Curtis Acosta’s observations about the new TUSD deseg plan


by David Safier

I posted about the new TUSD desegregation plan last week. I also emailed Curtis Acosta, one of the more vocal and visible teachers who taught in the dismantled Mexican American Studies program, for his thoughts and comments on the plan. Curtis sent a detailed reply which he said I could put on the blog. Here it is.

After reading the plan I am optimistic and energized that we have a real opportunity to see the restitution of our Mexican American Studies program. The language in the court order is in place to usher back the type of education that our students benefitted from in MAS during the last decade. I truly believe that Adelita Grijalva and our new board members will heal our community by reinstating Sean Arce, all our teachers and our program. We need their leadership since they are well aware of how the academic experiences in our classrooms transformed the lives of our students, and put them on a trajectory toward realizing their dreams. Not to mention that no other group of teachers are more prepared to implement the Special Master's plan for each high school to offer culturally responsive classes for Latino students. We are the only group that can be up and running immediately.

Of course, Sean's leadership is pivotal for TUSD in moving toward a more equitable academic journey for students in our district. He has the community support and educational experiences as an administrator and teacher to fully implement the plan. Not to mention that MAS teachers are in solidarity that we need him to lead us in this exciting new direction for our district. We are a team that has endured many difficult circumstances, including a quite hostile working environment over the past few years, and we were still able to provide an excellent educational experience for our students. This has been corroborated, yet again, by the latest study of the effectiveness of our courses by Dr. Cabrera, Dr. Milem, and Dr. Marx from the University of Arizona College of Education. It is important to note that this study measured the most contentious years that we faced during the far too public debate about our classes. This is the third study that has affirmed what my colleagues and I have been saying for years regarding MAS, and if TUSD is serious about being data driven then I fully expect our leader and team to return. Cam, Kristel and Adelita can help reconcile this community, and I hope other TUSD administrators can show the same grace and leadership by bringing our team back together to do the work we had been doing for over a decade with such positive results.

I remember a glorious time before Mr. Horne and Mr. Huppenthal started their crusade to politicize and demonize our students and community – a time before magical burritos, "Rosa Clark," and baseless, mean spirited accusations of cult behavior. For years we were a group of professionals emphasizing two of the "old school" three R's through content that focused on the artistic and historic contributions of Mexican Americans, Latinos, and other diverse voices. We were teachers who loved our community, our craft and were completely dedicated to our youth, who also possessed glowing evaluations from the administrators who observed our classes much more than the average teacher. No politicians or ideologues should ever tear at that fabric in our community and yet they did, and we lost part of Tucson in the process. I still don't understand why. 

I think it is important to look at the integrity of Mr. Horne who has allegedly found himself in serious ethical and moral disrepute. Mr. Huppenthal is not beyond reproach either, since he completely ignored his own audit of our program and used inaccurate and hyperbolic characterizations of our students and classes on the campaign stump. Critics of our program need to understand this and come to terms with these facts. What more must these men do to compromise our trust in their judgement and leadership? As Tucsonenses, as a community, who do we want to be? Who should we follow?

Finally, I believe the Unitary Status Plan needs to address one of the more egregious issues in our state, especially in terms of segregation. Currently, students who are designated as English Language Learners are confined and segregated in classrooms throughout our state. The insidious four-hour block of English immersion that these students experience is antithetical to best practices for language acquisition, and is another Tom Horne inspired tactic of educational malpractice. We must demand at the USP forums that the four-hour block be eliminated and that a true bilingual education program return to TUSD. How can we possibly take desegregation issues seriously when each school in our state has mandated segregation?

We have the talent and cariño in this district to offer the educational experiences that we all dream of for our students, but it will take participation at the public forums or comments made through the USP website to ensure that this happens. As a community we must stand together on all of these issues and demand quality education for our children.

