and solidarity among members of a single ethnic group,” thus violating the language of the law. Others would phrase this as acknowledging past and present discrimination and finding one’s cultural identity.
The current Arizona State Superintendent of Public Education, John Huppenthal, not only supported the ruling, he took it one or two steps further. Rather than doing the right thing for TUSD’s students, parents and teachers, Huppenthal used an analogy of war to characterize the ethnic studies issue. (Watch video.)
Students and teachers fought hard to keep their ethnic classes. There were protests, student walk-outs, raucous Governing Board meetings and much deliberation. In the end, money won out.
A new beginning for Mexican American Studies?
The program has now been revamped. There will be no more classes about historical realities of the United States Southwest and its Mexican heritage. No more classes about the struggles of Mexican immigrants and the everyday experiences of Mexican-Americans.
Under the leadership of Maria Figueroa, director of the newly revamped Mexican-American Student Services, different strategies are being put in place to help TUSD’s ever-struggling Hispanic students, most of who are from low-income families. Tutoring programs and mentors from the Hispanic business community and University of Arizona are to be used to reach students.
“We’re going to teach the kids that they need to stay in school, that school is important,” stated Ms. Figueroa in a recent interview.
TUSD has been under a Federal desegregation order for over 30 years. Bad feelings remain in the community about the demise of the Mexican-American Studies. Fences need to be mended. The new efforts to improve Latino educational successes will be under close scrutiny.
While similar programs for black, Asian and American Indian students have been left untouched, the new measures for Mexican-American students will be novel approaches for TUSD. It is in all the stakeholders’ best interest, but especially the students’, that great results be achieved.