by David Safier
A couple of questions to TUSD Supe John Pedicone, Board President Mark Stegeman and the rest of the Board:
1. Do you think removing Mexican American Studies courses from core requirements will make MAS a better program?
2. If not, do those of you who are advocating the change think it will pacify John Huppenthal so he'll call off the dogs and let the modified MAS program live?
If you think the move to make MAS courses "electives" (I'm putting the word in quotes for reasons you'll see in the op ed below) will improve education for students who take the program, I think you're flat out wrong, but at least you're pushing the change for what you believe are educational reasons.
If you think making the change will save the program, then you're absolutely wrong. This is another version of the old Vietnam War strategy, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." Compromising away the program won't save it. If the program is diluted and students taking MAS courses are forced to take twice as many history and English courses, it will die of attrition in a few years. And unless you've already cut a deal with Huppenthal — if you have, you should be deeply ashamed (and you should make the deal public) — it's unlikely he'll be satisfied with changing the program.
This brings me to an excellent op ed in today's Star by two MAS teachers. These people who have invested heart and soul into the program — people who are deeply invested in the program — say, Don't Compromise.
. . . MAS students have shown significant increases in AIMS reading and writing scores, and are graduating at higher rates than their district counterparts.
They are closing the achievement gap that has plagued Latino students for years. Moreover TUSD's ethnic studies program is the only one in the district geared toward closing that gap.
There has been talk about making MAS courses electives. They already are electives. No one forces students to take these courses for their English, history and government graduation requirements. What is really being suggested is making them non-accredited electives, and that is just wrong. Why should our students have to double their course load for their graduation requirements, especially when our program is demonstrably helping these students do better and increasing graduation rates? [boldface added]
Making these courses unaccredited electives sends the message to Latino students and parents that MAS courses, which highlight the historical and cultural contributions that Latinos have made to the United States (while simultaneously covering the traditional state standards), are not worthy of study as social studies and English classes sufficient to count as core credit.
To roll back this program from accredited status is a giant step back from the tremendous gains that the Mexican American/Latino community and MAS have made to counter the Latino student population as being traditionally underserved.
Pedicone and the Board need to stand behind MAS, unless they think it's a flawed program that needs to be changed. If that's what they think, they need to say so, right now, and hold a public forum or two or three to discuss the fate of a program so widely supported by the Hispanic community and educators in the community and around the country. This whole fight should be played out in the open, not behind closed doors.
UPDATE: Mark Stegeman is a friend and a very smart guy. He and I sit down semi-regularly to discuss education, sometimes heatedly, sometimes harmoniously. When it comes to MAS, things tend to get heated, but that's because of disagreement, not disrepect on either side.
In a comment, Stegeman answered my first question: whether modifying the MAS program would improve it. Here is his comment:
Answer to question (1): Yes, most obviously for the Social Studies courses. Given the highly demanding state requirements for social studies, it is better to put some of the MAS content into the core courses that everybody takes but still leave most of the time for the traditional core topics. That improves those courses for the 95% [corrected number, based on a second Stegeman comment] of our high school students who currently take the traditional core courses. Then for the approx. 5% of our high school students who take any MAS course during any given year, the MAS history course (for example) can drop topics like the Articles of Confederation and the War of 1812 to provide a deeper focus on the Southwest and the Mexican-American experience and can moreover cover related topics in regional history (e.g. Latin America and the Caribbean).
Though I disagree with Stegeman's point, I'll let his statement stand without argument (for now, anyway).