In Lak Ech,


  1. I actually believe that I AM using facts. I have read a number of the texts that were labeled as….what?….why exactly were they banned? I’ll never know, and neither will any of the people in the (quite respectively large) reading group that I read them with, I have gone to a number of public events where I have heard both teachers and–perhaps more importantly–students speak , I have spoken with students’ parents and heard success stories, and I have listened to ex-students, now at the University level, who accredit MAS for their success at the University.In addition to that, as a strong, well grounded result of WHITE Studies, it is QUITE intuitive to me that for someone who is NOT white, WHITE STUDIES might not give one the grounding that I was lucky enough to receive (although, of course, by leaving out my gender except for who sewed the American Flag, it was more than a little lacking in that) Your not asking for facts, you’re asking for numbers. I am certainly not anti-evaluation–i heard lots of positive evaluations, and based on MY research, have my own positive evaluation–I am just ant-using numbers as if they were some kind of demigod of evaluation.

    I realize that running for any office of any kind allows any type of comments to be made about one, but I don’t appreciate being called “anti-evaluation, anti-research’ and then abstractly compared to the people you have chosen to compare me to. Even though I’m just an invisible school-community activist again, I think I deserve to be spoken to as if I might be intelligent, even if I disagree with you. Respectfully yours.

  2. Count me as a hard data agnostic when it comes to education. Pam, when you’re measuring the effectiveness of abstinence education, the comparison you use in your comment, you’re using one of the rare instances in education where you have some genuine hard data to work with. As the old saying goes, you can’t be kind of pregnant. Looking at pregnancy data over time and over location can give some genuine indications of trends. But you can be “kind of educated.” That’s the best any of us can say about ourselves, that we’re kind of educated. And when it comes to the effect of schooling on students, the gray, “kind of” areas overwhelm what we can measure for certain.

    One of the reasons many people like me are wary of standardized testing, why we think it has the tendency to do more harm than good when it’s used as a valid evaluation tool, is that it’s a very crude measure of certain traits which may or may not be the most important parts of a child’s education. The search for “hard data” in education can lead to miscalculation and miseducation.

    I’ve said, and I continue to say, the MAS data arrives at indications the program is valuable to its students, but it doesn’t offer any definitive proof. That’s par for the course when it comes to educational data. Any number of people who study trends in education — Diane Ravitch among them — can give all kinds of examples of the ways data fails as indicators of learning. At best, the MAS data is a proxy for the achievement of the students in the program. It’s based on too small a sample, it’s impossible to create a genuine control group of students to compare with the MAS students, and the data used are AIMS scores and graduation rates, both of which are weak indicators of educational achievement. But every education study I’ve ever looked at contains similar flaws. Simply put, education doesn’t yield to verifiable conclusions based on strong data. But as studies of achievement go, this one is reasonably strong in indicating a general trend.

    And damn it, in a climate where “data” is used against minority groups (“You’re dumb because you have lousy test scores”) and against schools with predominantly minority students (“Your schools are failing because your students don’t do well enough on tests”), turnaround is fair play. The same type of data that’s used to “prove” kids and schools are failing should be able to be used to “prove” the MAS program was a success. To raise the bar and expect some kind of absolute proof based on incontrovertible data from the MAS program is absurd and unfair. When a classroom is called a cult, when a curriculum is accused of fomenting revolution and teaching hatred, when a program is dismantled by politicians who are using MAS, SB1070 and general fear of brown people to get themselves elected, people advocating for the program have the right to lean on data that can give them a numerical basis to “prove” they have created a strong educational model, to say, “See, you say you want students to raise their achievement. MAS has succeeded where other programs have failed.” To deny them this one piece of hard data in the face of the firestorm of slurs and false accusations against them is petty, to say the least.

  3. Betts, as a TUSD board candidate, I assumed you would use facts to support MAS. This statement “We’ve got study after study that says the program worked…” is an MAS canard. Yes, there are multiple studies, but there are a wide variety of findings and conflicting results. I assume Cabrera is working on publishing his recent findings in the education literature, but as far as I know, there is no published research validating the MAS curricula– after a decade of funding and close collaboration with UA faculty, who have a “publish or perish” mandate from academia.

