Friday, December 5, 2014
Two years after the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) ended its old Mexican-American Studies (MAS) curriculum, the district continues to be pulled between Arizona politicians’ disapproval of ethnic studies classes and TUSD’s efforts to show remedial progress in the federal desegregation case brought against the district in 1974. Arizona education officials increased the pressure on TUSD this Tuesday making a surprise visit to an ethnic studies class to determine if the district is violating a state law that prohibits any class that promotes “the overthrow of the United States government,” racial resentment, and “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” (HB 2281). After HB 2281 was passed and the state threatened to withhold ten percent of the district's funding, TUSD closed down the MAS program in 2012. TUSD’s school board subsequently began offering ethnic studies courses after a federal court ordered the district to develop a culturally responsive curriculum as a part of its remedial action in Fisher and Mendoza v. TUSD, the federal court desegregation case.
The state officials’ compliance visit was reportedly prompted by comments that a TUSD high school principal made at the National Association of Multicultural Educators that the district was once again offering culturally responsive classes. The Arizona education department wrote TUSD in late November, asking the district to turn over all assessments, assignments, lesson plans, student work, and materials used in classes that have a “culturally relevant” focus.
Coincidentally, the officials’ visit comes on the heels of a new study linking the MAS program to higher student achievement. The study, Missing the (Student Achievement) Forest for All the (Political) Trees: Empiricism and the Mexican American Studies Controversy in Tucson, links the defunct MAS program with increased graduation rates and standardized-testing results for students who participated in the program from 2006 to April 2012. The study by Nolan L. Cabrera, Jeffrey F. Milem, Ozan Jaquette, and Ronald W. Marx (Arizona) is available in the American Educational Research Journal here.
Meanwhile, Arizona seeks to intervene in the desegregation case in Fisher, arguing that the state has an interest in ensuring that TUSD’s current ethnic studies classes do not “foster resegregation along ethnic and racial lines.” A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel heard Arizona’s request to intervene in Fisher this November. Counsel for the Department of Justice opposes Arizona’s intervention, arguing to the Ninth Circuit panel that “Arizona has no ‘protectable interest in this suit’” because the MAS program was ended. The video of Arizona’s oral argument before the Ninth Circuit in November is here. The Ninth Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the main case in January.