by David Safier
TUSD Board President Mark Stegeman has put together a resolution to turn Mexican American Studies hisory courses into elective instead of core courses and look into the English courses to see whether they should be made into electives as well.
For a number of reasons based on the resolution, I see this as a wrong-headed move. The "Save Ethic Studies" group stated in a Media release the resolution contains "blatant misrepresentations of the facts regarding MAS's effectiveness, cost and class size" and the resolution's purpose is to "forward a blatantly political agenda." Those ideas will be presented in a press conference Monday, April 25, 10 am, at TUSD headquarters, ahead of the Tuesday Board meeting where the resolution will be proposed.
I'm not privy to the "Save Ethic Studies" arguments, so I'll present my evaluation of the resolution based on what I know. You can read the entire resolution after the jump.
The biggest problem with Stegeman's resolution is not what it includes. It's what it leaves out. The concerns he states don't warrant making major changes in the program. I'm more convinced than ever, the prime mover behind changing Mexican American Studies courses to electives is an attempt to appease Ed Supe John Huppenthal so he won't end the program completely. To the extent this is true, the resolution itself is both incomplete and disingenuous.
And if the proposed changes are passed in an effort to appease Huppenthal, it will almost certainly be a futile gesture. As I wrote 3 weeks ago when I first heard the fix might be in to change the program,
. . . if Pedicone and the three members of the board think throwing a bone to Huppenthal will make him back off -- they have not learned the lessons of recent Arizona political history.
Now, to some of the arguments in the resolution (NOTE: Sorry about the length. The rest is written with Ethnic Studies wonks in mind.)
The traditional high school core curriculum substantially ignores the experience and contributions of many ethnic minorities.
This has nothing at all to do with the MAS program. It is a flaw in TUSD's standard curriculum, which can and should be changed.
. . . the MAS courses have helped about 10 more TUSD juniors per year to pass the AIMS reading test (with smaller gains for the writing and math tests) and have similarly helped about 10 more seniors to graduate.
This statement seems to disparage the value of the program, but it does nothing of the kind. The only measurable outcomes of the program are the increase in AIMS scores and graduation rates. From those, it is reasonable to infer that many students who passed the AIMS test as sophomores (MAS begins the junior year) and students who would have graduated without the program also benefit in other ways which we have no instruments to measure.
The annual cost of the MAS program is slightly over $1 million, several times the cost of educating the MAS students in standard core classes. The combined annual cost of the other three Ethnic Studies programs is about $1.6 million.
This statement begs more questions than it answers. Does the MAS program cost $1 million over and above what it would cost to educate the students if MAS were eliminated? If so, how much of that cost is classroom-based, and how much of it has to do with expenses outside of the classroom? Are there reasonable ways to trim the out-of-classroom budget at a time when all progams are facing cuts? After all, if the Ethnic Studies programs other than MAS, which do not offer classes, cost a total of $1.6 million, that means there are a number of costs outside of the courses themselves. Trimming adminstrative and other overhead costs from MAS, if necessary or desirable, has no relation to changing core courses to elective courses.
The state’s requirements for the high school Social Sciences core . . . [have] an inherent limit on how much time can be spent covering particular events and themes. Whether the MAS Social Studies courses have maintained adequate coverage of the core topics is questionable.
I looked over the ADE's web page on the Social Science core and saw no expressed or implied statements about how much weight a course must give to the various items. Unless I missed something, the statement that there is "an inherent limit on how much time can be spent covering particular events and themes" is incorrect.
The Ethnic Studies departments (however titled) should adopt academic support for individual students as a primary mission, using proven models.
If there were such a thing as "proven models," we would see programs throughout Arizona and the country which result in consistent and significant gains in academic achievement for students from minority groups. The fact is, there are no proven models I have found which can be adopted with anything like a guaranteed track record of success. The MAS program is a rare "proven" success story, with academic and anecdotal evidence to indicate it's working. Abandoning its current successful formula is simply foolish.
Staff should require teachers to keep copies of their course examinations on file for a set number of years, for the purpose of examination and analysis.
Mark, don't go there. Don't. Go. There. If TUSD is going to insist MAS teachers keep their course examinations, it has to insist all teachers keep their exams, or at least all teachers of core courses -- which I happen to think is a bad idea in any case. But this kind of selective monitoring, requiring only MAS teachers to keep their tests on file, smacks of a witch hunt where the purpose is to look for a reason to condemn the program. It is very, very bad policy, more fitting of Huppenthal and Pearce than of a progressive educator. [UPDATE: Mark Stegeman informed me his proposal that teachers keep their course examinations applies to all teachers, not just MAS teachers. I stand corrected.]
A FINAL COMMENT: It's hard to know if Stegeman and Pedicone have the votes lined up to pass this proposal. I hope not. I hope any Board members who are wavering decide to vote against the resolution.
As for Pedicone, he's either against the resolution, or he's playing verbal games. In an article in the Weekly, he expressed what seems to be support for expanding the program, not diminishing it. When he responded to the accusation that he wanted to end ethnic studies, he said,
"It is really the furthest from the truth," Pedicone said. "This is so politically out of control. If anything, I see the value in expanding the program, because the results show how successful the program is with students."
