Analysis & commentary: TUSD deseg plan, MAS, & beyond


Mas-logoby Pamela Powers Hannley

The first of three public forums on the Tucson Unified School District's (TUSD) proposed desegregation plan took place on Monday night. 

Fellow BfAZ blogger Dave Safier posted a very detailed first-person account of the forum here this morning, and today's Arizona Daily Star's also offered a thorough account that overlaps somewhat with Safier's but also includes other facts. (KGUN 9 video here.)

Safier writes from the viewpoint– as he admits– of commentator who has "expended thousands of words trying to explain the value of the MAS program". The Star reporter gives a newsier account of the meeting and offers some more basic background.

Why a third article? Here, I offer here some history, a broader analysis of the issues, and a call for action. Read more after the jump.

In recent weeks, I have read several blog posts that report the Desegregation/Unity Plan supports the fromer Mexican American Studies (MAS) program and could reinstate it (despite its legal status). When I read the plan (here), I saw no mention of the MAS program and thought: "Am I missing something? MAS is not even mentioned." This quandry was answered in today's Star.

"The desegregation plan spells out improvements the Tucson Unified School District must make in areas ranging from the hiring and retention of minority employees to recruiting more minority students into advanced academic programs.

"The plan, known as a unitary status plan, touches upon – without specifically naming – the controversial issue of Mexican American studies, yet that is the topic most speakers focused on at Monday night's hearing.

"The plan requires the district to help improve the achievement of black and Hispanic students by creating "socially and culturally relevant curriculum," including courses that center on the experiences of the black and Latino communities." [Emphasis added.]

This last statement in bold– I completely agree with. The multi-million-dollar question is how to accomplish this. Bringing back the old MAS program was the one solution that got the most play in Safier's article, the Star article, and on social media yesterday– with three MAS community advisory board members (including City Councilwoman Regina Romero) heavily promoting that solution.

Resist158-sm72Bringing back the old MAS would obviously satisfy a very vocal group of activists and several Latino politicians, but would it satisfy the goal outlined in the above bolded statement? What about the black students (including but not limited to African Americans)? What about non-Mexican Latinos? What about multi-racial, multi-cultural students? Shouldn't these underserved students also be covered under the plan?

Before MAS was shut down by the state, Ethnic Studies in TUSD was comprised of four components: Mexican American Studies, African American Studies, Native American Studies, and Pan Asian Studies. Each program was organized differently and had different sets of services. The MAS program was the largest (in terms of reach and budget– more than $1 million per year at its peak. MAS also was much more formalized than the other Ethnic Studies, with specific MAS courses that substituted for core curriculum classes in literature and history. 

As a former TUSD parent and current TUSD grandparent, the old system looks like an unequal hodge-podge with different services and classes being offered to Mexican American students, African American students, Native American students, and Asian-Pacific Islander students– not to mention white students and anyone else who didn't fit into these four administrative pigeon holes that were created more than a decade ago to improve the lives of underserved students.

The first MAS evaluation commissioned by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal didn't focus on whether or not MAS was in violation with the law and didn't answer the question of whether or not the MAS classes were teaching hatred for other ethnic or racial groups and/or overthrow of the US government, according to Huppenthal.  What the evaluation did say was that the TUSD board lacked oversight of the MAS program (and others). The board wasn't paying attention. From Huppenthal's letter

Ethnic Cleansers"… Inexplicably, the auditors did not review substantial physical evidence found in the classroom or on coursework syllabi and reading lists made available to them.

"Not auditing a substantial portion of information gathered was problematic when trying to reach valid, reasonable, fact-based conclusions. Furthermore, two-thirds of the MAS classes were not even observed, the observations took place during a narrow time window and TUSD was told in advance which week the audit would take place. Most audited classes were observed only once.

"TUSD failed to provide any student coursework from the MAS classrooms, 11 MAS teachers were told not to participate in the audit by their lawyers, and administrators from the MAS program refused to be interviewed.

"The external audit failed to provide a comprehensive review. Most educational audits are intensive and can last for six months. The auditors only spent one week observing classrooms at TUSD.

"Despite the limited usefulness of the external audit, its final report did highlight materials such as textbooks deemed to be questionable, partisan, inflammatory, and age-inappropriate. It also pointed out TUSD’s lack of a comprehensive, transparent and statutorily compliant curriculum development and oversight process in regards to MAS. This lack of oversight of the MAS program ultimately led to its violations of A.R.S. § 15-112 [formerly HB2281]…" [Emphasis added. Ethnic Cleanser image is published online with this article by Dr. Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor of the University of Arizona MAS faculty.]

