by David Safier
TUSD has a new desegregation plan on its plate. It's a continuation of the 30 year old deseg case to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for Hispanic and African American students. The plan is big — 84 pages long — complex and potentially very significant for the District. I've held off writing about it for a few days until I learned more. The Star did some passable reporting on the plan, and Mari Herreras has a very good explanation and analysis in the Weekly. I decided to wait until I had a chance to sit down with Richard Martinez, the lawyer who is representing students in their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HB2281, the law used to dismantle the Mexican American Studies program, before I wrote anything. I knew Martinez had more knowledge of TUSD history than I ever will and could translate the plan's legalese into something I could understand. He's definitely a partisan in the fight, but he's also an honest, intelligent man who knows how to separate fact from opinion and make it clear which is which.
Having read over the plan and talked with Martinez, here's my quick take on its most important parts, which, by the way, have not yet been approved. Feel free to use the Comments section to discuss the plan further — in a civil manner please (forceful, if you wish, but civil), no matter where you stand on the issue. I'll be happy to join in the discussion.
It's important to understand the implementation of this plan will take place with the same Superintendent, John Pedicone, but a very different Board. Two of the Board members who voted to dismantle the MAS curriculum will be gone at the end of the year, replaced by Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez, both of whom expressed strong support of MAS during their campaigns. The two of them join Adelita Grijalva, the only Board member who voted against dismantling MAS. That means 3 of the 5 Board members are supporters of the program, and Mark Stegeman joins Michael Hicks in the minority on the MAS issue, and probably on other issues as well. The Board's balance of power has shifted dramatically.
The new plan is likely to bring back courses similar to those that made up the dismantled MAS curriculum. Not exactly the same, necessarily, but they must be "culturally relevant courses of instruction designed to reflect the history, experiences and culture of African American and Latino communities." The plan specifies these are to be "core courses" at the high school level — meaning they will fulfill history and literature requirements rather than being electives — and can be electives in middle schools. The curriculum is supposed to make it into elementary classes in some form as well. All this is supposed to happen very quickly: fall term, 2013, for the high schools; 2014 for the middle schools; and 2015 at the elementary grades.
TUSD has objected to the use of the words "core" and "elective" in this part of the plan. Take those words out, and all the classes could be electives, which would effectively gut the program. I'm guessing the words "core" and "elective" will remain in the final version.
The way students are admitted to University High would change under the new plan. Currently admission to UHS is test-driven (I'm not sure if there are other factors). The ethnic makeup of the school is about 60% white, 22% Hispanic, 14% Asian and 4% African American, yet TUSD is over 60% Hispanic. The new admission standards would include multiple measures such as essays, characteristics of the students' schools, and student's background (including race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status) in an effort to make the mix of students more closely resemble the ethnic makeup of the District.
Opportunities for Hispanic and African American students to take advanced courses, including AP courses, would increase. Problems with the current way discipline is administered, where Hispanic and African American students often receive harsher punishments than other students for similar offenses, would be addressed. Students struggling during the early grades and older students in danger of dropping out would be given more attention and assistance. More multicultural material would be incorporated into the standard TUSD curriculum.
This is only a snapshot of the 84 page document, but it gives an indication of how ambitious the new plans are. To assure compliance, TUSD will have to be specific about its budget to implement the plans and must assess its progress at regular intervals.
Richard Martinez believes there will be lots of confrontation along the way to implementation of the deseg plan. Members the Hispanic (and non-Hispanic) community energized by the fight over the MAS program are not likely to allow the District to water down the implementation of the plan. Former MAS teachers are equally unlikely to keep quiet and "play nice" after the program they gave their hearts and souls to was savaged and abandoned.
Expect the battles we've witnessed over the past few years to continue, and hope the resulting programs will be created with the best interests of the students in mind.