If this is an honest statement of support for the program, Pedicone should state it clearly and openly to the public and the Board so everyone knows exactly where he stands on the issue.
You can read the entire resolution after the jump:
programs and maintaining political balance in classrooms.
The traditional high school core curriculum substantially ignores the experience and
contributions of many ethnic minorities.
The Mexican-American Studies (MAS) courses are meant to fill at least the part of
this gap which pertains to Mexican-Americans, but in any given year fewer than 5% of
TUSD’s high school students take any of the MAS classes. The MAS classes
typically attract enrollment far below their capacity and are about half the size of the
regular core classes.
According to certain measures, among certain sample populations, staff analysis dated
3/11/11 shows that students who take MAS classes outperform those who do not. If
this relationship is causal, then, averaging over the past three years, the MAS courses
have helped about 10 more TUSD juniors per year to pass the AIMS reading test (with
smaller gains for the writing and math tests) and have similarly helped about 10 more
seniors to graduate.
The MAS teachers and curriculum have increased many students’ motivation to
succeed, by the students’ own convincing testimony.
The annual cost of the MAS program is slightly over $1 million, several times the cost
of educating the MAS students in standard core classes. The combined annual cost of
the other three Ethnic Studies programs is about $1.6 million.
TUSD has not systematically evaluated how the four Ethnic Studies programs affect
student achievement. Collectively, those programs have had no apparent success in
closing the achievement gaps.
Students who are Latino but not Mexican-American fall outside the purview of
TUSD’s current Ethnic Studies programs.
The state’s requirements for the high school Social Sciences core are long and specific
and will be augmented in academic year 2011-12 by a new Economics requirement.
There is flexibility in how to cover the required topics but also an inherent limit on
how much time can be spent covering particular events and themes. Whether the
MAS Social Studies courses have maintained adequate coverage of the core topics is
The state’s requirements for the high school English core emphasize skills but also
include familiarity with American, British, and world literature, classic works of
literature, and major literary periods and traditions.
The MAS courses are deliberately founded upon a specific political and educational
philosophy. A central component is “a counter-hegemonic curriculum.” Students
who rely on these courses to satisfy core requirements may thus hear, like those who
rely on traditional core courses, a relatively narrow range of viewpoints.
Many persons have expressed concern that some MAS instructors display and promote
a strong political bias while teaching or otherwise representing the district; these
concerns include strongly encouraging students in the MAS classes to participate in
political activities which have a consistent partisan orientation.
Therefore, the TUSD Governing Board resolves that staff should recommend
policies and undertake actions to achieve the following goals, in TUSD’s high
The traditional core sequences in Social Sciences and English should be strengthened
by adding a significant component which focuses on the contributions and viewpoints
of Mexican-Americans and other ethnic minorities, especially in this region, to create
a multi-cultural perspective. The staff of the current Ethnic Studies departments
should help to develop this component. The new core material cannot come at the
expense of adequate treatment of the topics required by the state.
The MAS courses should continue to be offered, in accordance with student demand.
Commencing with the 2011-12 academic year, the MAS courses cannot be used to
satisfy the state’s core Social Science requirements. The courses used to satisfy those
requirements should be taught by regular high school faculty and expose all students
to a common set of diverse viewpoints. This change shall not affect the Social
Science core credit earned by students who took the MAS courses in previous
Staff should develop a recommendation concerning whether a student should be able
to use MAS literature courses to satisfy part of the state’s core English requirement
and whether this would require any changes in those courses. The MAS literature
courses shall continue to be an option for satisfying the state’s core English
requirement, for academic year 2011-12.
The Ethnic Studies departments (however titled) should adopt academic support for
individual students as a primary mission, using proven models. Staff should develop
instruments and methods to evaluate these support programs and to determine whether
they are actually improving students’ academic results and providing satisfactory
return on the resources invested.
These support programs should extend their scope to serve students of Latino, African
American, Native American, Asian and Pan-Asian background, students who are
refugees, and other minority populations.
Total funding for the Ethnic Studies programs should be increased, to reflect these
expanded roles, as finances allow. The relative funding of the programs should be
adjusted to reduce the disparity between these funding levels and the composition of
the district’s student population.
Staff should study ways to reduce administrative overhead in the Ethnic Studies
departments, potentially including consolidation of functions.
Staff should consider the appropriate role of the internal and external compliance
officers in monitoring the achievement of these goals and, if appropriate, make
recommendations to the Board.
Staff, working with the Board’s policy subcommittee, should recommend new policy,
regulations, or procedures to reinforce Board policy IMB on teaching sensitive issues,
in particular to ensure that classroom treatment of political topics is reasonably
balanced. It is impractical to require absolute objectivity, but students should be
exposed to and encouraged to express, evaluate, and compare a wide range of
viewpoints, without being steered toward one side of current policy debates or
Staff should require teachers to keep copies of their course examinations on file for a
set number of years, for the purpose of examination and analysis.
Staff should make a progress report to the Board in January 2012.