Tusd enrollment (1)So… we have large groups of underserved students. We have a school board that historically hasn't paid attention to their statutory obligations in curriculum development. We have a state legislature that doesn't believe in guv'mint education and regularly raids k-12 funding to pay for corporate tax cuts and other ideological niceties. We have state government leaders that scapegoat non-straight/non-white/non-male groups with ridiculous and often unconstitutional laws. We have white flight from TUSD, which is resulting in school closures. We have a divided community on the MAS issue– as evidenced by the recent TUSD school board vote. We have an electorate that recently voted against extending the temporary 1 cent sales tax for education. And we have a school district with a multi-million-dollar shortfall– before the failure of the sales tax.

All of these issues are interrelated, and any comprehensive solution must recognize the interconnectedness of the multiple problems facing TUSD. Reinstating the status quo would pacify one group, but what about the bigger picture?

The bottomline is: an unequal system should not be perpetuated. I believe this is why the original African American and Mexican American parents filed the suit against TUSD decades ago. 

I end with a quote from a speech former President Bill Clinton gave in Tempe in October, when he was campaigning for Senate candidate Richard Carmona, because I think Tucson can learn from these words. Clinton talked about "shared prosperity" and a philosophy that says "we're all in this together… is better than you're on your own."

No-hate"Every life we let go makes the rest of us poorer, and the more we expand opportunity for everybody the more we build a great middle class for the 21st century. The more we give poor people a dignified, honorable chance to work their way into it [the middle class], the more millionaires and billionaires there will be becaus we'll all be uplifted…

"In every successful country on Earth, today, there is a recognition that we face a blithering aray of complex challenges, and in an environment like that, creative cooperation beats constant conflict every single time." [Clinton's emphasis.]

In a recent guest commentary in the Star, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild sounded the same theme. He called for the community to come together to strengthen education funding, improve literacy overall and reading comprehension by 3rd grade, and decrease drop-out rates. 

Tucson, it's time to put the "constant conflict" behind us and search for solutions that will give all of our citizens a "dignified, honorable chance to work their way into [the middle class]".

PS: There are two more public forums on the desegregation plan this week, plus you read the plan and comment online. All comments will be provided to Special Master Willis Hawley, who is scheduled to release the final plan by Dec. 10, according to the Star.

PPS: Alternative title for this blog post: Pollyanna tries to put the "unity" back into "unitary".



  1. I support Mike’s inclusion of the SA, too. My thanks was sincere. I agree that TUSD has a history of lack of curriculum oversight. But unfortunately, you fell for Huppenthal’s bait with the curriculum issue as applied to MAS. Steve Lemons explained it well in this post:

    While Huppenthal sat on the Cambium Audit for more than a month trying to figure out what f#@k he was going to do with it, he came up with the plan to attack MAS and TUSD for failing to produce curriculum for inspection. At his press conference announcing his findings, he ducked out while one of his underlings provided a snoozer of a lecture on the importance of good curriculum oversight. She distracted the press while failing to mention that a lack of curriculum oversight by the board is not a violation of HB 2281. If it were, most of TUSD would be in violation, according to TUSD Deputy Supt. Dr. Menconi.

    It’s a red herring designed to discredit the Cambium Audit and distract from the overwhelmingly positive findings. Now we have the Cabrera Report, as well. I trust the results of the data. Whether one of the ADE hacks looked at curriculum or not is irrelevant.

    I also agree that it is interesting and comical to ingest multiple opinions. Just be careful when you use a source like John Huppenthal to present your “analysis,” when his “facts” are part and parcel of one of the most interesting and comical spin jobs in Arizona history. That the Sonoran Alliance posted it was your first clue to be a little skeptical. David nailed it in his comments.

    Thanks for your enjoyable posts. It makes reading BFA more interesting and comical.

  2. When I Googled “huppenthal MAS evaluation” all I got was the Sonoran Alliance’s reprint of Huppenthal’s letter defending his position and 2 old articles of mine from the Tucson Citizen. I quoted Huppenthal– not SA.

    My point was not to do a full recap of all MAS evaluation but to point out Huppenthal’s finding that the TUSD Board has historically dropped the ball on curriculum oversight– and not just with MAS. This was glaringly obvious in 2010-2011 when no one could really describe what was being taught where, and the MAS faculty were offering as little information as possible.

    Pick your head up out of the sand. There are many opinions out there. Personally, I find it interesting and sometimes comical to read multiple opinions that I may or may not agree with. This is why I used to watch Fox News, CNN, and the Today show simultaneously at the gym in the morning.

    I Support Mike’s inclusion of the Sonoran Alliance and Arizona Independent Daily right next to the Three Sonorans in the Donkey Feed. Variety is the spice of life.

  3. I have seen BFA blogposts link to the Sonoran Alliance before. (Thanks Michael Bryan for regularly including the SA in your Donkey Feed.) I have also seen BFA blogposts quote from the Sonoran Alliance before. But this is the first time I have seen a BFA blogpost, not only link to and quote the Sonoran Alliance, but quote five paragraphs of pure Teapublican spin off of the Sonoran Alliance without so identifying it.

