by 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.
Bringing 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…
"… 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.]
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."
"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".