    And, yes, I do believe we need effectiveness data for *all taxpayer funded programs*– especially in these tight economic times. So, I guess I fall into this category… “folks who need to see numbers ad nauseum instead of relying on the OBVIOUS fact that they worded (sic)”. This anti-evaluation, anti-research mindset gave us years of worthless abstinence only health education programs nationwide. Republicans *believed* it worked. Because it suited their ideology, that’s all they needed to waste millions of dollars– despite countless studies showing that abstinence only didn’t prevent teen pregnancy or sexual relations. In fact, states like Arizona that funded abstinence only (to the detriment of sex ed) had higher rates of teen pregnancy. What did Arizona do when the evaluation reports slammed abstinence only? They fired the evaluators.

    Proudly standing on the side of facts and research…

  4. Spin, smear, spin. Jana, I challenge you to make a post based upon facts and not hype and putdowns.

    I was making a mathematical observation. The last results I saw showed no candidates with more than 15% of the vote. There are no mandates. The numbers show a divided community.

  5. And, I should have added, who better than the folks who developed the program to get it off the ground again? Given the tight timelines they are the ones positioned to do it. What a long and tortuous way around to following the LAST unitary plan, the one that said “expand the program into middle schools”. How much did Horne and Hupe spend on this attack on TUSD and MAS with their studies, their threats,…..? Yes, it swept both of them into their current political positions but the benefits acrue only to them, not to us, taxpayers who footed the bill for the whole nine yards. What a charade. C’mon Arizona, we’ve GOT to be able to do better than this!

  6. My question is a little more about our electoral system. Why, when the Repubs win, is it REALLY winner-take-all (which is how it is constructed). and when WE win, its supposed to be anything but? I do believe in trying to work on good ideas regardless of where they come from, Dem or Repub, but why do I get itchy when I hear the word “heal” applied to this issue by people who are not in favor of it? We’ve got devastated students, current and future, and devastated families who wish their kids would have access to this program. We’ve got study after study that says the program worked, and those are for folks who need to see numbers ad nauseum instead of relying on the OBVIOUS fact that they worded as evidenced by the way the students have been fighting to bring them back. WHO needs healing???? As best I can see, its the students that need healing, and they need to get there by getting their program and their classes back.

  7. Pam, No matter how “progressive” you claim to be, your brand of “progressive” Tucson Democrats denigrate the healing needed to right the injustices that have thrown TUSD students and teachers under the bus. Your message is, “Let’s not confront the horrible things that TUSD did to our students because that would upset people.” Forget the fact that the students who most needed teachers who could provide them with a wildly successful curriculum would be left standing at the side of the road. Let’s not rock the boat, unless it involves a group for which you advocate. Then you are all in.

  8. 3 independent studies proved MAS worked Pamela. Why do you jump past the facts? Mr. Arce was the Director during this time. Please explain why you believe Mr. Acosta has a narrow viewpoint? Do you know Mr. Acosta’s background? Do you have another study you would like to present or just your opinion? What makes you qualified? Don’t forget that Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, a solid MAS supporter & TUSD parent, picked up many of our votes over Cam & Krystal. Also, 3 of the 12 candidates voted to end MAS and 2 were defeated along with Mr. Hunnicutt. Bottom line, MAS worked and anyone that truly cared about our community would want students to have what works.

  9. Pamela: In referring to Cam Juarez as a “Grijalvaista,” I believe you should have chosen the masculine form of the spanglasized word. Isn’t the linguistic and cultural blend here in Tucson lovely? 🙂

  10. “I truly believe that Adelita Grijalva and our new board members will heal our community by reinstating Sean Arce, all our teachers and our program.”

    Acosta is writing from a very narrow viewpoint with this statement. Yes, some people would say that bringing back MAS lock, stock, and barrel– including Arce– would “heal”, while just as many people would say that action would create more problems and cause more turmoil.

    With 12 candidates for TUSD board, with the first 2 winners split on the MAS question and with a heated race for the 3rd open slot, I think that the TUSD election shows that no one faction has a mandate. Personally, I was shocked last week when the vote was so close between Cam Juarez (solidly a “Grijalvista” and MAS stalwart) and John Hunnicutt (a right wing reform candidate and anything but a “Grijalvista”).

    These results show a divided community. It’s time for “creative compromise”– as Bill Clinton would say– and not further turf wars.