    It looks like BFA’s affirmative action program for conservative bloggers is producing the desired diversity of viewpoints.

    By the way, are those five paragraphs part of your analysis or your commentary?

  4. You practice a brand of journalism that puts forward all views as equivalent without discerning whether those views are based on fact or a house of cards. Huppenthal commissioned an audit by educational professionals who were as impressed by their classroom observations as they were with data showing elevated levels of performance for MAS students. Of course he did a hatchet job on the Cambium Audit. It didn’t give him the results he thought he had bought and paid for. I sat through the entire administrative hearing against the MAS program and it was the definition of a kangaroo court. Huppenthal’s underlings at the Dept. of Ed. cherry picked passages out of books that quoted participants in the Chicano rights movement speaking forty years ago and assumed that this was what MAS students were taught to believe and to live. They had no idea how the material was presented or if it was ever used at all in a classroom. Think of this, Pam. If you picked up a history text book on the anti-war movement of forty years ago and saw the passage, “Burn baby burn,” would you get your panties in a wad and declare that those horrible teachers are teaching our kids to be pyromaniac anarchists bent on destroying our communities?
    The Cabrera Report focuses on lower-income Hispanic kids at the schools where MAS was offered: Tucson, Cholla, Pueblo, Catalina, Rincon and Palo Verde. It compares the mostly lower-income Hispanic kids who took MAS classes with those who didn’t. The kids who took MAS were between 51% and 108% more likely to graduate than the kids who didn’t. The kids who took MAS were between 96% and 144% to pass the math portion of the AIMS test than the ones who didn’t. We have a crisis in educating our Hispanic youth. Low achievement and low graduation rates are a plague on our community. What is it about these numbers that doesn’t grab your attention? What does it say when educational leaders and policy makers like Pedicone and Stegeman are not interested in a program that produces these results in an educational system that is nearly entirely driven by AIMS passing rates?
    Huppenthal campaigned on a promise to “Stop La Raza.” What do you think that racist dog whistle meant to a redneck Teapublican outside of Tucson? Nothing to do with TUSD, that’s for sure. Tucson’s Mexican American community is in anguish because they have been subjected to racist attacks that have taken away a vehicle that was succeeding in saving the lives of many of their young people. You show no recognition for the grave injustice that is being done. Or maybe you do. You call it “constant conflict” and ask the people who are outraged to simmer down. This is the message from a brand of Tucson Democrats who just wish this whole thing would go away. How very progressive.

  5. May I suggest another addition to that section of the original post to make it clearer? You added “according to Huppenthal” to the statement that the audit didn’t discuss whether MAS was in violation of the law. I suggest you also add a statement that the audit did indeed discuss that question, specifically and at length, and it decided MAS did not violate the law. You could even add that Huppenthal’s statement was wrong — and since references to the law were so clear and lengthy in the audit, you might even say Huppenthal purposely distorted the content of the audit. That might be a matter of opinion, except that there is no question he misrepresented the audit to the press when he first held a press conference before the media was given copies of the audit, and many papers carried Huppenthal’s statements as fact. Later, members of the press expressed anger at being so obviously misinformed by the Superintendent of Education.

  6. Thanks, Dave. I was looking for the link to this report but couldn’t remember the group’s name– except that it sounded like cadmium. My opinion was based upon the original Arizona Daily Star synopsis of the Cambium report which primarily focused on teaching methods (ie, smaller class sizes, teacher/student engagement, etc.)

  7. I want to correct a misstatement in this post. You say about the audit of MAS commissioned by Huppenthal, “The first MAS evaluation commissioned by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal didn’t focus on whether or not MAS was in violation with the law and din’t answer the question of whether or not the MAS classes were teaching hatred for other ethnic or racial groups and/or overthrow of the US government.”

    Here’s a copy of the Cambium Audit ( On page 53, it states, “During the curriculum audit period, no observable evidence was present to suggest that any classroom within Tucson Unified School District is in direct violation of the law A.R.S 15- 112(A).” On page 59: “A majority of evidence demonstrates that the Mexican American Studies Department’s instruction is NOT designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group..” On page 63: “No evidence as seen by the auditors exists to indicate that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department program classes advocates ethnic solidarity; rather it has been proven to treat student as individuals.” On page 78: “No evidence as seen by the auditors exists to indicate that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department program classes advocates ethnic solidarity; rather it has been proven to treat student as individuals.”

    The Cambium Audit addressed the law directly and concluded there was no violation. It found some weaknesses in the program and a lack of oversight by TUSD. However, a program which is functioning and appears to be successful is not dismantled because of problems which can be addressed and corrected. The reason MAS was cut from the TUSD curriculum was because Huppenthal declared it in violation of the law, and the Board decided it was better to end the program than to have some of its funds withheld by the state. Huppenthal basically ignored the most important parts of the findings and cherry-picked a few criticisms to make it sound like a negative report.